You Say You want a Revolution?

"You say you want a revolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world"

I am skeptical of the Bernie Sanders revolution. Actually, skeptical isn’t the right word. I am convinced that this particular approach to governing is doomed to fail in the reality of today’s America.

I understand the appeal of Bernie Sanders. For the most part, Bernie hits the nail on the head when he talks about the economic problems we face. When he talks about the sources of the problems and identifies the negative consequences for all of us, I can’t disagree. I’ve written many times in the past about the same problems, and what I have written is often identical to what Bernie Sanders has emphasized.

I know Bernie is well-meaning when he talks about wanting to fix the structural problems with our economy. I know that many of his followers are also well-meaning.

"You say you got a real solution
Well, you know
We'd all love to see the plan"

When I wrote this essay about how NONE of Bernie’s promises for fixing the economy would be within his power as president, many Bernie supporters thought I had missed the point. All we need, I was told, is for the Bernie revolution to change the minds of the people so much that we will have a Congress with a filibuster-proof majority to implement his policies. The people will demand it, because of the revolution.

Bernie said essentially the same thing during the last debate. He was asked how he could get his policies through when the experts said he couldn’t, and his answer was to talk about the people giving him this mandate with a cooperative House and Senate.

In the meantime, I have heard many people admit that their support of Bernie Sanders hinges on electing such a Congress. They continue to support Bernie while at the same time they admit that his policies won’t work unless we change Congress. And they expect demands from the people, as a result of the Bernie revolution, to give us such a Congress.

But it isn’t going to happen in 2016. We aren’t even going to make enough progress in 2016 to gather momentum in order to put us on a track towards getting there soon. Reality stands in the way.

For this revolution to be successful, the minds of many people in diverse political climates will have to be changed. Not only would we need to elect many more progressives, we would have to elect progressives who aren’t afraid to vote in direct opposition to the current political climates in their red-state districts. That won’t happen, at least not in large enough numbers to make a difference. First, those political climates will have to change. Electing Bernie Sanders on the faith that it will change enough local political climates this year – or even in 2018 – requires blind faith.

People talk about the Bernie revolution being a grass roots movement. This “grass roots movement” is actually top-down, with heavy emphasis on the “top” part. Overwhelmingly, the enthusiasm of Bernie supporters is directed directly at the Bernie Sanders bid for the presidency. There is no huge movement towards changing the local political climates in order to make the revolution work. There is little interest in the work of governing, other than trying to get Bernie Sanders elected. This is most definitely a top-down approach at a time when a bottom-up approach would be necessary for success.

In the Iowa caucuses, the turnout on the Democrat side was down, compared to the enthusiasm of 2008. At the same time, the Republican side had a record turnout. This is hardly an indication that such a revolution is underway.

Republicans, meanwhile, have been using their talking points in a way to discredit Hillary Clinton. They haven’t begun to make their case against Sanders. But if Bernie wins the nomination, only a fool would believe that they won’t come out swinging and landing blows. Do you think the Republican nominee and Republican pundits won’t make a HUGE deal about the word “socialist”? Do you think that the Republican base won’t fall for the implication that “socialist” implies “communist”? Do you think they won’t make a HUGE deal about big government and “freebies”? Do you think they won’t exploit Bernie’s lack of interest and knowledge in foreign affairs and his perceived pacifism? As the saying goes, we ain’t seen nuthin’ yet.

This doesn’t mean that Bernie Sanders couldn’t survive these attacks well enough to come out on top. Damaged, yes, but he could still win the presidency. Yet these attacks will come. More than anything, such attacks will serve the purpose of decreasing the number of people willing to join in on a Bernie revolution.

I attended the Iowa caucus. I live in a precinct with a lot of college kids who are enthusiastic supporters of Bernie Sanders. They showed up in large numbers. They were loud and enthusiastic. But most of the agenda for the evening involved the tedious process of organization. It involved some real grass-roots activities and communication. Those young Bernie supporters, as a group, showed no interest in the process. They were obviously bored with the process, and – kids being kids – responded by being disruptive. When the agenda finally got around to standing up to be counted for the presidential race, they loudly proclaimed their support for Bernie. Immediately after that vote, they walked out en masse. There still was work to do – picking county delegates to cast the “official” vote at a later time, for example.

The Bernie base showed no interest in the details and the behind-the-scenes work of democracy. Their enthusiasm appeared to be shallow, and hardly what would be required in order to get a people’s mandate for the kind of congressional support necessary to make a revolution work.

If Bernie Sanders wins the nomination, I will support him in the general election. I will defend him against the false attacks which are certain to come from the Republican side. I will retain hope that he is indeed electable.

Do I think he can govern? Yes. While I know for certain that his promised legislative actions are impossible, he can still use his general outlook in order to accomplish progressive goals. But he won’t do it by demanding that his promised agenda be implemented. He will have to do it by changing his approach. He will have to do it by adopting Hillary’s approach.

It won’t look like a revolution. Perhaps Bernie’s supporters will learn the hard work of building a revolution from the bottom up. So far, they haven’t seemed to have figured out the necessity. So far, Bernie Sanders has been a demagogue – one which I consider to be necessary – but there is a difference between being a demagogue and governing in the real-world.

Jerry Wyant