Bernie Sanders at a rally in Tucson, Ariz. His movement is advancing toward a “beautiful community” of social solidarity. (Rick Scuteri / AP)

The Democratic presidential primaries on Tuesday provide a historic opportunity for voters to impact the direction of American politics. These represent the “last stand” for Bernie Sanders, the most successful left-progressive candidate of the post-Reagan era. Sanders’ transformative campaign has already created the blueprint for an ongoing movement to rebuild the middle class, overcome the powerful forces aligned against working people in the 21st century and set the country on a course for social and environmental justice. If Sanders closes the primary season with a bang, it will put a winning accent on a campaign that seeks nothing short of a radical reconfiguration of American politics and society — and even the revitalization and redemption of the modern revolutionary tradition. While no one can predict the future, victories in California, New Mexico and the Big Sky states on June 7, combined with a strong showing in New Jersey, would leave Sanders (or at least his movement) in a position analogous to Ronald Reagan’s in 1976: a close runner-up, poised to lead the country in a new direction. It certainly won’t be easy; unlike Reagan, Sanders would face unified opposition from the establishment. Still, victories in these final contests would cement the impression not only that Sanders’ program represents the future of progressive politics, but also that he won the battle of ideas in this election cycle. In a sense, a convincing set of Sanders victories might even be the best possible outcome for Hillary Clinton’s campaign, which seems increasingly adrift with no compelling message beyond “Fear Trump” (which plays directly into the narcissist’s hands). Clinton desperately needs to crib more notes from Sanders’ infinitely more inspired campaign. Even if just for political expediency (a staple of Clinton’s repertoire) and to save us from presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump, she should parrot Sanders’ ideas as she did through the April primaries. The traditional general election “pivot to the center” would be political suicide this year, but that seems to be where Hillary is headed. Maybe a string of Sanders wins in June could jar her awake to the reality of the 2016 electorate. Of course, it’d be much better if Clinton sincerely embraced Sanders’ positions. She’d crush Trump and then proceed to govern like the reincarnation of Eleanor Roosevelt, one of her heroes and an unwavering advocate for poor and working-class Americans. Alas, we know that won’t happen — sadly, Clinton’s allegiances are elsewhere. In fact, the Clintons are central to the backstory of how the country ended up in such a mess; as President Bill Clinton was one of the primary architects of the 21st century economic order, often called “neoliberalism,” that turned out to serve the 1 percent and shrink the middle class. This illuminates the profound historic significance of the present moment. Sanders and his “movement” not only reject neoliberalism, they share an almost boundless optimism for the creative, liberatory possibilities of American society, if it can get released from the prison house of this failed social order. Hillary Clinton and her surrogates have dismissed Sanders’ calls for sweeping change that would lead to a better future as hollow promises that Sanders couldn’t possibly keep. This criticism seems to have been effective, as I’ve encountered numerous Clinton voters, usually prosperous liberals, who say they agree more with Sanders’ platform in theory, but their doubts about his ability to achieve his goals leads them back to the establishment centrist. So, on the eve of the final Clinton-Sanders contest, let’s try to settle this matter. Is Hillary correct that Bernie is a delusional pie-in-the-sky demagogue? Or would implementing Sanders’ ambitious program be just as achievable now as Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s was in his day? For left progressives this is perhaps the most important question for the foreseeable future: Can Sanders’ program, or any legislative agenda, turn back the forces destroying the American middle class and ravaging the ecosystem? Or are the forces of globalized/financialized corporate capitalism beyond the reach of even the U.S. government, and Sanders is thus merely a Brooklyn/Vermont incarnation of Don Quixote? Sanders is stuck in an apparent double bind. People flock to his speeches, during which his pointed analysis of, and prescriptions for, America’s myriad crises are met with thunderous applause. In contrast, Clinton famously gets lost in the weeds of policy details at her campaign stops. In turn, this contrast is defended by Clinton and her surrogates who contend that she is obligated, as a practical realist, to do the responsible thing and explain how she’ll work the mind-numbing details of public policy to the public’s best possible advantage. However, the predictable outcome is that few people can summarize her policy positions; and given that those positions largely amount to a status quo ante, perhaps her muddled speeches serve to obscure her support of the unpopular neoliberal order, which her husband’s administration largely built. This is not the case with Sanders, who is clearly seeking to be a transformational president and is not offering false promises so much as saying the United States needs a new FDR or Ronald Reagan — both of whom sought and achieved sweeping transformational legislation at the top of their first administrations and who dramatically changed the relationship between government and business (albeit in opposing directions). Were Sanders to respond to his critics’ chiding and explain the minutiae of how the resources allowing for free public tuition, for example, would be allocated through the federal and state levels, he certainly wouldn’t be attracting large crowds across the country. Sanders does, in fact, provide substantial detail for all of his programs on his campaign website and via other online resources. But the main point is that Sanders has proposed a coherent set of programs that directly address how people are suffering under the Clintonite neoliberal order and that seek, as FDR did, to end the status quo by creating a new socioeconomic contract between the government and the people. So, what exactly is Sanders hoping to change? Many things, of course, and while a Sanders presidency would stake out the most progressive positions ever held by a U.S. president on virtually every major issue facing Americans, it is his core economic policies that would represent the most significant shift, as they would place him in direct conflict with the most entrenched and powerful forces in contemporary America. On this front, Sanders seeks to adjust the laws and policies that set the parameters of how markets, and thus the economy, function in our society by rewriting regulations, taxes and trade deals. But in particular, he wants to reverse those changes made over the past 3 1/2 decades that are informed by the logic of neoliberalism — the prevailing ideology in the U.S. and U.K. since the days of Reagan-Thatcher and embraced in a bipartisan consensus since the Clinton-Blair era. While it’s true that corporate, institutional, technological, economic, judicial, historical and other forces were all operating in a vaguely coordinated jumble across a few decades to create the current circumstances, there is also a simple, valid way to explain the neoliberal era: Since Reagan, powerful business interests and the rich have almost always gotten their way in Washington, as well as in the U.S. state capitols, London, Berlin and so on. While Ronald Reagan got this ball rolling in the 1980s, a strong case can be made that Bill Clinton moved it further down the field than anyone. So, what are the barriers to Sanders’ achieving his goals? Does he trick his supporters by underselling the difficulty involved? And is he masking how much collateral damage might be produced in pursuit of such an ambitious left-wing agenda? There are three levels of obstacles: First is the idea that he’ll never pass such a program through Congress, which is certainly the most frequently cited barrier. Next is the notion that the programs he’s promoting won’t succeed in the manner he’s proposing (or even that he doesn’t understand how these things work). Finally is the suggestion that the powerful capitalist institutions and the super-wealthy, who will oppose his agenda, will be able to disrupt his programs. Let’s tackle these one at a time. The first objection is ridiculous. Sanders is a veteran of Congress and fully knows how it works and where the current membership stands on the major issues.
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