Bernie Sanders, Underpants Gnome of Revolution

Another day, another white dude crediting Bernie Sanders with all things progressive.

Under the subheadline “Bernie Sanders lost the primary but reshaped his [sic] party,” Ben Smith at Buzzfeed has written a remarkable work of historical (fan) fiction that credits Bernie Sanders’ primary performance for a Clinton-allied think tank writing a plan for investing in American infrastructure.

So you’re forgiven if you missed the big development on the Democratic Party policy front: the call for “a large-scale, permanent program of public employment and infrastructure investment.” That plan, titled “A Marshall Plan for America,” came not from Bernie Sanders but from the Center for American Progress, the Clintonite Washington think tank John Podesta led. The proposal breaks in tone and substance with the Clinton–Obama focus on an economy led and dominated by the private sector.

Now I love these alternative histories where Germany wins World War I or something, but I am not sure I understand the point of writing one where Hillary Clinton didn’t pitch a massive infrastructure plan during the 2016 election. The one detailed here. That one.

And the really interesting thing about this alternate universe is if it’s not one white dude who gets credit, it’s another:

Democrats’ opportunity is to deliver on the explicit and implicit promises that Trump abandoned once he was elected: expanded and improved health care and large-scale jobs programs, cost no object.

It’s the Trump and Bernie show, promising magic white dude stuff! Never mind the boring lady with plans to make it happen and to pay for it! Whether that's Hillary Clinton or Neera Tanden, who co-wrote the proposal the article begins with and is briefly quoted. I wonder what she--a female person of color--would think about all the White Dude Magic in the rest of the article.

I guess I'll never know, because Smith has many white dudes to quote! How about a white dude from one of the whitest states in the union?

“What happened in the presidential campaign is that Bernie ran explicitly in support of a Medicare-for-all approach” — a simple framework for single-payer — “and what the politicians saw is that voters were fine with that,” said Vermont Rep. Peter Welch, a longtime advocate of single payer.

“It’s inclusive and it doesn’t get us into the identity politics divisions that are problematic,” he said. “It gets us into inclusive politics.”

Yes, that’s right folks. Nothing says ‘inclusive’ like deriding voting rights, reproductive justice, the safety of trans folk, same sex marriage, Islamaphobia, nativism, police violence against African-Americans—you know, identity politics. It’s much more inclusive to focus on issues that directly affect white men! Take it from a straight, Christian white man, he’d know!

P.S. Mr. Welch, the plan the article started with specifically cites the need to protect civil rights--"identity politics"--alongside strengthening the economy, because we can do both.

But it really takes the cake to claim that Sanders’ primary performance has given the Democrats cover for anything, other than white dudes’ tiresome insistence on re-writing history to center themselves.

Bernie Sanders lost the primary. It wasn’t especially close. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote in the primary by 12%. In 2008, Barack Obama actually lost the popular vote to Clinton, by 1%. Now that’s close, and a testament to the fact that (a) Hillary Clinton is pretty great and (b) she’s not unstoppable if a candidate has the right stuff. Barack Obama did, Bernie Sanders didn’t.

And one of the reasons Bernie lost the primary is that when push came to shove, he didn’t have plans.

Because Bernie Sanders is the Underpants Gnome of Revolution.

South Park’s gnomes have plans to steal underpants, then follow an unknown second step, then get to step 3: PROFIT. Similarly, Sanders preaches that we have to want [liberal thing] very much and then somehow [that liberal thing] will happen. We know it won’t involve wheeling and dealing and making compromises, because that’s what neoliberal $HILL$ do, amirite? Amirite?

Back here in the real world, I remember the primary and Bernie Sanders’ utter inability to explain how he was going to achieve even some of his most talked-about goals. In Sanders Fanfic Universe, the New York Daily News interview never happened, but back here on Earth-1, I have receipts:

Daily News: Now, switching to the financial sector, to Wall Street. Speaking broadly, you said that within the first 100 days of your administration you'd be drawing up...your Treasury Department would be drawing up a too-big-to-fail list. Would you expect that that's essentially the list that already exists under Dodd-Frank? Under the Financial Stability Oversight Council?

Sanders: Yeah. I mean these are the largest financial institutions in the world….

Daily News: And then, you further said that you expect to break them up within the first year of your administration. What authority do you have to do that? And how would that work? How would you break up JPMorgan Chase?

Sanders: Well, by the way, the idea of breaking up these banks is not an original idea. It's an idea that some conservatives have also agreed to.

You've got head of, I think it's, the Kansas City Fed, some pretty conservative guys, who understands. Let's talk about the merit of the issue, and then talk about how we get there.

