You say you want a revolution

Bernie Sanders Supporters by Gage Skidmore, licensed under CC BY 2.0

Bernie Sanders Supporters by Gage Skidmore, licensed under CC BY 2.0

Apparently, a "fart-in" during Hillary Clinton's acceptance speech is an actual thing being planned by die-hard Bernie Sanders supporters for the Philadelphia convention.

The Revolution was supposed to be something so much greater than an expulsion of odious gas. Yet that is the perfect metaphor for what Sen. Sanders' campaign has become.

Sen. Sanders wasn't supposed to get this far. Secretary Clinton was supposed to have crushed him and all the other opposition. And Sen. Sanders knew he didn't have much of a chance, which is why when he made his declaration for the Democratic presidential nomination he said he wasn't running against other Democrats, but for "the American people". It was supposed to be a campaign to bring forth issues about which he cared, not one to trash other candidates.

For a while it was that. But then something funny happened on the way to the Forum. 

Let me disabuse you of the notion that the only people irate at President Barack Obama were racist white conservatives. After his first inauguration, it became clear that there was a deep well of racism among the left as well. The most liberal president since Roosevelt was pilloried as a neoliberal, as a warmonger, as a failure. Bill Maher famously said that he "voted for the black guy and got the white guy", as if race was the sole reason to vote for Pres. Obama. And of course, Prof. Cornell West, he who cleaves to Brother Bernie and finds nice things to say about Brother Trump, called Pres. Obama the first "niggerized President". Race surrounded this president, both from the right and left, obscuring his real achievements. (For a rundown of those achievements, this article is illustrative.)

Sen. Sanders' brief was to bring "the forgotten" into the political process. It wasn't to co-opt the Obama coalition, which is the dominant coalition in US presidential politics. It was to create a new grassroots revolution, which would blow away the cobwebs of the ossified Democratic house.

A significant segment of those "forgotten" were those who felt that their pet projects and priorities were not getting the attention they deserved in a broad, multiethnic, intersectional Democratic Party. Basically, the people who were used to being at the head of the table and now had to make room for others.

This came out most vividly in the debate over Obamacare. The screeching from the left when the "public option" was jettisoned when it became painfully obvious that the 60 votes required to quash a filibuster were not there if it remained in the package was epic. It was as if the President had betrayed every liberal icon to ever grace the nation.

Years later, 20 million Americans have insurance who before didn't have it. And those screechers would have been perfectly happy for the bill which brought them that peace of mind to have died because of the lack of a public option.

Sen. Sanders campaigned on calling the ACA a "modest" improvement, not what it was: the most far-reaching social program since Medicare. His plan was to move to a single payer system, as if that was the only thing which would fix the medical coverage crisis. (Contrary to belief, single payer is not the dominant form of healthcare delivery in the developed world. Germany, for example, has a system very similar to Obamacare. We have much to learn from systems like this to make our healthcare delivery better.) He didn't say how he was going to enact single-payer. He didn't say what he would do with the demise of a major industry. It would just be done.

The single-payer crusade was prologue. As his campaign gained traction, he suddenly pivoted to attacking other Democrats. He started to speak disparagingly of the "Establishment"—like, for instance, Planned Parenthood and the Human Rights Campaign, or basically anyone who endorsed Sec. Clinton and not him. His acolytes lapped it up, feeling they were the shock troops of a cleansing of the Democratic Party.

Here's the thing, though: there already was a revolution. It was the Obama Revolution. The question was: who was going to tap that energy, that new reality, and who was going to tilt at windmills. 

Sen. Sanders decided to be Don Quixote. Sec. Clinton was the candidate who cleaved to Pres. Obama. Not slavishly, not as a mere continuation of the Obama administration. But she realized that the party and the country had already been changed by Pres. Obama, and that riding and directing those forces was the key to electoral success. It certainly didn't lay in reinventing the wheel, or going after a demographic which had long left the Democratic tent.

This became obvious in the Southern primaries, where Mrs. Clinton won in a landslide with the demographics which would be essential to a November contest. The wails from the Sanders camp were interesting. The voters there were called "Confederates". The overwhelmingly black electorate of those states were discounted as "low information". Her victories were dismissed as those states wouldn't vote Democratic in the general election. You didn't hear the same cavils when Sen. Sanders won primarily white states like Utah, which also have a history of not voting for Democrats in November.

As a Democratic candidate, you had a choice: embrace the Obama Revolution and build on its successes, or flip the table and say something new and radical was needed. Sen. Sanders chose the second option, and as it became obvious that Democratic voters weren't buying what he was selling, he became more unhinged, launching the kind of personal attacks on Sec. Clinton which he said he wouldn't. The attacks were such that Donald Trump regularly thanks Sen. Sanders for giving him material.

"Revolution" requires work. Pres. Obama put in that work. Sec. Clinton put in that work, raising money for down-ticket races; without a Senate and House, any proposals she has as president will face the same obstacles as Pres. Obama has faced. Sen. Sanders' more fervid acolytes feel that all that needs to happen is to have Bernie in the Oval Office, and million-man marches whenever Congress needs to be pressured. The lack of basic civics education is one of the greatest deficiencies in American schools. 

The difference between Sec. Clinton and Sen. Sanders is the difference between a seasoned politician who knows the value of building relationships, and a politician who, although he has caucused with Democrats, has no friends among that caucus. No man is an island; that applies doubly to a politician, if that politician wants to make progress on any of his or her projects.

Sen. Sanders—who plans to run for re-election in Vermont as an Independent—feels that he has the power to completely change the Democratic Party. A good majority of Democratic voters seem to disagree with him. We have been on a revolution for eight years. It will continue under Sec. Clinton. We don't need his. His will, finally, end in a passing of gas.



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