If You Believe It Enough, It Becomes Real: Bernie Math and the Delusion of Revolution

If You Believe It Enough, It Becomes Real: Bernie Math and the Delusion of Revolution

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The hits just keep on coming for Bernie Sanders.  

The fallout from Sanders' now infamous New York Daily News interview has been spreading like wildfire. We here at TPV have been dissecting the transcript of Sanders' interview, in terms of both what Sanders said as well as the implications for his campaign going forward. As I noted in my previous piece, a major concern that arose from the interview was the fact that Sanders never believed he would win, and thus, never considered how he would ever actually enact his agenda. Spandan then followed up my overview with a brilliant article that showcased how Sanders demonstrated himself during the interview to be grossly informed on two issues that theoretically should have been right in his wheelhouse, seeing as they are central to his campaign: those of free trade and penalties for the bankers. Unfortunately for Sanders, there's more, lots more, of analysis that can be done on his now-infamous interview and once again it won't be pretty for the presidential candidate.  

Because in addition to raising concerns over Sanders' motivations as well as his basic understanding of free trade and banking penalties, the interview also brought up another staple of Sanders' campaign that has been a core component since day one: that of a political revolution. In fact, Sanders was asked about this in what ended up comprising a lengthy part of the interview which touched upon several key talking points that Sanders had relied on throughout the campaign. Unfortunately for Sanders, facts got in the way of his argument and he ended up actually undermining the entire premise of what he was trying to say. For example, the first section of that interview portion sets Sanders up and allows him to get into his stump speech:

Daily News: Senator, I wanted to ask you. Because you’ve got this enormous support from young people, as President Obama did in 2008 and 2012. And you’re promising a political revolution. But, if nothing changes in the Senate and in the House of Representatives, how are you going to be able to get anything done? I mean the real issue to me seems to be, what happens in the Senate? And what happens in the House of Representatives?

Sanders: Two things. We are talking about a political revolution and we are already delivering on a political revolution well before Election Day. What do I mean by that? What I mean is this country, and what I say in every speech that I give, no President, not me or anybody else, can do it alone. We need to revitalize American democracy, get people engaged in the political process, in a way that we have not seen for a very, very, very long time.
— NY Daily News Interview with Bernie Sanders

Here, as you can see, Sanders is implying that people simply haven't been interested in politics in the not-so-distant past. This is a veiled shot at the legions of Barack Obama supporters, many of whom became engaged in politics for the first time and worked tirelessly to help elect our country's first African-American president in 2008. What Sanders fails to recognize is that Democratic turnout in 2008 reached the highest level of either party since 1980. Essentially, Sanders is dismissing the 2008 Democratic primary for not having fully engaged the American electorate. In fact, he sees financial contributions as being more indicative of political engagement than actual votes. Sanders goes on to say: 

And the reason I say that, getting back to the questions right here, is, in my view, the powers that be in this country — Wall Street, large campaign contributors, corporate America — are so powerful, no President alone could do it.

So what we are seeing already, in this campaign, is, we have received over six million individual campaign contributions. That’s a political revolution, you know that? That’s unprecedented, I believe, at this point in the campaign, in history. We are seeing...and when you talk about young people, please do not think that these are 23-year-olds or younger. In virtually every primary and caucus process, we have won the votes of people 45 years of age or younger. They’re not just kids. And we’re seeing, I think, a revitalization of American democracy.

With this next point, Sanders attempts to dispel the myth that his campaign is only successfully reaching younger voters by stating that his campaign is winning the 45-and-under vote in "virtually every primary and caucus." However, once again Sanders' assertion is not supported by the facts, specifically exit poll data that networks have collected thus far. According to CNN exit polls, for which we have data from 21 states, Sanders actually lost that demographic in the states of Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, and even Florida and Texas. It should also be noted that there was no exit poll data for Louisiana, a state that Hillary Clinton won handily. Assuming that Clinton won this vote in Louisiana, it should be glaringly obvious that the phrase "virtually every primary and caucus" is disingenuous at best and an outright lie at worst. In fact, these results show that Sanders has actually lost the under-45 demographic in one-third of the states thus far. It's the equivalent of having a braggart father who tells his child he "made nearly every shot in the big game" only to have his child pull up the box score and reply, "Actually, Dad, you only made 66% of your shots." Good, sure. But not as good as Dad led you to believe. But at this point in the interview Sanders is rolling so he continued to hype up his revolution by saying: 

I never believed that we could have voter turnouts higher than Obama did in 2008. Because I thought his 2008 campaign was one of the great campaigns in American history. And, yet, in at least five states, the voter turnout in this campaign so far has been higher. So we are striking a nerve. People want to get involved in the political process and I’m very proud of that.

