The Trouble with Bernie Sanders, Part One
What Bernie is doing right
I started this season last year as a fervent supporter of much of what is in the Sander's plank. I wanted Bernie Sanders to serve as a "loyal opposition" to our party and take a bit of a prophet's role. I wanted him to push the party to uphold its core values and for Hillary not to do that "compromise" and "I'm the Centrist" thing that our candidates have been forced to do for as long as I've been able to vote. I was hoping that Bernie would be active in electing a progressive democrat caucus to be a majority party in the country and support a transformation of our party from bottom up. We need local as much as national changes and I was hoping that he'd put a fire under democrats around the country.
Yes, I was looking for an intervention. Something cooperative and helpful. I figured Bernie was going to inspire hundreds of House and Senate candidates, and folks to run for state and local office --> and support their efforts. I didn't think he'd be talking about a revolution that couldn't possibly start until he had the nomination at the minimum and was in office more likely --> and that would face the same pressures that hit Obama. I have a list of things I'd like to see us accomplish to build a real revolution. I hoped Bernie would be pushing them.
The specific ideas and principles I hoped he'd push included an electoral revolution that;
- a: invites former independents back into the Democratic party.
- b: That seeks process changes to make the party more competitive, transparent and responsive internally.
- c: That makes the party primary & communication process more interactive and rational.
- d: That draws people into local and legislative races more.
- e: that Actually funds the process so that each candidate isn't a herculean project.
My list of changes is positive however. I was hoping we'd apply the recommendations of persons as diverse as George Lakoff [see Building A Democratic party that can "be all it can be"] to the Amerian Society of Civil Engineers (AFCE). Bernie listened to the AFCE, though not to Lakoff.
Who is Bernie Sanders?
I did some digging into who Bernie was. It took iterations of readings as he goes all the way back to the 60's when he was involved in the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), marched with some of the Civil Rights events in Chicago and went to DC to hear Martin Luther King speak. He left CORE to live on a Kibbutz, moved to Vermont in 1964 and eventually wound up as Mayor of Vermont and a Social Democrat politician. I don't know if he and Hillary went to the same speech. But Martin Luther King Junior was on the right track on how to achieve a successful revolution. Bernie left the Civil Rights movement when he graduated college in 1964 and moved to Vermont. I talk a little about this in my blog article "Hoisted with our own Petard." He left the movement just as the two groups he was involved with became radicalized and were taken over by "Black Nationalists" around Stokely Carmichael, Floyd McKissick and Roy Innis. From 1964 to 1968 Bernie did volunteer work in New York, visited a Kibbutz and taught head start classes. Carmichael would later "accidently" encourage folks to loot and burn their own neighborhoods during the 1968 DC riots. By then Bernie was living in Vermont and sounding pretty much the same as he sounds now. During the 70s he ran several unsuccessful candidacies for Governor of Vermont. The Nation tells us:
" In the 1970s, after joining the antiwar Liberty Union Party, Sanders ran for several statewide offices, including governor, US Senate, and the US House (Vermont has only one seat). He never garnered more than 4 percent of the vote, but he did better in Burlington than in Vermont’s rural areas, which gave him hope that he had a shot at winning office in the local government." [The Nation]
In 1981 he won a job as Mayor of Burlington Vermont and won!
He served as Mayor of Burlington Vermont from 1981-1989 [The Nation]. As Mayor he won over much of the business community when they saw that, as the Nation article notes:
"Bernie was never anti-growth, anti-development, or anti-business,” explained Monte. “He just wanted businesses to be responsible toward their employees and the community. He wanted local entrepreneurs to thrive. He wanted people to have good jobs that pay a living wage. If you could deal with that, you could deal with Bernie and Bernie would deal with you.” [The Nation]
After successful terms running that city for three terms, he ran for the Vermont House Seat in the USA Congress. He served in the congress from 1988 to 2006 and in the Senate from 2006 to the present. During that time he has been solidly progressive, a civil libertarian, mostly to the left of the rest of the Democratic party.
What we can learn from Bernie's experience is how to build from bottom up. The Nation article also notes:
"What [we] can learn from Sanders is that good ideas are not sufficient. Creating more livable cities requires nurturing a core of activist organizations that can build long-term support for progressive municipal policies." [The Nation]
That observation scales.
