Bernie Sanders is going to be a magical president:
Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont whose policies are left of mainstream liberals, told David Axelrod that Obama made a "mistake" by expecting he could easily charm the other party into negotiating with him. "He thought he could walk into Capitol Hill and the Oval Office and sit down with John Boehner and Mitch McConnell and the Republicans and say, 'I can't get it all. You can't get it all. Let's work out something that's reasonable,' because he's a reasonable guy. He's a pretty rational guy," Sanders said on the debut episode of "The Axe Files with David Axelrod" podcast.I'll stop there for a moment in order to say I agree with Sanders on this point. One of my major criticisms of President Obama when he ran for president in '08 was that I felt like he was tremendously naïve/arrogant about his capacity to change Washington by sheer force of will, and I was critical of his approach reflecting that belief for the first few years of his presidency. But President Obama isn't that guy anymore, and hasn't been for a long time.
"These guys never had any intention of doing [serious] negotiating and compromising," Sanders added, according to a Politico report. "I think it took the president too long to fully appreciate that."
But okay. I don't disagree with Sanders' criticism that it took Obama too long to get on that page. The problem begins when Sanders is asked how he's going to succeed where Obama failed:
When pressed further about it, Sanders didn't offer an explanation of how he would successfully compromise with GOP lawmakers. The only way things will get done with a divided Congress is if voters pay more attention and demand it, Sanders told Axelrod.Is Sanders suggesting that President Obama didn't have "tens of millions of people [ready] to stand up and be involved in the political process the day after the election"? Because whooooooooooooops. I described being in Chicago literally the day after President Obama was first elected thus:
"I don't have any illusion that I'm going to walk in -- and I certainly hope it is not the case, but if there is a Republican House and a Republican Senate -- that I'm going to walk in there and say, 'Hey guys, listen. I'd like you to work with me on raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour,'" Sanders said. "It ain't gonna happen, I have no illusion about that. The only way that I believe that change takes place…is that tens of millions of people are going to have to stand up and be involved in the political process the day after the election."
Wednesday, the day after the election, the Space Cowpokes, Iain, and I were in Chicago all day, and something incredible had happened. (The same thing was happening in New York, too, as noted by Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, and I've gotten emails from people saying they found the same thing.) It was, like, Crazyhappyland. Everyone was laughing and smiling and being extra nice—spontaneous conversations about music, art, food, life, the election with strangers in elevators, in restaurants, in cabs, on the sidewalk. It was like every single person in Chicago had been told they had 100 years to live. Black, white, gay, straight, woman, man, everybody. People were happy and inspired and excited. A cloud had lifted. In one of the most politically cynical cities in the world, where the people know better than most that policians are fallible beings who often fail to deliver and fuck up in myriad ways, there was still a tangible, beautiful sense of the possible. The entire city was enveloped in great expectations.There was a palpable feeling of excitement and engagement, all over the country. If that didn't translate into enough energy and involvement to overcome the Republicans' gross obstructionism, welp.
Right now, let's believe we can do this.
And because, as I've said no fewer than a nonillion times now, this election is not just about Barack Obama, and his presidency will not be just about Barack Obama, but about us all, there's just this huge chance for something big in that optimism blanketing Chicago on Wednesday.
And I get that Sanders is arguing that he's going to harness what he imagines will be an even greater level of enthusiasm after his hypothetical victory; that he won't squander this precious resource the way he believes Obama did.
Except: It's (almost) eight years later. And no one can walk into Capitol Hill and sit down with John Boehner and say anything anymore, because John Boehner has been pushed out of his party for not being conservative enough.
Just at the very moment that John Boehner is becoming too liberal for the GOP, Sanders thinks he's going to magic a Republican-majority Congress into working with him, with the help of progressive activists like the ones over whose work the GOP is currently threatening to shut down the government?
I'll also just note that it's pretty hard to build a progressive coalition when you bellicosely stick to a message tailored very particularly to straight white cis working class men and ignore criticism around a failure of intersectionality and instead just keep insisting that your class-based message should appeal to everyone, because you're an undeterrable subscriber to the notion of trickle-down social justice.
If Sanders genuinely imagines he's going to achieve what President Obama could not (and I'll just mention here that President Obama has hardly failed in toto to promote and oversee meaningful transformation during his presidency, even if he has not succeeded and deserves criticism in other areas) by engaging tens of millions of activists, he'd better start making some serious moves to bring those activists to the table.
Because, right now, the whole "stop playing identity politics and get on board" shtick just feels like another variation on the same old "where else ya gonna go?" chestnut. Which is about as uninspiring as politics gets.
But also? Whether Sanders manages to successfully build a huge coalition is frankly irrelevant in terms of executive branch politics. This is not a serious answer to a very important question. It's a vague concept that relies on an increasingly outdated notion about how much influence average people (without endless amounts of cash and access) have over Congressional legislators.
Disengagement is indeed a big problem, but so are disenfranchisement and disillusionment. And lobbyists. And Citizens United.
If Sanders is betting his presidential efficacy on a people's uprising, we have a big problem.
Especially when some of the people are still trying to stop others from rising.
[H/T to Shaker Aphra_Behn.]