Hillary Clinton is framing the choice facing Democratic primary voters and caucus-goers between herself and Bernie Sanders as the party’s nominee as a choice between real-world pragmatism and starry-eyed idealism because the majority of voters are far more likely to choose pragmatism over idealism than vice-versa.
But what Clinton won’t admit to the voters is the fact that she has no plan (realistic or otherwise) to confront let alone defeat Congressional obstructionism spearheaded by the Republican Party. Her T.V. ad below claims she will ‘break through the gridlock, not add to it’ but that is empty sloganeering, not a plan.
By contrast, Bernie Sanders does have a plan to confront and defeat Republican obstructionism. He calls his plan “political revolution.”
But is political revolution realistic? Is it realistic to try to transform the way we do politics in this country? Is it pie-in-the-sky idealism to attempt to leverage the mass participation of tens of millions working and middle-class people in the political process to counterbalance and overcome the enormous political and social power of big money lobbyists and institutions?
This kind of political revolution is not only realistic, it is literally the only way anything remotely progressive will ever get done in Washington, D.C. It was high Black voter turnouts in the 2008 Democratic primary that propelled then-Senator Barack Obama to victory over the ‘inevitable’ nominee Hillary Clinton and it was the unprecedented 2008 voter turnout (especially non-white voters) in the 2008 presidential election that (briefly) gave the Democratic Party governing majorities in both chambers of Congress and paved the way for the Affordable Care Act.
When voter turnout is high, progressives win; when voter turnout is low, big money reactionary lobbyists and special interests win.
But Sanders’ political revolution is a realistic plan for a second reason — he has already led one, in Burlington, Vermont. After winning his first election to become mayor of the city by just 10 votes, Sanders was confronted by a city council even more obstructionist than the Tea Party-dominated Congress that President Obama was forced to deal with after the 2010 midterms. All of mayor Sanders’ nominees to run city agencies were rejected. Mail addressed to the mayor was illegally opened by the city clerk. The city council wouldn’t even let him hire a secretary.
How did Sanders — whom Clinton misleadingly paints as a well-meaning starry-eyed idealist — respond to the city council’s relentless obstructionism? Like any good hard-headed, bare-knuckled democratic socialist should: he circumvented the city council and went directly to the people of Burlington, involving as many of them in the nitty-gritty day-to-day business of politics and governance as possible. He took executive action to clean up sloppy and corrupt city bookkeeping and in the process of doing so discovered over $1 million hidden or misplaced in an obscure city fund. He and a team of volunteers prepared the city budget since city officials refused to do so. He and his advisers met off of the premises of city hall to avoid possible eavesdropping.
The city council and its obstructionist allies in the municipal bureaucracy forced him to govern as an outsider and he did so as effectively and aggressively as he could.
The spectacle of an obstructionist city council stonewalling a duly elected mayor and literally sabotaging the day-to-day operations of municipal government — combined with Sanders’ grassroots efforts to involve as many people as possible in governance — produced several electoral Tsunamis that wiped out the obstructionists in election after election after 1981:
A broad-based citizen backlash resulted. A group called Citizens for Fair Play opposed the stonewalling by the Democrats. The 1982 election saw every Democratic incumbent up for election except one removed by the voters. The Independent and Citizens Party “Sanders supporters,” as they were known, grew to 5. The Republicans also gained. …
The 1983 reelection campaign resulted in the highest voter turnout in years. The Democratic leader in the Vermont House, Judy Stephany, resigned to run for mayor against Sanders. The Republicans, sensing an opening, ran a hard-hitting campaign with the chair of the School Board, Jim Gilson. The Democrats also persuaded one of the most prominent State Senators, Esther Sorrell, to challenge my reelection. Sadie White did not seek reelection. Her Coalition replacement, Sanders, and I all won with strong majorities. …
In subsequent elections the Progressive Coalition picked up a sixth seat, and for two years even held the Presidency of the Board of Aldermen.7 The Democrats dropped from 11 seats in 1980 to just two seats by 1984. The Progressive Coalition dropped to 5 seats for a couple of years but in 1992 returned to 6. The Progressive Coalition has never achieved a majority of the City Council. Despite this fact the Progressives have made astonishing advances in public policy – but those are not the subject of this paper.
A Sanders administration on the presidential level would undoubtedly seek to replicate the successes of the Sander administration on the mayoral level even though the differences in scale and stakes between the two are undeniably ‘yooj.’ Sanders has already repeatedly smashed all previous fund-raising and political participation records thus far with his presidential campaign and there is no reason to think that his legions of (mostly young) activist supporters will somehow disappear or stop being politically active if he manages to pull off the greatest upset in political history and become president of these United States. These supporters would love nothing more than to continue the 2016 Sanders presidential campaign uninterrupted into subsequent races for local, state, and federal offices.
With Sanders as president and therefore head of the Democratic Party, he would be able to stack the Democratic National Committee with progressives, give presidential endorsements to progressive primary candidates like Jesús “Chuy” García while working against the pro-Wall Street, pro-establishment Democrats like Rahm Emmanuel, and embark on an ambitious 50-state, 435-district political strategy to defeat and replace the Congressional obstructionists in both parties. He would not only be commander-in-chief but mobilizer-in-chief, agitator-in-chief, and organizer-in-chief. For Sanders, campaigning and governing are not two different things but one and the same thing: a way to mobilize and organize tens of millions of people to stand up and fight.
A Sanders presidency would undoubtedly generate massive institutional resistance in Washington, D.C. the likes of which this country has never seen. As in Burlington, Sanders might not be able to get much done legislatively until subsequent elections eliminated the worst of the obstructionists. But he would — in the long run, over the course of subsequent midterm elections and a re-election campaign — get far more done than Hillary Clinton and far more progressive things done since she does not even have a plan to confront obstructionism much less a realistic plan.
Electing Sanders president will not be the end of the political revolution but just the very beginning.