Here’s what this way of thinking misses: If Sanders wins, it will mark a huge change in American politics. Self-described socialists have been elected in other developed countries; never in this one. Here, “socialism” has been an accusation, not a boast. Politicians on the left wing of the Democratic Party have considered the label, and the associations that come with it, deadly to their electoral chances. Republicans hope it still is. If Sanders beats them, the taboo will be broken.
It’s not just a matter of the label. The limits of what’s politically possible will shift left as the political world adjusts to the new reality. Politicians, strategists, journalists, activists and voters who thought that certain ideas were too far left to make it in America would revise their sense of the country, and of what counts as extreme or as realistic within it. The ground on which future races for president, governor and Congress are contested would move left. That doesn’t mean the U.S. would be Venezuela, or even Denmark, by the start of 2022. But it is reasonable to expect that government policy 10 or 20 years from now would be considerably more socialistic than it would be if Trump were re-elected — or if Biden were elected.
In that sense, Sanders’s election really would live up to the billing. Just by taking office, he would have delivered his political revolution.