What Is a Sanders Democrat?

Can this man beat Hillary Clinton?

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

The anti-Hillary has arrived.

Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who is announcing his campaign for president Thursday, will not be running for the Democratic nomination for president backed by a billion-dollar campaign operation, a powerful think tank or a lifetime collection of "Friends of Bill." But as a self-described "democratic socialist" and fan of Scandinavian social welfare models, Sanders will have little trouble defining himself.

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Sanders, 73, supports free college tuition and vast public infrastructure investment. He favors publicly funded elections, a $15 federal minimum wage and single-payer health care. He laments the impact of globalization and expanded trade, which he believes has helped erode the American middle class and put too many working-class families on the road to penury. He is no fan of Wall Street, whose executives he deems "greedy" and whose banks he believes should be shrunk.

The senator makes his case without apology in a Brooklyn accent that -- despite decades of living in, and representing, Vermont -- can still strip the paint off a tenement radiator. No less an icon of rumple than former Representative Barney Frank once advised Sanders that he might find greater appeal outside Vermont if he were to "comb his hair."

It's unlikely Sanders will be the Democratic nominee for president. But his decidedly unslick candidacy should serve Democrats well. Yes, he will present an easy image foil for the likely nominee: Hillary Clinton is younger, more polished, more moderate, more (as her supporters would have it) "ready." Still, Sanders can also force Clinton to make and articulate choices on precisely the type of issues that she will be most eager to evade, including a host of knotty questions related to inequality.

"The American people want Secretary Clinton, all candidates, to talk about why the middle class continues to decline, why the rich get richer, why Wall Street continues to have unbelievable power over the American economy," Sanders has said. "The American people not only want a serious debate on this campaign, they want candidates who will deal with the most important issue, and that is are we prepared to take on the billionaire class which has so much power over our economic and political life."

The American people may well conclude that they don't especially like Sanders's answers to some of those questions. But it will be beneficial to have him out there asking them. And it will be instructive to hear how other candidates respond.

To contact the senior editor responsible for Bloomberg View’s editorials: David Shipley at davidshipley@bloomberg.net.