Okay, progressives, liberals, my friends. I speak to those of you feeling the Bern. You’re part of the insurgency, the movement, the revolution. You’re fans of Bernie Sanders. Let’s talk about the upcoming election.
No, not the Presidential election in 2016. The one in 2018. That’s the important one.
To me, the most remarkable, hopeful, positive development in this election has been the candidacy of Bernie Sanders. I love the passion. I love the energy. I love Sanders’ personality, his basic, fundamental integrity. Driving to vote in the Utah caucus, I was so inspired by all the young people waiting patiently in line to vote. I find the whole movement immensely exciting.
It’s probably not going to win Bernie Sanders the Presidential nomination in 2016. In all likelihood, the Democratic candidate for President will be Hillary Clinton. And there are two ways to think about that. One way would be to say ‘the system is rigged. It’s completely corrupt. I give up. Politics is dirty and bad people win, and why even bother trying.’ But as I understand it, that’s actually not the message of Bernie Sanders.
If Bernie Sanders loses the nomination (and he’s likely to), the second way to look at it is to say ‘temporary setback. No big deal. The cause is what matters, and the fight will continue.’
As I understand it, the message of the Bernie Sanders campaign is that Bernie Sanders isn’t what matters. What matters is progressivism. What matters is the idea of using politics to make life better for everyone. What matters is reshaping American society in a more equitable, more fair, more shared direction. If Bernie Sanders were to win the Presidency, that would be one small step in the right direction. But that’s all it would be. If Bernie Sanders doesn’t win the nomination (and he probably won’t), every part of the vision he articulated remains within our grasp. We’ll just have to find a different way to accomplish it. And that’s okay.
I say all this as a supporter of Hillary Clinton. I believe in her commitment to the basic goals of progressivism. I see her as an incrementalist, as a policy wonk. That’s my personality; I believe in small, accumulative changes, based on solid research and reasoning. I’m pretty much a Fabian socialist. But I wouldn’t support her if I didn’t think that her goals were fundamentally compatible with the basic principles of progressive policy.
She’s also going to win. Donald Trump is a dreadful candidate for President of the United States, all bluster and bigotry and ignorance. Most Republicans I know have quietly written this year off. When she wins, the hard work will begin.
Earthly paradise? The US becomes Norway? Universal health care, free tuition, paid maternity leave? Fifteen bucks an hour minimum wage?
No. Not yet. In a Parliamentary system of government, the winning party or party coalition gets to impose its agenda. In the US, we have checks and balances. It’s harder to pass legislation, intentionally. That’s why the United States is more conservative then Europe. Any President has to get his program through not one, but two chambers of Congress. And that’s hard to do. Ask President Obama.
In fact, the Obama Presidency provides a template that we really want to avoid. A two year honeymoon (during which time he was also trying to dig the US out of the rubble of the biggest economic collapse since 1929), then, in 2010, a catastrophic low-turn-out midterm election, followed by six years of obstruction and stultifying deadlock. Not President Obama’s fault. If you didn’t vote in 2010, it’s your fault. Own it.
Here’s Samantha Bee on 2010. (Warning: some language and disturbing, in fact disgusting, images).
Whenever I hear young progressives say ‘there’s no difference between the two American political parties. They’re both corrupt. They’re both controlled by corporate interests’ I want to throw up my hands in despair. I’m perfectly aware of the shortcomings and hypocrisies and compromises and corruption within the Democratic party. Of course it’s a deeply flawed vehicle for progressive social change. Obviously that’s true. So what? It’s what we have.
Is it possible that you haven’t noticed that the other party, the Republican Party, defines itself in terms of a conservative ideology that is fundamentally opposed to progressivism? Have you watched any of the Republican debates? You are aware, aren’t you, that when Republicans talk about a ‘pro-growth’ economic plan, they mean cutting taxes for rich people? That that’s their solution for everything?
Are you aware that at the heart of conservatism is ‘limited government?’ And that the heart of progressivism is ‘use the powers of government for good?’ I have many conservative friends, good people. But we don’t, fundamentally, agree.
Do you want to get good things done? Do you want to actually make the United States of America a progressive paradise? Then you have to work. You have to work with Congress, with the Constitution, and above all, with the Democratic party.
And above all, you have to vote, and you have to organize, and you have to get your friends to vote, and you have to quietly, gently persuade the more skeptical among you.
It’s what conservatives are great at. Give them props; Republicans are amazingly good at networking, at grass roots organizing, at finding fellow conservatives and working together to get things done. We should study them, and learn from them.
But if, in what will be the most important, most consequential election of your lifetime, in 2018, it turns out that only 12% of young people vote, then everything Bernie Sanders stands for will have failed. All that passion, all that energy, all that excitement, all for naught. That will be the test. Will we fail? Again?