Is Bernie Sanders a Single-Issue Candidate? Populism, Hillary Clinton, and the Balance of Class Forces

Hillary Clinton’s newest line of attack on Bernie Sanders exposes a flaw of populist politics, the ability to characterize a platform of simplistic Manichean problem and solution sets as reducible to a singular problem and solution, that is, to frame the campaign as being single issue. In an important sense this is an unfair characterization based in a flawed argument, and in the sense that it is a fair characterization, the property of ‘single-issue-ness’ applies to the Clinton campaign.

It is unfair in the sense that in so far as all of Sanders’ solutions are overly simplistic, and they are, the shared property that would constitute single-issue-ness is that of ‘simplicity’. As a populist politics, his framing of the issues and solutions are overly simple, but this has more to do with the linguistic limits of populist messaging than a poverty of thought and analysis. Sanders is not running on the point that the solutions are simple, which would constitute a single-issue campaign on simplicity. Rather, such a platform is an apt characterization of the Trump campaign.

There is a sense in which Sanders is running a single-issue campaign, that being that he is running to make America like a post-war European social democracy before the rise of the second wave of financialization. But in that sense, the sense of running on a vision of a return to the balance of class forces of labor and capital in the 1950s and early 1960s, Clinton is also running on a single-issue platform of allowing the continuation of the domination of the wage-dependent class by the profit-dependent class that began in the 1970s.

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