Running for President of the United States [POTUS]
I've liked Bernie's plank from the beginning. I thought it ought to be adopted wholesale as part of a "common plank" that all could agree on. [see post on subject] For one thing I believe that a keystone capability of our system should be rebuilding our infrastructure http://holtesthoughts.blogspot.com/2014/12/how-to-rebuild-our-infrastructure.html and updating our National Service Structure; Education, Health, Utilities. The infrastructure piece was in his plank from the beginning as well as in that of other candidates. I believe we need not only an "Infrastructure Bank" (and Education and Health Care Bank) with access to treasury notes issued interest free as cash notes (Greenbacks), but we also need to employ the militia provisions of the Constitution to ensure that we have a truly national response system to emergency response, repairs and to extending the system to reach everyone. I can't fault anyone for not picking up on the idea because I'm only now getting the idea crystalize, but Bernie has had most of this in his plank and it's been there since the beginning of his campaign. [see: Rebuilding America Page]
I agree with much of his "revolutionary Program", when he says:
He also was reaching out to people who'd been confused by GOP scapegoating and conservative moral values. Which I also like, more or less.
"are they going to welcome" into the party "the working class and young people." [Cenk Interview]
And I'm all for:
"revitaliz[ing] the party and make it a party of the people, and not just the large campaign contributors."
Which sounds good, but that is, ought to be our project with or without his participation.
What I didn't like I'll talk about in a separate post. But I thought highly of the high plane which his campaign started on. And I felt he dealt with the Civil liberties and equity issues raised by "Black Lives Matter" protesters fairly well. Bernie showed surprising flexibility in handling them. [see BLM].
We Dems are Values Voters
I liked him pushing the party to the left and I liked him responding to the concerns of young people. (Hillary did too). I believed we need to learn lessons from Lakoff's critique from 2014 and I thought his candidacy would embody some of those lessons, including:
"changing how Americans understand what Democrats are and to changing day-to-day political discourse. In reality, it is the day-to-day discourse changes that most affect elections and move our politics over time."
Just by being part of the race we were changing our day to day political discourse. People saw the arguments, and we weren't using GOP language to advance the ideas as our "p'ofessional" insiders kept telling us to do. We began to see that:
our "issues are systemically related via moral worldviews."
And we need to share how they are systematically related and win people over to our moral worldview. And I thought that maybe we were catching on to a fundamental truth that we should never:
"Assume that people vote on the basis of material self-interest. Design different messages to appeal to different demographic groups. In reality, poor conservatives, as well as rich liberals, will vote against their material interests when they identify with a candidate and his or her values. Values trump issues."
The fact is that we've been voting against our economic issues based on what Right Wing Cons pitched as "values". Bernie was appealing to young folks and workers, with a rational alternative set of values; and not just to their pocketbooks but also to their sense of compassion and sense of right and wrong. He was running a values campaign.
The Trouble with All this
The trouble is he fails to realize that this also applies to our elites, our "establishment" and the professionals involved in the party. We Democrats can raise money from rich liberals without compromising their fundamental values, because most (of course not all) of us are also operating on values. We don't have to be monks to accomplish our goals. Even monks have to eat.
But that I will talk about more in my follow on comments about what Bernie has been doing wrong in my next post. I think everyone already has a pretty good idea of where Hillary is human. This is where Bernie is. He seems to assume that a politician is going to sabotage progressive causes if he or she receives money from wealthy interests. While that is partly true, it's not always true. Unfortunately the "fight" let the parasites back in and folks started violating Lakoff's list on both sides of the primaries.
The point is that Bernie has done much that is right. And if he can carry out some of the internal reforms we need and get our party to stick with it's "common plank" -- essentially similar to his, then we can win in November. If he were to win the Nomination, I would still gladly support him. I don't see how he'll do it.
- Cenk's Interview
- "common plank
- BLM: http://holtesthoughts.blogspot.com/2015/07/in-order-for-all-lives-to-matter-black.html
- George Lakoff: Building A Democratic party that can "be all it can be"
- Hoisted with our Own Petard
- Stokely Carmihael
- Role in DC Riots: [http://www.carolmoore.net/sfm/dc-riots1968.html]
- Bernie Bio Information
- As Mayor: [http://www.thenation.com/article/bernies-burlington-city-sustainable-future/]
- Infrastructure Issues
- American Society of Civil Engineers Report: [http://www.infrastructurereportcard.org/]
- Creating Jobs Rebuilding America [https://berniesanders.com/issues/creating-jobs-rebuilding-america/]