Wrong Place, Wrong Time: Why Bernie Sanders' "Political Revolution" Has Never Been Realistic

It's good to set ambitious goals but it's even better to set realistic ones.

Throughout world history, revolutionary figures that were successfully able to create genuine movements did so in a way built upon the power of the people. Folks like Gandhi, Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Cesar Chavez were all able to harness the power of the oppressed and translate that power into widespread movement. For Gandhi, his strength lay in his peaceful non-violent approach that won his movement international praise. For Nelson Mandela, he built such a strong following that even while imprisoned he was still the most powerful man in his country. For Martin Luther King, Jr. he was able to harness the strength in numbers and his historic march on Washington showcased the extent of his power to unite those behind him. For Cesar Chavez, his strength lay in his ability to work across various oppressed groups and to convince them to unite behind a common cause.  

Each of these legendary figures began their revolution with a specific goal in mind: to create a change in the status quo. To do this, they had to convince those being oppressed that there was indeed a way to overcome this oppression if they worked together for the common good. In each case, the people being oppressed had long felt, and many legal aspects actually were, second-class citizens in their very own countries. The hue of their skin was darker than the ruling class and thus they were seen as inherently inferior. They did not have equal access to jobs. They did not have equal access to education. They did not have equal access to travel. They did not have equal access to legal representation. And they did not have equal access to the opportunity that their own countries claimed was possible for all its citizens.  

These revolutions did not happen overnight. They took years. In fact, in one could argue that these revolutions are still going on today. India is still feeling the impact of British colonialism even after sixty years of independence. South Africa still has visible remains from the apartheid era. The United States still struggles with systemic racism and dehumanizing working conditions for both migrant and Latino workers. These examples show that even after decades of hard work, even after an internationally recognized revolution, that countries can and will still struggle to overcome an entrenched system of a ruling class doing whatever it can to maintain the status quo.  

For decades, Bernie Sanders has made it his mission to fight against the status quo in this country. To do so, he believed he had to work outside the traditional two party system. In Vermont, he became a radical third party candidate for the Liberty Union Party, a party formed in 1970 whose platform included 12 proposed ways to turn America into a socialist nation. After running four separate unsuccessful attempts for both governor and senator, Sanders abandoned the party in 1977 and ended up running for mayor of the city of Burlington in 1981 as an independent. He won that election by a mere 10 votes and earned the moniker "The Socialist Mayor" in the national press. 

But Sanders' "revolution" had to somehow extend beyond the Green Mountain State and he needed to progress beyond Burlington. In 1986 now with name recognition, he ran for governor as an independent and came in third. In 1988, he ran for Vermont's at-large congressional district and came in second to Republican Peter Smith. This now marked six unsuccessful statewide campaigns for Sanders as a member of the Liberty Union Party and as an independent. Something had to give so Sanders made a mutually beneficial agreement with the Vermont Democratic Party that he wouldn't form a statewide third party in exchange for the state Democratic Party not running an official candidate for congress in 1990. In addition, that year Sanders was supported by the NRA due to Smith having gone back on his word on an assault rifle ban while in congress. The lack of Democratic challenger combined with the NRA's endorsement gave Sanders his first victory in seven attempts and made him the first socialist in congress since the 1950s. 

So Sanders finally had his platform to enact his "political revolution" in the hallowed halls of congress. He had the ability to create and enact legislation. He had the ability to make speeches on the House floor. He had media access on both radio and the Sunday shows. He had the ability to be a voice for all those he saw as oppressed, victims of a capitalist system that forced people into a life of low wages and no access to healthcare or education. He had his metaphorical microphone where he could be the leader of a movement of all the oppressed Americans. He could be their savior. He could be the person to add his name to the history books and become a famous revolutionary following in the footsteps of Gandhi, Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Cesar Chavez. It was all there for the taking and Sanders had every opportunity to become legendary.

And for twenty-five years he did nothing.  

Sanders has authored a total of three bills during his tenure in both the House and Senate, two of which renamed Post Offices. He would often provide fiery speeches on the House and Senate floor but that seemed to accomplish little. In 2015 he was ranked as the most partisan senator, edging out Ted Cruz of all people. Despite easily winning re-election in 2012, Sanders' message of a "political revolution" still seemed silent beyond Vermont's borders. Sanders was simply unable to reform the system from within after 25 years of being part of the "establishment" of Washington, D.C. Sanders was left with one final option to create his "political revolution": a run for president of the United States.  

