The Opening U.S. presidential primary in what promises to be an exciting race for political junkies took place in Iowa last night. There were a number of surprises at least for those who didn’t have their ear close to the ground and close to the grass roots in Iowa in each of the parties. The primary season picks up steam in February with three primaries in New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina and then super Tuesday at the beginning of March will see 11 states plus Americans abroad and for the Republicans American Samoa hold comparable events in the race to determine delegates to qualify for the respective conventions of the two warring parties in late July which will choose the respective presidential nominees for each party.Throughout the rest of March and following months the rest of the states follow suit. New York with 247 delegates is April 19, California with 475 is June 7,Pennsylvania 189 April 26 and Illinois 156 March 15. I have followed these primaries going all the way back to Adelai Stevenson Dwight Eisenhower days in the mid 1950s. They almost always were exciting contests that revealed a great deal about American democracy and the substantial role of the grass roots and the political establishment in the process of electing an American president. This year’s race is no exception.
On the Democratic side we now have a real horse race between two major figures in the Democratic party landscape , each of whom has had substantial experience in American electoral politics and the parliamentary process.Hilary Clinton has had a distinguished career in American politics that spans four decades. She is also in a position if she wins the nomination to become the first woman elected president of the U.S.No small accomplishment.
Sanders with his more radical message comes from a long history of civic engagement and electoral politics at the local and state level and his long career in Congress and more recently since 2006 Senatorial experience. He is most definitely on the left flank of American politics . But contrary to the conventional wisdom there has been a long history of such political engagement in American politics going back to Eugene Debs,who contested the Presidency five times and on one occasion in 1920 received close to a million votes running on the socialist party ticket.Indeed in the first part of the twentieth century socialist mayors and local politicians and members of state assemblies were found throughout a wide swath of the U.S.( see James Weinstein, The Decline of Socialism in America 1912-1925 ;, NYC:Vintage Books, Random House, 1969, Table 2 , pp. 116-118.See also George Mowry, The Era of Theodore Roosevelt and The Birth of Modern America 1900-1912,NYC:Harper and Row Torchbooks, 1958.) As Weinstein shows there were socialist politicians elected to office in more than 80 cities and twenty states between 1910 and 1920. 18 states elected socialist candidates to their state assembly over the same period. Furthermore there were socialist newspapers and periodicals in 37 states some 187 socialist papers and magazines in total.
More moderate centrist complex but populist politicians like Teddy Roosevelt and the Progressives were also a major force.FDR and his entourage were somewhat ambiguously on the left despite FDR's wealthy and more aristocratic background. The left suffered an historic defeat in the first part of the last century but they never totally disappeared from American life nor from its set of values. Whenever the wheel of circumstance turned to harsher times or unpopular foreign adventures and wars intervened they made their presence felt. Bernie Sanders is simply the latest and perhaps one of the most successful incarnation of these progressive forces. I expect him to continue to do very well in his campaign. Win or lose he definitely has changed the conversation on the Democratic side and clearly expresses the widespread resentment and dissatisfaction of millions of Americans about the unfair working conditions,low wages, inadequate health care despite Obama care and lack of sufficient opportunity for young people and the burden of college tuition.
He is very popular among the young and they now have a champion for their cause.He may well do much better than the pundits expect. He has enough funds donated by over three million Americans -average donation 27$- as he has proudly announced to stay in the race a long time. His growing army of volunteers suggests that as well. We shall see how well his radical message resonates in states like California, Michigan, Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin and New York.
On the Republican front despite Cruz's victory in Iowa over Trump it is far too soon to count Donald Trump out of the game. The pressure from Marco Rubio may well grow in certain states but I am not yet convinced that Cruz and Rubio will defeat Trump in more urbanized states than Iowa.So far smaller players like Jeb Bush may also surprise by much better showings than their poor showing in Iowa. The same though less likely is true of Rand Paul who is by far one of the most intelligent of the candidates.Hayekian libertarianism and foreign policy prudence make for a curious combination in presidential politics but Paul's critique of Trump and other foreign policy adventurers will interest some Republican voters.