Fighting the Good Fight

One of the critiques you hear about Senator Bernie Sanders is that, while his proposals sound great, there’s no way he’ll be able to pass them through Congress, or as the NY Times recently put it, Bernie is “an idealist brimming with inspirational (if unrealistic) proposals.”

Bernie addresses this critique directly, saying:

No president can do it alone…What this campaign is about is building a political movement which revitalizes American democracy, which brings millions of people together – black and white, Latino, Asian-American, Native American – young and old, men and women, gay and straight, native born and immigrant, people of all religions…When millions of working families stand together, demanding fundamental changes…we have the power to bring about that change.

In other words, the only way to change the system is to start an actual political revolution, one that replaces the same old politicians up and down the ticket with progressive candidates who will fight for the working families of this country.

Is that possible? Maybe.
Is that likely? No.

Which is why many people say the best alternative to the inspirational but unrealistic Sanders is Sec. Hillary Clinton, whom that same NY Times article describes as “an evidence-oriented pragmatist committed to using public authority to solve big problems.”

After all, when you’re talking about a government that oversees a divided populace of more than 300 million people spread across an entire continent, why wouldn’t we prefer an “evidence-oriented pragmatist” over an “unrealistic idealist?” An “evidence-based pragmatist” would be more inclined to find the middle ground between competing ideologies, more open to hearing every side of the argument, and more reasonable when it comes to choosing his or her battles. It just seems much more realistic to elect someone like that and expect that person to at least be able to pass his or her more moderate proposals through Congress.

Unfortunately, we now have six years of evidence to show that “evidence-based pragmatism” is not a successful strategy in Washington D.C. President Obama entered office as a pragmatist, and his actions over the past eight years have supported that claim. He does what he can to move the country in a positive direction, but he doesn’t push too hard to move it too far too fast.

Yes, he passed the Affordable Care Act, but there are still 20 million people without healthcare and a host of issues with the Act itself, and to a large extent, the Act also ensured the financial security of our for-profit healthcare system, the “for-profit” aspect of which is at the heart of everything that is wrong with healthcare in this country.

Yes, he removed the majority of our troops from Afghanistan, but he also reversed his decision to withdraw and will instead leave office with close to 10,000 troops still on the ground in that country (not to mention that “we’re still in combat everyday” in Iraq).

Yes, he passed a massive stimulus bill to get the economy going again, but because he didn’t push for an even bigger bill or follow it up with continued stimulus bills, it eventually became looked upon as a failure, which prevented Washington from even considering the option of increasing domestic investments.

Yes, his administration (eventually) supported legalizing gay marriage (thanks, Joe Biden), but it took a surprise decision from the Supreme Court to actually make it the law of the land.

Yes, his administration has effectively decimated Al Qaeda, but his increased use of military drones has caused the death of hundreds (if not thousands) of innocent civilians, including children, which creates increased hatred for the U.S. throughout the Middle East and serves as a major recruitment tool for ISIS.

On top of all those moderate successes (and moderate failures), President Obama’s legislative successes since the rise of the Tea Party provides very little to crow about.

Now, I don’t want to take anything away from President Obama. There have been very significant and positive changes to this country since he took office in 2008. But because so much of what he accomplished was done by executive order, so much of it can be wiped out with the stroke of a pen. That’s not change we can believe in.

I have no doubt that a President Hillary Clinton would continue with President Obama’s legacy of fighting Congress when she thinks she can win and using executive action when she thinks she can’t, always with her eye on moving America in a more socially progressive and market-oriented direction; in other words, I have no doubt that President Clinton would give us more of the same.

And maybe that’s all we can really hope for right now, and maybe we ought to be glad to get it.

But I’m sorry: that just doesn’t work for me.

Because more of the same means continued stagnation of worker’s incomes, continued shenanigans on Wall Street, continued intransigence on gun control, continued prioritization of the corporate bottom line over the rights and lives of workers and communities, continued commitments to a hawkish foreign policy, and continued increases to our adversarial government.

Sen. Sanders is pushing for something different. He understands that we are at a pivotal moment in our country’s history, and if we don’t change something major about the way we govern this place, then we’ll never be able to address the major challenges facing us as a nation.

Sanders sees those challenges as income inequality, climate change, and campaign finance reform (which is really just a stand-in phrase for “stop having a government of and for millionaires”). Sec. Clinton and President Obama see these challenges as well (or at least, they saw the latter two, and now Sanders is forcing them to see the first one), but they aren’t demanding nearly enough to address any of them.

If President Sanders doesn’t get the political revolution he’s calling for, I have no doubt that he’ll be just as forceful as Sec. Clinton when it comes to fighting Congress on the issues he thinks he can win and using executive action on the ones he thinks he can’t. He’s not going to get rid of any of the advances President Obama made, nor will he fight any less than Clinton to make even more advances when he can.

The difference is that he will be a continued voice for income inequality long after the election is over, a continued voice for taking real action on climate change, and a continued voice for campaign finance reform. He won’t ever stop pushing to enact major and fundamental changes on those issues.

Sec. Clinton, on the other hand, will. She simply will. She’ll “take what she can get,” and then move on to something else. Bernie won’t give up.

And that’s why I won’t give up on him. I will continue to support Sen. Sanders’ campaign until the day he asks me to stop. And I will do so with my voice, with my wallet, and with my vote.