Several days ago after the latest round of primary results made it clear that Hillary Clinton has an almost insurmountable lead in delegates and will be the nominee, Kevin Drum posted Here's Why I Never Warmed Up to Bernie Sanders.
With the Democratic primary basically over, I want to step back a bit and explain the big-picture reason that I never warmed up to Bernie Sanders. It's not so much that he's all that far to my left, nor that he's been pretty skimpy on details about all the programs he proposes. That's hardly uncommon in presidential campaigns. Rather, it's the fact that I think he's basically running a con, and one with the potential to cause distinct damage to the progressive cause.
Before anyone goes nuclear, take a look at what Drum has to say. He’s referring to Sanders’ call for a revolution, with the implicit promise that he can make it happen. Drum isn’t complaining about what Sanders wants to do; his issue is that we are just not going to have a revolution with the economy where it is, and to promise one is a bridge too far.
Drum sees two really revolutionary events in America. One was the lead up culminating in the Civil War and the destruction of the Southern slave economy. The second was the Great Depression in which the entire economy collapsed, leading to the reforms FDR was able to enact. Drum’s point is that we are not in great shape, but we are not near enough to the levels of stress and disruption that triggered those two phase changes in America to expect comparable amounts of change this time around. Not yet at least...
Like it or not, you don't build a revolution on top of an economy like this. Period. If you want to get anything done, you're going to have to do it the old-fashioned way: through the slow boring of hard wood.
Why do I care about this? Because if you want to make a difference in this country, you need to be prepared for a very long, very frustrating slog. You have to buy off interest groups, compromise your ideals, and settle for half loaves—all the things that Bernie disdains as part of the corrupt mainstream establishment. In place of this he promises his followers we can get everything we want via a revolution that's never going to happen. And when that revolution inevitably fails, where do all his impressionable young followers go? Do they join up with the corrupt establishment and commit themselves to the slow boring of hard wood? Or do they give up?
I don't know, but my fear is that some of them will do the latter. And that's a damn shame. They've been conned by a guy who should know better, the same way dieters get conned by late-night miracle diets. When it doesn't work, they throw in the towel.
Read the whole thing — then read Drum’s follow-up: In Which I Respond to My Critics About the Bernie Revolution.
A couple of days ago I wrote a post criticizing Bernie Sanders for basing his campaign on a promised revolution that never had the slightest chance of happening. A lot of people didn't like it, which is hardly a surprise. What is a surprise is how polarizing the response was. My Twitter feed was split almost perfectly in half, and nearly every response fell into one of two categories:
- OMG, thank you for finally writing what I've been feeling all along.
- Another Boomer happy with the status quo. Your generation has been a failure. Stupid article.
There was almost literally nothing in between. Either fulsome praise or utter contempt. I need to think some more before I figure out what to make of this: It's dangerous to assume Twitter reflects the larger progressive community, but it might be equally dangerous to write it off as meaningless. It certainly seems to suggest an even stronger chasm in the Democratic Party than I might have suspected, and possibly more trouble down the road if it also reflects a stronger loathing of Hillary among white millennials than I've previously suspected. But I'm not sure.
Bernie Sanders may have served to crystallize much of the generalized dissatisfaction on the left with the status quo. Has he created a group that is now committed to rejecting anything less than what he promised, or will the people drawn to Sanders temper their aspirations for what they can get now, and keep working for more? The answer to that is of no small interest.
Drum breaks the responses to his piece into a number of categories, and discusses one response that argues that things may not be as polarized as the reaction suggests.
...Greg Sargent makes a perfectly reasonable criticism of my position. My fear is that having been promised a revolution, Bernie supporters will become disgusted and cynical when Hillary Clinton and the establishment win yet again and the revolution doesn't happen. Sargent argues not only that it's useful to have someone like Bernie delivering a "jolt" to the political system, but that he might have permanently invigorated a new cohort of voters.
Drum is NOT hostile to what Sanders is calling for, just the way he’s wrapped it in a call for revolution.
Finally, for the record, here's where I agree and disagree with Bernie's main campaign points. None of this will be new to regular readers, but others might be interested:
• Income inequality: Total agreement. I've written endlessly about this. Rising inequality is a cultural and economic cancer on a lot of different levels.
• Universal health care: Total agreement. I think it will take a while to get there from where we are now, but if I could snap my fingers and import France's health care system today, I'd do it.
•Breaking up big banks: I agree with the sentiment here, but I don't think it's the best way of reining in the finance system. I prefer focusing on leverage: increasing capital requirements significantly; increasing crude leverage requirements; and increasing both of these things more for bigger banks. This makes banks safer in the first place; it gives them an incentive not to grow too large; and it reduces the damage if they fail anyway. (This, by the way, has been our main response to the financial crisis via Basel III and Fed rulemaking. It's been a good step, but it would be better if it had been about twice as big.)
• Free college: I'm ambivalent about this. These days, college benefits the upper middle class much more than the working class. On the other hand, the nation benefits as a whole from making college as accessible as possible. Beyond that, this is mostly a state issue, not one that can be easily solved at a national level. Generally speaking, I'd like to see college debt levels drop by a lot, but I'm not quite sure what the best way to do that is.
• Raising taxes on the rich: I'm generally in favor of this, though not necessarily in exactly the way Bernie proposes. More broadly, though, I think liberals should accept that if we want big programs that significantly reduce inequality—and we should—it's going to require higher taxes on everyone. The rich can certainly do more, especially given their stupendous income increases since the Reagan era, but they can't do it all.
• Military intervention: Bernie hasn't really been very specific on this, but he's generally skeptical of overseas wars. I agree with him entirely about this. It's my biggest concern with a Hillary Clinton presidency.
I've probably left some important stuff out, but those are the big ticket items. Take them for what they're worth.
Read the whole other thing as well. Kevin Drum is talking about stuff that is going to be important going forward. The Clinton campaign is going to have to accommodate Sanders and his supporters — and vice versa. Maybe we can’t get a revolution, but a wave election would be a good start — maximum turnout for Team Blue all the way down the ballot.
It would be even better if Team Blue could count on continued turnout for all of the off-year elections as well, which are just as important — maybe even more important for the long term. Sanders seems to be signaling that he gets it — that he may not get the nomination or a revolution, but keeping Team Blue moving forward in the right direction is still worth fighting for.
Guy Kawasaki, one time Apple Evangelist, discussed what it was like to compete with Microsoft back in the day. As best as I can recall, he compared to this: Imagine your head in a vise. Imagine tightening it as hard as you can stand. Then imagine tightening it even more. That’s what it’s like to compete with Microsoft.
And also what it’s like to go against the status quo. Changing the status quo is not for the faint of heart; revolutions do not happen overnight, however it seems. But it’s not only about Team Blue. If Donald J. Trump succeeds in fracturing the Republican party, and/or it is thoroughly rejected at the ballot box, Team Red is going to be experiencing a revolution of its own — or perhaps devolution is a more accurate term.
Interesting times ahead.