And so in April, Sanders announced his candidacy with an ambitious socialist agenda. When criticism first starting pouring in about the unrealistic nature of this agenda in today's political climate, Sanders responded with the notion that if millions of Americans rose up and had their voices heard then it would create a "political revolution" that would take Washington, D.C. by storm. Sanders believed that young, millennial voters would take the lead on this and made college towns central locations for his rallies. With packed houses surrounded by affluent, White voters Sanders couldn't help but believe that his long sought after revolution was finally materializing and that he was about to become a legendary revolutionary figure. 

Then reality hit in.   

And the reality of the situation is that Americans in 2016 aren't hungry for a political revolution. In fact, it can be argued that Barack Obama already achieved a revolution in 2008. The people most hungry for change are millennials who are receiving the brunt of thirty years of destructive Republican policies. They simply don't understand that their stagnant wages, high cost of living, and student loan debt are all products of a concerted effort by Republican administrations to continue to peddle the myth of trickle-down economics. They also fail to realize that the proposals Bernie Sanders is making such as a higher minimum wage, universal healthcare, free community college, and improving our infrastructure are all things that Barack Obama has proposed and enacted as best he could under his constitutional authority as well as blatant Republican obstruction. Millennials, largely unaware of how partisan Washington D.C. had become, were fully on board for Sander's political revolution.  

But hardly anybody else was. Sanders has failed to connect with African-American and Latino voters who care about more than simple income inequality. He has failed to connect with registered Democratic voters due to large part to the fact that he admitted to using the party for media exposure and financial gain. He has failed to connect with older voters, many of whom see him as a George McGovern candidate, well-intentioned but simply unelectable in a general election. And he has failed to connect with women, especially women of color. With this many segments of the population in disagreement with Sanders' platform it would appear unlikely for there to be an overwhelming enthusiasm for his candidacy at the polls. 

This year's turnout unquestionably backs this up this assertion. Turnout for this year has been breaking 2008 records, but only on the Republican side. Part of that has to do with the competitive nature of the Republican primary, but it speaks volumes that Democrats aren't flocking to Bernie Sanders' call for revolution. In Iowa, 30% fewer Democrats voted in 2016 than voted in 2008. In New Hampshire, 30,000 fewer Democrats voted. On Super Tuesday, 32% fewer Democrats voted. In North Carolina, 10% fewer Democrats voted and that was the southern state where turnout Democratic turnout was closest it has been to the Republican turnout thus far this primary season. Even Arizona, with its five-hour wait times saw fewer Democrats vote this year than in 2008. 

The truth is that the American people simply aren't ready for a radical socialist agenda. If famous worldwide revolutions have taught us anything it's that revolution cannot happen overnight and they cannot happen if there is no obvious reason to do so. The United States is not facing an immediate crisis. There is no doubt that income inequality is one of the critical issues of our time. But as history has shown, this is not the first time this has happened. During the Gilded Age, there existed a system where wealth was centralized at the top and robber barons and other essentially could buy and sell any politician they chose. This caused a heavy recession but eventually President Teddy Roosevelt was elected to office and he enforced previous legislation to break up the trusts that had stymied American growth and development. People were angry and upset, but even then they weren't ready to revolt in the streets, take up their pitchforks, and march on Washington, D.C. 

What Bernie Sanders has failed to realize is that most people today simply want to get by. They get frustrated, sure, but they don't want to upend our political system. They know that there are corrupt officials and that Wall Street companies and big corporations take advantage of the system but they don't want to camp out in public parks to voice their disapproval. They know that a select few own vast amounts of wealth in this country but they aren't about to march on Bill Gates' estate any time soon. They know that student loans make life difficult for millennials trying to start their own families but they're not about to stop making payments as a way to protest the system. The system itself is by no means perfect in our country, but it is not so far gone that it needs to be completely overhauled and replaced.  

These are not conditions ripe for revolution. They never have been. Not at this very moment. With each passing caucus or primary, Bernie Sanders falls farther and farther behind in terms of both the popular vote as well as the number of delegates needed to clinch the nomination. From Massachusetts to Nevada to North Carolina to Texas to Ohio, the American people have heard Sanders' call for a revolution. They have heard his pleas to join him and to become part of a "political revolution" that will make history by sweeping into office a wave of politicians who will agree with and approve anything and everything that Bernie Sanders would propose. At this point, they know what he stands for and they know exactly what his "political revolution" would look like.  

They simply have better things to do.



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