Right now, what you have are two factors. We bailed out Wall Street because the banks are too big to fail, correct? It turns out, that three out of the four largest banks are bigger today than they were when we bailed them out, when they were too-big-to-fail. That's number one.

Number two, if you look at the six largest financial institutions of this country, their assets somewhere around $10 trillion. That is equivalent to 58% of the GDP of America. They issue two-thirds of the credit cards in this country, and about one-third of the mortgages. That is a lot of power.

And I think that if somebody, like if Teddy Roosevelt were alive today, he would look at that. Forgetting even the risk element, the bailout element, and just look at the kind of financial power that these guys have, would say that is too much power.

Hey, we got all the way to Zombie Teddy Roosevelt, and you know what? He didn’t actually answer the question. He didn’t say how he would do it. And he got called on it.

Daily News: Okay. Well, let's assume that you're correct on that point. How do you go about doing it?

Sanders: How you go about doing it is having legislation passed, or giving the authority to the secretary of treasury to determine, under Dodd-Frank, that these banks are a danger to the economy over the problem of too-big-to-fail.

Daily News: But do you think that the Fed, now, has that authority?

Sanders: Well, I don't know if the Fed has it. But I think the administration can have it.

Allow me to observe: this is not a peripheral issue for Sanders. Breaking up the banks was in every fucking speech. And he’s not sure what authority the Fed has now, or even if he’s going to have legislation passed where Congress the directly grades banks or of if the legislation will give the Secretary of the Treasury authority.

Proceed, Senator.

Daily News: How? How does a President turn to JPMorgan Chase, or have the Treasury turn to any of those banks and say, "Now you must do X, Y and Z?"

Sanders: Well, you do have authority under the Dodd-Frank legislation to do that, make that determination.

Daily News: You do, just by Federal Reserve fiat, you do?

Sanders: Yeah. Well, I believe you do.

Now the Daily News wants to know what will happen to the employees and assets of JPMorgan. Sanders’ answer:

Sanders: What I foresee is a stronger national economy. And, in fact, a stronger economy in New York State, as well. What I foresee is a financial system which actually makes affordable loans to small and medium-size businesses. Does not live as an island onto themselves concerned about their own profits. And, in fact, creating incredibly complicated financial tools, which have led us into the worst economic recession in the modern history of the United States.

Daily News: I get that point. I'm just looking at the method because, actions have reactions, right? There are pluses and minuses. So, if you push here, you may get an unintended consequence that you don't understand. So, what I'm asking is, how can we understand? If you look at JPMorgan just as an example, or you can do Citibank, or Bank of America. What would it be? What would that institution be? Would there be a consumer bank? Where would the investing go?

Sanders: I'm not running JPMorgan Chase or Citibank.

Daily News: No. But you'd be breaking it up.

Sanders: That's right. And that is their decision as to what they want to do and how they want to reconfigure themselves. That's not my decision. All I am saying is that I do not want to see this country be in a position where it was in 2008, where we have to bail them out. And, in addition, I oppose that kind of concentration of ownership entirely.

You're asking a question, which is a fair question. But let me just take your question and take it to another issue. Alright? It would be fair for you to say, "Well, Bernie, you got on there that you are strongly concerned about climate change and that we have to transform our energy system away from fossil fuel. What happens to the people in the fossil fuel industry?"

That's a fair question. But the other part of that is if we do not address that issue the planet we’re gonna leave your kids and your grandchildren may not be a particularly healthy or habitable one. So I can't say, if you're saying that we’re going to break up the banks, will it have a negative consequence on some people? I suspect that it will. Will it have a positive impact on the economy in general? Yes, I think it will.

And that was the day Bernie Sanders admitted he actually had no plans for how to break up banks or transform the fossil fuel industry and not a clue what to do about the workers who would be displaced when he did so.

Also. Those very untrustworthy big banks are to be trusted to figure out how to break themselves up (I guess) and the reconfigure themselves somehow (I guess?) This is not serious policy. And remember: this is his signature theme, and has bee his signature theme for years.

Just one more quote so you can appreciate the full gloriousness of the Underpants Revolution, though the entire thing is worth a read if you haven’t.

Daily News: Well, it does depend on how you do it, I believe. And, I'm a little bit confused because just a few minutes ago you said the U.S. President would have authority to order...

Sanders: No, I did not say we would order. I did not say that we would order. The President is not a dictator.

Daily News: Okay. You would then leave it to JPMorgan Chase or the others to figure out how to break it, themselves up. I'm not quite...

Sanders: You would determine is that, if a bank is too big to fail, it is too big to exist. And then you have the secretary of treasury and some people who know a lot about this, making that determination. If the determination is that Goldman Sachs or JPMorgan Chase is too big to fail, yes, they will be broken up.

Daily News: Okay. You saw, I guess, what happened with Metropolitan Life. There was an attempt to bring them under the financial regulatory scheme, and the court said no. And what does that presage for your program?

Sanders: It's something I have not studied, honestly, the legal implications of that.

”It’s something I have not studied.” Oh.

Now maybe the Brocialist left is untroubled by these lack of plans, because they’re insulated by privilege from so many things that those of us with “identities” have to deal with. But if you want to see what this kind of thinking brings when it comes to enacting a political agenda, look no further than our current president.

Trump has the advantage of both houses of Congress being from his own party. So what, exactly, was stopping him from achieving his big goals in his first 100 days? Could it be a total lack of plans, and a total lack of the political ability to broker compromises? I’m not trying to discount the very real effects of the Resistance, nor downplay the strategies the Democrats are desperately employing as a minority party in order to save the Republic. Nor how bad it is for those suffering from what he has managed to do. But imagine if Trump were actually good at compromise and if he had an actual plan for, say, building a wall with Mexico. We’d be in some even deeper shit than the Aegean stables of oppression we’re trying to muck out now.

Bernie Sanders’ agenda, of course, is infinitely preferable to Donald Trump’s. But that doesn’t mean his plans for achieving it were much ever more realistic. And his political negotiating skills haven led to an unremarkable record of legislative success, though, to be fair, he’s surely better than Trump in that regard.

So no, back here in the real world, it’s not at all strange that a Clinton-allied think tank is drafting pragmatic progressive policy that involves an ambitious public infrastructure plan, with attention given to how it might be implemented and paid for. Rather than showing that Bernie Sanders pushed the party left, or whatever ridiculous assertion white men are making today, it means that Hillary Clinton’s economic agenda, which was always progressive, is serving as a base for new plans in the age of Trump, plans that in no way mean abandoning intersectional civil rights concerns.

Nor is it surprising that a Clinton-allied think tank would formulate plans designed to woo reachable Trump supporters. Because, again, I know we're supposed to put the entire campaign down the Memory Hole and pretend that she didn't give a fuck about the white working class, but in fact, she specifically addressed their concerns.

"We're going to make it clear that we don't want to forget those people," Clinton said. "Those people labored in those mines for generations, losing their health, often losing their lives to turn on our lights and power our factories. Now we've got to move away from coal and all the other fossil fuels, but I don't want to move away from the people who did the best they could to produce the energy that we relied on."

Don't remember that quote? Maybe because the media spent months promoting the special Republican edit of it, which only included the sentence rpeceding it, saying "we're going to put a lot of coal miners out of jobs." Funny how that works. Turns out evil Hillary was actually addressing white working class concerns. She just didn't give them White Man Magic as an answer. And who can forget this?

But the other basket -- and I know this because I see friends from all over America here -- I see friends from Florida and Georgia and South Carolina and Texas -- as well as, you know, New York and California -- but that other basket of people are people who feel that the government has let them down, the economy has let them down, nobody cares about them, nobody worries about what happens to their lives and their futures, and they're just desperate for change. It doesn't really even matter where it comes from. They don't buy everything he says, but he seems to hold out some hope that their lives will be different. They won't wake up and see their jobs disappear, lose a kid to heroin, feel like they're in a dead-end. Those are people we have to understand and empathize with as well.

Huh. It's almost as if Hillary Clinton was reaching out to those actually feeling economically anxious, without pretending that there were no racists among Trump voters. But you'd never know that in the GOP/Sanders memory Hole, where all she did was to (correctly) label Trump's neo-Nazi, neo-Confederate base a "basket of deplorables."

The fact is that Hillary Clinton's words and actions were never without care for the Trump demographic. She just didn't lie to them, nor did she erase the concerns of the Democratic base of people of color, women, LGBTQ folks, immigrants, and others with identities along various axes of oppression. And most Democrats are continuing that approach. But now the Democrats must also take into consideration fixing the economic and social hole that Trump and the GOP are set on digging the country into, rather than starting from the relatively stable platform of Obama’s last year in office. If plans become more ambitious than Hillary Clinton's 2016 platform, it is from necessity, not because of Bernie's White Man Magic.

And how will Democrats ever be in a place to enact that agenda? By doing all the things we “identity” folk are doing right now: resisting Trump’s terrible edicts, pressuring our legislators, fighting to protect voting rights, campaigning hard and raising money for Democrats in 2017 and 2018, registering new voters and doing our damnedest to get them to the polls. If you ever get tired of the Underpants Revolution, white dudes, maybe you could see your way to giving us boring old ladies some help with the real work.

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