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.
Here’s what I’m wondering – if Bernie faces an unprecedented amount of obstruction, much like President Obama’s obstruction in the first two years of his presidency, would he be able to gain momentum rather than lose it in the midterm elections? What I remember was that young people who turned out in record numbers in 2008 sat home in 2010, handing Republicans the House and costing Democrats 7 seats in the Senate.
Historically, midterm elections have been awful for the incumbent party – and, in the case of 2010, this happens even when it is the opposition party that was clearly to blame for what happened.
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“What I remember was that young people who turned out in record numbers in 2008 sat home in 2010, handing Republicans the House and costing Democrats 7 seats in the Senate.”
Here’s the thing: Barack Obama did not campaign on nor win the presidency based on telling voters “you’re going to have to continue to be involved and active politically after we win this.” Instead, the essence of his message was “yes we can… get me elected.” So after he was sworn in, did he try to mobilize his voters to fight the GOP during the fight over the stimulus? No. Did he try to mobilize his voters to fight the GOP during the fight over health care? No. So by the time 2010 rolled around a lot of his supporters were (fairly or unfairly) fed up, demoralized, and frustrated with all the compromises he made in those aforementioned fights and stayed home on election day which gave the Tea Party a virtual political monopoly on election day.
Sanders isn’t going to repeat that mistake; he is going to try to keep his base of (young) supporters mobilized the day after the election, after the inauguration, and into the legislative process. Honestly I think a lot of the kids who are involved in this campaign won’t want it to end and Sanders and his team will try to take advantage and build on that desire by selling post-election initiatives as extensions of the campaign. Think of FDR’s radio addresses but in the era of YouTube and the smart phone — “Pres. Sanders has a special, personal message this morning for YOU, [insert name here] about important bill S.123456 and what you need to do to make sure it passes. Call Senator/Rep. so-and-so and let him/her know you will vote him/her out of office if he/she does not vote with the people.”
Now, I can’t guarantee that the above strategy is going to work but I can guarantee that Obama’s strategy of not trying the above has a 100% failure rate in legislative terms. Even if we could get voter turnout in a midterm election to jump 5% or 10%, that would make a yooj ‘difference’, particularly in swing states and/or close races. What you’re raising also highlights the importance of making federal elections a paid holiday within the first 1-2 years of Sanders’ term.
Lastly, the history of midterm elections is a bit more complicated than the very real problem you mention re: incumbency. For example, in the 1960s the Democrats’ control of Congress jumped under JFK and LBJ:
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Thanks for the thoughtful reply!
I think another major reason apathy sets in after elections is that media treats elections as a political horserace, and just don’t have the same saturation or conviction of coverage when it comes down to actually governing. The failure of the media to properly function as a watchdog and its tendency towards sensationalism is frankly appalling.
I am rather pessimistic of the ability of the people to continue mobilizing to anywhere near the same extent after elections are over (to a large extent influenced by the media). Should we give into that apathy, it is incredibly likely we will not succeed in making meaningful change.
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Reblogged this on John Oliver Mason.
What a load of Shit!
Another cogent argument for Hillary. 😀