Why Democrats should welcome Sanders' entry into presidential race

Story highlights

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders officially launched his presidential campaign Tuesday
  • Donna Brazile: It's good for Hillary Clinton and democracy to have strong debate on issues

Donna Brazile, a CNN contributor and a Democratic strategist, is vice chairwoman for voter registration and participation at the Democratic National Committee. A nationally syndicated columnist, she is an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and author of "Cooking With Grease: Stirring the Pots in America." The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)As a rule of thumb, being called a socialist isn't a good thing in American politics. But if you're brave enough to describe yourself that way? Well, that might be enough to take a little bit of the sting out of your opponents' attacks.

That, at least, is what U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont must be hoping. And by describing himself as a "democratic socialist," Sanders is showing a willingness to jump right in and wrestle with some of the big issues facing this country -- and he's doing his party a big favor in the process.
Donna Brazile
Of course, Sanders is actually an independent who caucuses with the Democrats in the U.S. Senate. In that chamber, he has been a champion for the working poor and a fierce protector of the middle class, arguing in favor of collective bargaining rights for working men and women. He has also fought to create jobs and for policies that will spur the sort of economic growth that enables all Americans to succeed.
    In Sanders' mind, the Trans-Pacific Partnership -- a major piece of the Obama administration's economic agenda -- is not one of those growth policies.
    "At a time when our middle class is disappearing and the gap between the very rich and everyone else is growing wider, this anti-worker legislation must be defeated," he said. "If we are serious about rebuilding the middle class and creating the millions of good paying jobs we desperately need, we must fundamentally rewrite our trade policies. NO to fast track, and NO to the TPP."
    By pushing back against the party he is so often aligned with, Sanders will force Democratic candidates such as former secretary of state and U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton to more clearly define exactly what their stances are on specific issues. And while that's the last thing any politician truly wants to do, it's something every voter should want.
    And the reality is that it's good for Clinton as well as for democracy to have a really strong debate on how to keep America safe and make it stronger, including on issues such as protecting our environment, strengthening the middle class and growing our economy.
    One of my good friends who worked with me on the Al Gore campaign is now advising Sanders. While he understands this is an uphill battle, the Clinton campaign cannot take this nomination for granted.
    True, Sanders' odds of winning the Democratic nomination are long, to say the least -- the latest polls show Clinton way out in front of any alternative to her. But Sanders won't be the only one working to make sure that the Democratic Party offers voters the kind of debate on the issues that this country needs.
    Later this week, former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley will join the fray. O'Malley has scheduled a "special announcement" for May 30, and in the world of politics, we all know that announcing the announcement IS the announcement.
    But until then, this is Sanders' moment. And the early signs are that despite the long odds, he might be poised to make the most of it.
    "I have worked for him for many years, and he is a very serious candidate. We have already seen him break from the pack at the bottom in a number of polls," senior political strategist Tad Devine told me. "In Iowa and New Hampshire, he has moved into the upper double digits in several polls. In Washington State, there were two polls last week where he had moved into the 20s in the Democratic primary. We have raised millions online in the last couple of weeks, and I think we will have the resources to run a real campaign."
    Maybe middle class voters are less worried about labels than they are about getting things done. And that starts with a serious discussion of potential solutions.
    "The Democratic Party appreciates the contributions that Sen. Sanders, Secretary Clinton and other candidates will make to a healthy dialogue about the future of our party and our nation," DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said last month. "There is a distinct contrast between Democrats who are on the side of middle and working class families and Republicans who are concerned with the very rich and wealthy corporations. Over the next year, the discussions we have during our respective nominating processes will help make that choice clear."
    And there will be plenty of discussions to have on many policies: the economy, health care reform, criminal justice reform, immigration and the ISIS threat.
    Every time a Democratic candidate, or potential candidate, gets out there in front of the press or engages with voters, they have the chance to talk about real solutions for the very real problems that the American people face each and every day. And while it might feel a little uncomfortable sometimes having to get specific about what you would do if you're elected, voters will appreciate the contrast between serious debate and the kind of character attacks that will be coming from the Republican field.
    The American people are starting to notice that one party is more interested in picking a fight rather than fighting on their behalf. Now that the Democratic candidate has become candidates, I think voters will be grateful that they are getting a real choice. And that is good for Democrats' chances in 2016 -- whoever they end up choosing.