In the 2016 PBS NewsHour Democratic Debate in Milwaukee, Bernie Sanders was asked this question: “The world has seen many great leaders in history. Can you name two leaders, one American and one foreign, who would influence your foreign policy decisions? And why would you see them as influential?”
His answer was: “You know, Franklin Delano Roosevelt took the oath of office in 1933 at a time when 25 percent of the American people were unemployed, country was in incredible despair. And he stood before the American people and he said, ‘The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,’ a profound statement that gave the American people the courage to believe that, yes, we could get out of that terrible depression.
And then what he did is redefine the role of government. You know, you had Herbert Hoover before that saying, no, we got to only worry about the deficit. So what if mass unemployment exists? So what if children are going hungry? That's not the role of the government.
And when FDR said, ‘Yeah, it is,’ that we're going to use all of the resources that we have to create jobs, to build homes, to feed people, to protect the farmers, we are a nation which if we come together there is nothing that we could not accomplish.
And kind of—that’s what I see our campaign is about right now. In this particular moment of serious crises, saying to the American people don't give up on the political process. Don't listen to the Trumps of the world and allowing them to divide us. If we reengage and get involved, yeah, we can have health care for all people, we can make public colleges and universities tuition-free. We do not have to have massive levels of income and wealth inequality.”
Much of Senator Sanders’s campaign for presidency is fueled by a socialistic idealism. While he is gaining favor among the younger generation and other far-left liberals, many other politicians and pundits have dismissed him as unrealistic. Despite favoritism towards Hillary Clinton as the true democratic nominee, Sanders’s near win in Iowa and landslide victory in New Hampshire have succeeded many experts’ expectations.
Many political pragmatists believe that while Sanders, like Donald Trump, illuminate some of the unrest in the country, his promises and revolutionary rhetoric will never amount to anything in office.
This argument suggests that his presidency would render the same disappointment felt in President Obama’s office—after his candidacy profited from a banner of hope and change. It is true, whatever your views are on the success of his presidency, Obama certainly had not accomplished as much as his campaign suggested.
Many, most notably Hillary Clinton, narrow in on this potential disappointment that Bernie supporters will face once he is elected into the Oval Office. Though these concerns seem relevant, there could be an alternative outcome.
In light of Sanders’s eloquent and captivating tribute to Franklin D. Roosevelt, it would be opportune to compare both of their campaigns and what could become of Sanders’s presidency if he were to win.
William E. Leuchtenburg, William Rand Kenan Jr. Professor Emeritus at University of Southern Carolina at Chapel Hill, wrote about FDR’s 1932 election: “FDR traveled around the country attacking Hoover and promising better days ahead, but often without referring to any specific programs or policies. Roosevelt was so genial—and his prescriptions for the country so bland—that some commentators questioned his capabilities and his grasp of the serious challenges confronting the United States”
FDR, a governor of New York disabled by polio, shocked and won the favor of the American voters by championing the mood of unrest: a uniform need for reform in to politics. People wanted the government to serve the interests of the public not corporations. Instead of revealing or opening a dialogue about the policies, FDR tapped into the public's emotions to mobilize his campaign.
Certainly the 1930s faced a more drastic and dire economic and political environment, but the ubiquitous dissatisfaction and distrust of the corporate elite and government could be equally paralleled to modern times in America. With continued world conflict and economic strife Bernie’s message is as pertinent as FDR’s at his time.
Like the election in 1932, the conventional image of a president and the identity of an ‘Establishment’ figure in politics have become symbols of discontent and distrust in the eyes of the voters. Known as an outsider to his party, a democratic socialist, and a man of his age should have all been reasons that Bernie would never been a realistic candidate for presidency—let alone the Democratic delegate. But, these exact attributes are exactly what is making him so appealing.
Similar to FDR, the public’s interest in Bernie is more than electing another figurehead who will perpetuate the status quo of the United States—making conciliatory reforms in social politics to ameliorate public unrest and leaving Wall Street unaccountable and unpunished for their self-serving behaviors. Bernie speaks to the fact that the public is privy to the political nepotism towards corporations and that we are fed up with the disregard of the middle-class and impoverished.
Once again, it begins to sound a lot like complaining without solutions. The thing is that this is the same way that FDR ran his campaign. After the public put their trust into his hands, he immediately put forward the New Deal, which has become, if not the most important, one of the most important set of policies that saved the United States from a prolonged depression and possible collapse. Some of these policies we benefit from to this day.
Yet, wasn’t Obama’s campaign lit by the same flame? Why should Bernie’s presidency, if he were elected, be any different? Wouldn’t he run into the same congressional atrophy and bi-partisan inefficacy? How could he become as influential as FDR?
The key to Bernie’s success would be found in his advisors and cabinet. FDR’s success was undoubtably a result of his effective cabinet and political advisors, which he called his “Brains Trust.” Advisors such as Louis Howe helped the president shape his New Deal and the Civilian Conservation Corps. During FDR’s presidency he too faced a congress and senate that held a Conservative majority. Without the “Brains Trust” it would be hard to imagine that FDR would have been as effective.
It can be argued that a weak cabinet was the real fault of Obama’s otherwise noble attempt in implementing liberal policies. With the exception of John Kerry’s work with foreign policy, Obama found little support, which made it nearly impossible for him to accomplish anything from the onset of his presidency.
If Bernie were to really become the “New Deal” and follow in the footsteps of FDR he would have to learn from the errors of Obama. No man can single-handedly take on the congress and senate. Like FDR it will be instrumental for Bernie to create his own “Brains Trust,” one that will formulate and implement policies of real change.