Liberals and leftists disappointed in the Obama administration and wary of a hawkish Hillary Clinton may soon have a flag-bearer to rally behind: democratic socialist and independent Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.).
On Sunday, Sanders appeared on NBC's Meet the Press to say that he was weighing the possibility of a run for president in 2016 — perhaps as a Democrat. (Sanders is an independent, but he typically votes with the Democrats in the Senate.) Sanders expressed the common sentiment among some on the left that the Democratic Party isn't doing enough to reverse spiraling economic inequality, saying that Americans are frustrated with both parties and ready for a third option.
"The issue is setting up the infrastructure of running," Sanders commented on the show. "One of the reasons I'm going to Iowa is to get a sense of how people feel about it."
"I know that the middle class of this country is collapsing. I know the gap between the very, very rich and everybody else is growing wider. I know there is profound anger at the greed on Wall Street and corporate America, anger at the political establishment, anger at the media establishment," he added. "The American people want real change."
He further threw a little shade at Clinton, saying he'd be a better populist: "The issue is not Hillary. I've known Hillary Clinton for many years. I have a lot of respect for Hillary Clinton. The question is at a time when so many people have seen a decline in their standard of living, when the wealthiest people and the largest corporations are doing phenomenally well, the American people want change."
Sanders further said that raising the minimum wage would be one of his top priorities, before calling out the president for doing a bad job of plowing through congressional obstruction.
Sanders has been in politics since 1981, when he became the mayor of Burlington, Vt. He's been in Congress as both a representative and a senator since 1990, and he's widely considered one of the most left-leaning lawmakers in Washington.
He is far more liberal than either Obama or Clinton, with a 100% pro-choice rating from NARAL, firm opposition to executive overreach since 9/11 and full-throated support for raising the minimum wage to $10.10.
In 2010, he stood for eight hours and delivered an epic filibuster against extending the Bush tax cuts, saying that a budget deal which kept any of the cuts was "selling the American people short."
Sanders is one of the strongest voices against budget cuts and dwindling per-capita federal spending, and earlier this month called for a tax on extreme wealth much like the one favored by Capital in the 21st Century author Thomas Piketty. He's railed against the White House's decision not to prosecute Wall Street bankers for their role in the late-2000s economic collapse and demanded the breakup of big banks, making him one of the finance industry's biggest opponents. Finally, he wants a radical change to the way America is fighting the War on Drugs that emphasizes treatment and health care over prison time and police militarization.
Simply put, Sanders is the kind of staunch leftist a sizable number of Democrats want as their president, and he would seek to rally the same populist base that goes crazy for Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). But the same qualities that make him ideal in the eyes of the left are anathema to the big donors that bankroll presidential elections these days (not to mention a general election audience); the prospect of an actually socialist president is likely too much for an electorate that screams bloody murder at the current president's imaginary socialism.
However, a Sanders campaign could push Clinton into defense mode during 2016 primaries, meaning Clinton's expected Third Way juggernaut of a campaign may have to swing to the left. And if Clinton doesn't meet her lofty expectations, Sanders could be one of those waiting in the wings to snatch up the Democratic nomination. Hey, a guy can dream, right?