Doing What It Takes To Accomplish Goals
As the 2016 Presidential campaign progresses, much has been said by the candidates for the Democratic nomination about what policies are worth achieving and whether or not they are actually achievable given the state of the nation as it is today. Since the field has been winnowed down to a contest between Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and Former First Lady, New York Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, much discussion has been made distinguishing between lofty ideological goals and the concrete steps which reaching them requires. Idealism vs. Pragmatism – where we are given the choice between the idealistic visions of Sanders and the pragmatic trade-offs which Clinton sees as necessary to making concrete progress in the betterment of our society in the near term.
The Sanders campaign has been a stark contrast to Clinton’s in many respects. First and foremost, he has been among those in the forefront of a movement to get big money out of our elections. Unlike Clinton or the Republicans seeking the nomination for that party, his fundraising does not include Super-PACs and has consisted primarily of small donations by millions of individuals, rather than large donations by a relatively small number of wealthier individuals and corporations. He also sees a political system which has increasingly come to be dominated by large corporations and the wealthy, which have been given increasingly free reign to influence government in a manner which has increased wealth and income inequality throughout our society.
Without Sanders’ presence in the race, the issues he has been raising about economic inequality, improving governance to better serve the needs of the working class, rebuild a middle class that has been decimated by a race to the bottom in terms of real wages for all but the very top elites, improving education and health care affordability for all, etc., would probably have been neglected to a far greater degree than if he had remained on the sidelines. None of these issues have surfaced on the GOP side. Although Martin O’Malley has similar progressive thinking, his message never really caught fire during the months that he participated in the process (he certainly wasn’t able to match the fundraising of either Clinton or Sanders). Other progressive populists mentioned early on as possible contenders for the nomination, like Elizabeth Warren, decided not to run.
Sanders’ candidacy, despite its unconventional nature and the fact that he had never run as a Democrat in the past (including a long career, first as mayor of Burlington, VT, then in the US House of Representatives and Senate), has certainly added to the level of discourse and at least forced the Clinton campaign to sound more progressive than it otherwise would have if she had run unopposed for the nomination. She prides herself on being a progressive who gets things done, but little of that came through in her 2008 campaign against Obama. She played a prominent role in President Clinton’s attempt at Health Care Reform in the 1990’s and gained valuable experience in foreign policy during her tenure as Secretary of State, but her campaigns have been fairly standard politics as usual.
Sanders has a few things going for him which may or may not enable him to overcome the inertia of the Democratic nominating process which definitely favors Clinton as a party establishment insider. He has a message that is meaningful to many, both inside and outside of the Democratic Party, who have become disillusioned with a gradualist approach to improving the lives of the vast majority of Americans. Promises made or changes proposed in speeches (State of the Union or otherwise) which are either not acted upon or quickly shelved at the first sign of difficulty in getting passed though Congress are a big problem for both the Democrats and the Republicans.
Nobody expects the Republicans to do anything other than what they’ve been doing since they got Reagan elected in 1980 – “improve” the economy by making it easier for the wealthy to keep their economic gains (rightly or questionably acquired). Stagnation caused by these policies gets blamed on foreign competition, immigrants or the poor themselves. This is perhaps best illustrated by the way Donald Trump has come to the head of the Republican field by ramping up racist, xenophobic fears to distract from the fact that the economy sucks right now for most of us by design.
Voters, increasing numbers of whom have never known a solid economy where one could get a quality education without incurring tens of thousand of dollars of debt and then get a good paying job in their chosen field quickly upon graduation, are becoming impatient while waiting for this economic resurgence to take place. Foot dragging in Congress, where hundreds of billions are spent yearly on war-making and its preparation with nary a whimper of dissent while spending endless hours plotting how best to cut food for poor kids, Social Security or other social safety net programs, has become nearly intolerable.
Health Care Reform and Dodd-Frank were early accomplishments by the Obama Administration. The Affordable Care Act definitely helped many Americans gain coverage who had none before. At the same time, State of the Union Speeches every year have been calling for minimum wage increases as well as other improvements designed to aid the economy and improve the standard of living for the most vulnerable among us, only to get stonewalled by an recalcitrant Congress unwilling to see the value in helping out anyone other than those already well off.
America needs political leaders who are willing to stand behind their ideals and fight for them. Being elected to an office is meaningless if that power is not put to use in the interests of those one is elected to represent. That is – they live in the district, state or nation that elected them. No reference need be made to ability or willingness to bribe (through political contributions) most efficiently in order to gain future legislative or other favors. The grassroots organizing that Sanders has engendered in this campaign is sorely needed in the Democratic Party to deflect the sheer money madness that Citizens United has wrought on our political campaigns. Rather than trying to beat the Republicans at their own game, the Democrats should be taking advantage of the fact that their message of equality (or at least less severe inequality), fairness and justice is a far easier sell than the one the Republicans have been trotting out.
Difficulty is not the same as impossibility. We need more leaders with imagination and willingness to work hard to get worthwhile things accomplished, rather than protect and extend their tenure in office. Bernie has been espousing his ideas for decades – even before he ever won an election. He has never veered to the right politically to get elected. I don’t agree with every stance he’s ever taken (come to think of it, most of the times I’ve disagreed with him was when he was backing something President Clinton was doing that didn’t turn out so well), but he’s never given me any reason to doubt his integrity or willingness to go to bat for his constituents.
Hillary may well win the nomination, but if she wants to become our long-overdue first woman President, she’ll need the energy and enthusiasm of those who have brought Bernie from relative obscurity to where he is now. They can certainly be a force to be reckoned with in navigating the legislative process on Capitol Hill to accomplish the lofty goals she has been espousing on the campaign trail. They may even be able to elect a Congress more likely to act on behalf of OUR interests rather than those of the oligarchs. That would be a good thing - and a BIG deal.
Suggested Further Readings: