[Content Note: Misogyny; hostility to consent.]
So, one of the criticisms I have had of Bernie Sanders is the lack of detail he's provided about how he is going to deliver on the many promises he's making.
This is not an impugning of his integrity. I don't have any doubt at all that Sanders is utterly sincere in his belief that the radical changes he has proposed are necessary and that he wants to make them happen.
This is also not an objection to the positions he holds. I share many of them. I would like to see most of what he is proposing enacted.
My concern is that he does not have a plan for meaningfully addressing the significant obstacles he would face as president. I would like to know what his plan is.
That's not some sort of attempt at a gotcha, nor is it an attack. I genuinely want to know. It is a reasonable question to ask.
I want to know how Sanders will work with, or around, Republicans—especially if they have a majority in one or both Houses of Congress.
I also want to know how Sanders will work with, or around, Democrats—since many members of the Democratic Party with whom he caucuses are increasingly irritated with his campaign.
Sanders' response to questions about his strategy has been to invoke the movement of engaged people he will bring with him to Washington: "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.' 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."
I have concerns about whether Sanders' army of revolutionaries, a significant number of whom have targeted Sanders' critics, especially women of color, with sustained harassment, are people prepared and capable of orchestrating a progressive revolution. Yesterday, Sanders was obliged to address this harassment on CNN, saying: "We don't want that crap" and "Anybody who is supporting me that is doing the sexist things—we don't want them."
I have concerns about the people he's chosen to help lead his revolution, given that his team has twice now suggested in campaign advertisements that Sanders has endorsements he doesn't actually have and used images of people without their consent in campaign advertisements, in several cases leaving people with potentially dire professional consequences they had to address. I don't imagine these incidents to be reflective of an indifference to ethical campaigning; I think they are instead a reflection of the disorganization of a nationally untested campaign that doesn't have the competency to ensure these sorts of things don't happen.
I would like to know Sanders' plan for making sure, if he is elected, that these failures are not replicated as he embarks on his ambitious agenda, the enactment of which he says is dependent on his supporters and team.
I want to know this, because these are the sorts of problems that could be used to discredit a president's agenda. As a person deeply invested in progressive reform, I don't want to see progressive policy succumb to setbacks, even if unfairly, as a result of the failure to meaningfully strategize in preparation for foreseeable derailments.
I also have concerns about Sanders engaging in the very sexism he says he doesn't want, as yesterday, speaking at a community college in New Hampshire, Sanders complained that Clinton had been "lecturing" him on foreign policy. "Shouting." "Lecturing." If you think this kind of language evokes narratives of the hectoring nag used to silence uppity women, I don't disagree. Framing a female former Secretary of State, who is an expert in foreign policy, as a lecturing harpy, while you have "thin credentials on foreign policy," isn't setting a tone of respect toward women. And it further doesn't inspire confidence that Sanders is open to counsel from people with expertise he doesn't have, at least if they're women.
I want to know Sanders' position on trusting advisors, even if they are former adversaries and especially if they are women, who can complement his areas of weakness, particularly as his aggressive domestic economic reform will demand much of his time and focus, if elected. I would like details on how he will balance pursuing his sweeping domestic agenda with a global environment that demands an inordinate amount of any president's attention. It's not that I think it can't be done; I just want to know how it will be.
And then there is this: Even if those issues are resolved, the fact is that even an enormous number of people showing up and getting involved in the political process doesn't axiomatically translate into affecting progressive change, or even stopping regressive legislation.
Take, for example, Wendy Davis' filibuster in the Texas legislature. Despite the then state senator's 11-hour filibuster to block legislation that would severely undermine reproductive access in Texas, a packed floor of activists, a nationwide call to attention, and countless pro-choice people across the country taking action in support of her, the Republican-majority legislature, with a corrupt assist from then Governor Rick Perry, forced the measure through.
That moment is one of many examples of how an engaged citizenry is not always enough to overcome the steep power imbalance between an entrenched conservative legislature and We the People.
So I want and need to know what Sanders' plan is to effectively overcome this power imbalance.
I hear him saying that his revolution is dependent on the engagement of We the People. Okay, I'm on board. For a moment, let us imagine that Sanders gets the Democratic nomination and is subsequently elected president. I'm signing up to be part of the revolution. What does that look like for me?
Do I write letters to my elected representatives? Do I call them? Do I make signs and participate in marches? Do I write and tweet and sign petitions about the things that matter to me?
These are all things I have done and do. There are millions of people doing that now. Is Sanders' contention that we simply aren't effective? That we just need more people to get involved?
I watched what happened in Texas. I have so many friends in Texas that often people who follow me on Twitter think I live there. I lived and died with them as I watched the Texas legislature refuse to be overwhelmed by the citizens whose interests they purport to represent.
I have seen the same thing happen, over and over again, in my home state of Indiana, where the Republican legislature passes heinous bills that the majority of Hoosiers don't support, where the Democrats have literally left the state in order to try to stop the Republicans, where a very popular Democratic (and democratically elected) Superintendent of Public Instruction for the state of Indiana had her office disempowered because she was trying to stop Republicans from destroying the state's public education system.
These things didn't happen because people weren't engaged and weren't paying attention. They happened because we don't have, even in enormous numbers, the power to force a Republican legislature (or, frankly, even a Democratic one) to do our will.
I genuinely do not understand what Sanders imagines will be different in Washington.
One thing I do understand—and so does Hillary Clinton, who repeatedly says she refuses to make promises she can't keep, in defense of her incrementalist strategy—is that nothing more quickly disillusions, discourages, and demoralizes people new to the political process than making them promises on which there is no way to deliver.
So I want to know the details of Sanders' plan. Because this—
1. Run for president
2. Make lots of big promises
—isn't going to cut it.
I understand Bernie Sanders' argument for why he should be elected president, and now I want to know his plan for being president. That doesn't seem like it's too much to ask from someone who wants the job.