As Bernie Sanders’ chances of winning the Democratic presidential nomination have increased, so have the attacks. Hillary Clinton advocates argue he has no chance of delivering the fundamental change he touts. Nonetheless, Bernie can do it.
Sanders has been remarkably consistent about what his objectives are and how he plans to accomplish them. At the January 17th debate, he said, “What my first days [in office will be] about is… to tell the wealthiest people in this country that yes they are gonna start paying their fair share of taxes, and that we are going to have a government that works for all of us and not just big campaign contributors.”
At the February 11th debate, Sanders explained, “This campaign is not just about electing a president. What this campaign is about is creating a process for a political revolution… What this campaign is not only about electing someone who has the most progressive agenda, it is about bringing tens of millions of people together to demand that we have a government that represents all of us and not just the 1 percent, who today have so much economic and political power.”
While Sanders has policy differences with President Obama, his fundamental criticism is on process: Sanders feels that, in 2008, Obama built a movement (“Change we can believe in”) and then failed to harness its energy to make fundamental changes to the US economy.
The Sanders process model is not the Obama campaign but rather the civil-rights movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who also talked about revolution – a revolution of values. “We must rapidly begin,” said King, “the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered.” Sanders advocates a shift in values, where capitalism is subordinated to democracy.
University of California economics professor Robert Reich described Sanders’ perspective as a kind of “agitator-in-chief, “ where the president mobilizes “the public to demand [big things] and penalize(s) politicians who don’t heed those demands.”
If Sanders is going to assume the role of “agitator-in-chief” it has to start before the November 8th election day. Bernie has to mobilize voters to support his presidential campaign as well as that of like-minded candidates for the house and senate (and state legislatures and other elective offices). He has to generate an election tsunami that will sweep “business-as-usual” politicians out of office.
Many thoughtful Democrats don’t believe this will happen. Writing in The Daily Kos, contributor “jhannon” observed, “Bernie is talking about a political revolution in ways that make no sense to me... [but] I can’t imagine him leading as much as a change in the majority party in the House and there is no way any of his more dramatic proposals have any chance of passing give the composition of Congress.”
Writing in Slate, Michelle Goldberg said, “Bernie is a mensch whose politics are more or less my own, but I’m convinced he’d be eviscerated in the general election... As long as I have been following politics, it has been a left-wing fantasy that legions of disconnected non-voters will suddenly flood the polls if they’re offered a sufficiently progressive candidate.”
I believe these writers have been discouraged by the history of the Obama administration which started out as a revolution, and quickly became business as usual – particularly with regards to Wall Street. Moreover, these writers are ignoring the civil-rights progress made over the last sixty years where the progressive movement has accomplished objectives – such as the legalization of same-sex marriage – that were once thought impossible.
Most progressives agree that reducing the power of the one percent must happen. While I’m sure “jhannon” and Michelle Goldberg support getting big money out of politics, they don’t believe that Bernie can accomplish it and they fear that in the process he will be “eviscerated” in the general election .
But consider this: Bernie Sanders has a higher favorability rating than any other candidate. In head-to-head matchups Bernie Sanders defeats any Republican candidate. (Many observers believe that Sanders matches up particularly well with Donald Trump.)
53 years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. wrote forcefully about the necessity for direct action:
We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was "well timed" in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant "Never."
2016 is not the time to wait. It is a time for direct action. That’s what the Sanders campaign is all about.