I find myself powerfully moved and inspired by Bernie Sanders and the movement to elect him the next President of the U.S. I don’t only want Trump to lose, an existential need that we all ought to feel. I want Sanders to win, an aspirational desire that we all ought to have.
Sanders has already and will increasingly face an escalating tsunami of opposition so intent on stopping the positive gains that he would bring that it will even accept and aid the existential threat that Trump‘s re-election would entrench.
It’s an aside, but I am unsure whether Trump or old line Democratic Party, establishment media, and corporate ”elites” each defending their personal positions against the Sanders campaign are the more immoral contemporary actors.
Regardless, Sanders opponents will do whatever they think will work whatever its impact on the world or society. In their quest, four themes seem so far predominant. Sanders’ answers have been admirable, but I think perhaps not quite definitive.
- Opposing candidates, media, and corporate detractors say: Bernie, you are a socialist/communist. You would eliminate freedom and destroy America.
Sanders answers: I am a democratic socialist. I favor free health care for all, free public higher education, free day care, taxing the rich, eliminating medical debt, eliminating student debt, expanding low income housing, banning assault weapons, democratizing elections, instituting the Green New Deal, and more – all of which are favored by large majorities of the public. Which of my aims would eliminate freedom? Which would destroy America? Which do you reject and why?
I think Sanders’ answer about his ideology is sound as is. But what would be the response if he added something like: If you oppose free health care for all, if you oppose free public higher education, if you oppose free day care, if you oppose taxing the rich, if you oppose eliminating medical debt, if you oppose eliminating student debt, if you oppose banning assault weapons, if you oppose expanding housing, if you oppose the Green New Deal, and more – then isn’t it you and not me who is opposing that which is favored by large majorities of the public and that which would free large majorities of the public from severe restraints on their lives? Isn’t it you and not me who would reduce freedom? Isn’t it you and not me who would diminish America and even the world under the dual dangers of escalating inequality and spiraling global warming?
- Opponents say: Bernie, you will lose votes compared to Hilary Clinton’s effort because you divide Democrats. You therefore can’t beat Trump.
Sanders answers: Look at my poll results head to head with Trump. Look at the excitement our campaign generates. Imagine the increased turnout it will produce among returning voters and new ones too. Of course I can beat Trump.
Regarding electability, I believe the observation that Sanders would lose some of Clinton’s votes is true because some Democrats will likely opt to protect their own circumstances at the expense of all else. Might it therefore be more compelling for Sanders to admit that some Clinton supporters may oppose him, even against Trump, and to then explain why they may do that – and then emphasize that two factors will overwhelmingly off set any such defections.
First, Sanders’ could answer, as he does, that his campaign will add many more new and returning voters due not only to its dynamism and numbers of committed volunteers, but, even more so, due to the simple truth that 2016 non-voters will this time have a very compelling reason to vote because they will see that the Sanders program is not lying rhetoric but instead uncompromising, attainable benefits that Sanders will unrelentingly seek?
And second, many of Trump’s working class voters who didn’t want business as usual and who saw elites rail at Trump and decided anyone so hated by the establishment might be a potential friend, and who therefore thought Trump might work for them, will see that Trump didn’t work for them. They will see that Sanders is way more hated by elites. They will believe not as fantasy in the shadow of desperate conditions, but due to Sanders’ integrity and his record, that Sanders will be a real friend and will even welcome them to fight with him for the changes they need. And so they will vote Sanders.
- Opponents say: Bernie, even if elected, you won’t be able to pay for your programs. You will squander the chance for lesser gains with nice but unaffordable promises.
Sanders answers: Our revenues and expenditures for all our programs are itemized in our website for all to see. Take a look. Get factual.
I think Sanders’ answer about affordability is sound as is, but I think he might perhaps usefully clarify a particular dimension of it. That is, Sanders could enlarge and more graphically itemize military cuts, and he could simultaneously propose a redefinition of current priorities for the use of still huge military expenditures. Sanders could, for example, propose the use of the military to help build new low income housing, not least to go free to soldiers themselves after they leave the military. And he could also propose that the military help implement the Green New Deal.
- Opponents say: Bernie, even if elected you won’t attain your goals because you can’t work with others, you can’t forge alliances.
Sanders: Nonsense. See my record of working with Democrats and Republicans over and over for decades, whenever doing so can win worthy gains. Is this silly lie the best you have to besmirch me?
It is regarding this fourth theme where I think Sanders’ answer, while formally true, begs the question a bit and misses an opportunity. His opponents of course know he is more than able to work with others whenever working with others is a path to positive gains. What they are really saying is: Bernie, you don’t play the political game nicely. You don’t barter away the essence of your commitments for minor concessions. If you become President, you will stick to the heart and soul of your program. You won’t gut it. You won’t agree to include clauses and loopholes that restrict and nullify it. Others will therefore opt to block you, and we will get nothing.
What if Sanders answered this, you are right, I won’t pursue politics as usual. I won’t jettison my commitments to America’s working people, to our children and to our parents, and to the future. That is correct. But you are wrong that as a result I won’t be able to implement the program. In the short run, I will quickly accomplish a lot with executive orders. But beyond that, and ultimately more important, instead of turning to billionaire beholden senators and congresspeople with my hat in hand, bent and bowed, ready to capitulate the essence of progress, which in your eyes would be playing the game properly, -laying the game the way you play it – I will instead tell the public what I seek. I will tell the public who is in the way. And I will urge the public to make their feelings known in the streets, at the businesses of the billionaire supporters of the obstructionist politicians, in the offices of the obstructionist politicians, and in the voting booths. As President I will of course negotiate real and serious issues with all concerned, but I will not sell out to political opponents and I will welcome and support activist allies.
As a result, in my first year, executive orders will achieve a whole lot. In my second year, if they haven’t already, obstructionists seeking to derail progress will cave to the pressures their activist constituents mount, or, in the third year, the obstructionists will be voted out of office.
So yes, I will stay the course of my program rather than spit at democracy. I will turn to the public rather than jettisoning my commitments to the public. I will promote movements for change and not barter away the essence of our aims with opponents of change. I will implement the will of the public rather than settling for watered down and hamstrung policies. I will not reward obstructionism. I will overcome it with the power of the people.