Um, Senator Sanders, you just said that you wanted to engage people who hadn't been engaged in a "very, very, very long time." So, did you mean people who didn't vote for Obama? Is that how we're supposed to regard this contradiction? Or did you simply mean that you wanted a political revolution that wasn't quite as "revolutionary" as Barack Obama's 2008 campaign? Either way, Sanders here seems to be confused as just how many people need to take part in order for his political revolution to be successful. 

But as a follow-up, Sanders states that in "at least five states" voter turnout has been higher in 2016 than it was in 2008. So let's take a look at this assertion. Through March 14th turnout was, in fact, higher in the caucus states of Colorado, Minnesota, Kansas, and Maine and well as the primary state of Michigan which had low voter turnout in 2008 after Barack Obama and John Edwards withdrew their names from the ballot. So, technically Sanders is correct. However, he is speaking to the larger point that turnout in 2016 hasn't been that bad compared to 2008. Yet on Super Tuesday for example, Democratic turnout was down 32% across all 11 states. Even a recent primary in a competitive state like Arizona, with its five-hour wait times, still saw nearly 50,000 fewer votes cast in 2016 than in 2008. The fact that only a handful of caucus states have had increased turnout this year as opposed to 2008 seems to indicate that the Sanders campaign may be "striking a nerve" but that nerve was struck much more forcefully by voters coming out in 2008 rather than in 2016. And yet, Sanders goes on to say: 

Now, to answer your question. You can’t look at politics as a zero-sum game, and say, “Okay...” First of all, if I win, it will almost by definition mean that there will be a very large voter turnout. That’s what I believe. If there is a very large voter turnout, I think the odds are pretty strong Democrats will regain control of the Senate, do better in the House. Can they win the House? I don’t know. But they will do better.

Now Sanders gets back to the crux of his political revolution argument: that with enough people becoming involved in the political process, they will show up at the polls and usher in a Democratic Senate and maybe even a Democratic House. However, for Democrats to regain control of both bodies of Congress they will need to win the handful of competitive races come November. To win those races, Democratic candidates will need funds to compete against an inevitable onslaught of Koch-infused lies and smears. Yet Bernie Sanders has refused to give a single cent of his record-breaking fundraising totals to any Democratic down-ballot candidate who may be locked in a competitive battle. In addition, Sanders' presence on the ballot alone hasn't guaranteed success for progressive candidates. We saw this Tuesday night in Wisconsin where Sanders may have carried the state, but in a down-ballot race we saw progressive judge JoAnn Kloppenburg lose to Scott Walker-backed judge Rebecca Bradley by over 90,000 votes. Wisconsin may have #FeltTheBern but it didn't feel enough Bern to help take on Governor Scott Walker's continued assault against the working people of his state. Because it is this very idea of people rising up in favor of progressive causes which leads to Sanders' last point where he said:

But more importantly, if I win, it will mean that millions of people now want to be involved in the political process in a way that has not previously existed. Every item that I am talking about on my agenda is, I believe, supported by the majority of the people in this country. My major job is to mobilize the American people to demand that Congress listen to them and their needs rather than just the big money interests. That’s how you make change take place. For example, as you know, I’ve talked about the need to make public colleges and universities tuition-free. Do I believe we can deliver on that? Absolutely, because I believe that millions of young people and their parents understand that that’s what we should be doing right now. And I think if Republicans or some Democrats want to vote against it, they will pay a very heavy political price.

The last point epitomizes the kind of bubble that Bernie Sanders has insulted himself within in that he actually believes Congress is responsible to the will of the people. Let's consider his education proposal in this regard. Sanders is insisting that Congress will approve his agenda because it's what the American people want and it's the right thing to do. Sanders apparently went MIA in the spring of 2013 when Congress refused to listen to the 90% of Americans who supported national background checks for gun purchases in the wake of the Newtown massacre. Sanders also apparently has no idea that the Republican governors in 19 states are seemingly unaware that they will one day be paying a price for denying their citizens the Medicaid expansion that could potentially save thousands of lives. Insisting that Republicans will enact Sanders' agenda because it's what the American people support is unfathomably naive, so much so that you really have to question whether Sanders has even been paying attention to the political climate in Washington over these past seven years.  

Overall, this portion of the Sanders interview is perhaps most telling in that Sanders simply doesn't understand the relationship between Congress and the people. Voters so far have shown they just aren't that into Sanders and his revolution the way they were with Barack Obama. Outside of caucus states, Sanders isn't drawing in record numbers to the polls. Even his go-to demographic of millennials and Gen X'ers is not necessarily a given in each state, despite what Sanders may believe. Yet with all that, even if Sanders were to get elected, we've seen that his name at the top of the ballot doesn't ensure down-ballot success. His agenda would have no shot at passing a divided Congress, even with popular support behind him. The fact that Sanders hasn't even considered this possibility should be most troubling to voters. It's one thing to be optimistic about one's chances, it's another one entirely to have no idea the kind of political climate you are about to enter.  

For a twenty-five year member of Congress to be this unaware is unbelievably troubling.

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