Could the Corbyn phenomenon be about to repeat itself across the Atlantic? Mike Phipps investigates
It‘s early days in the primaries and caucuses that will choose presidential candidates, with only Iowa having voted so far. But with democratic socialist Bernie Sanders running Hillary Clinton to a virtual tie for the Democratic Party nomination in that state, and with a big poll lead in the New Hampshire primary, a sense of alarm is gripping the Clinton camp.
With an estimated $3 billion amassed in Clinton donations, this should not be happening. But these campaign contributions come at a price – her credibility. In one year alone, she made $3m from speakers’ fees addressing Wall Street banks and almost as much speaking to the private healthcare industry. Nobody really expects a candidate so in thrall to big money to champion ordinary Americans.
Sanders, by contrast, has rejected this route, funding his campaign with record numbers of small donations raised primarily through social media, as Obama did in 2008. When he talks of reclaiming US democracy from the “billionaire class”, he can do so with integrity. Plus he champions a popular agenda; Medicare for all, free higher education – the US has $1.3 trillion of student debt – and breaking up the big banks, which have become even more concentrated since Obama took office.
The Democratic Party’s nomination process is several months long and three big obstacles block the path to a Sanders victory. Firstly, moderate Democrats have already begun smearing Sanders as a crypto-communist, handing ammunition to the party’s Republican opponents. Secondly, Hillary Clinton’s financial advantage will really make itself felt on ‘Super Tuesday’, March 1, when no fewer than fifteen states hold their primary or caucus on the same day. Inevitably, the outcome will be influenced by the resources needed to organise a simultaneous campaign in all fifteen states.
Finally, as in the UK, Hillary Clinton can rely on a pliant media. After their first big TV debate last October, all the opinion polls reported Sanders won by a landslide – but the media called it for Clinton, preferring to deliver the message their sponsors would prefer to hear.