The Sanders campaign represents a revolution of rising expectations. In 2008, the last time Democrats held a contested primary, the prospect of simply taking back the presidency from Republican control was nearly enough to motivate the party’s vote. The potential to enact dramatic change was merely a bonus. After nearly two terms of power, with the prospect of Republican rule now merely hypothetical, Democrats want more.Really? Is it true that "the prospect of simply taking back the presidency from Republican control was nearly enough to motivate the party’s vote"? There's a lot of weight in that word "nearly." I'd say that the Democrats absolutely "wanted more" in 2008 -- if we'd been content with "simply taking back the presidency," we'd have gone with the seemingly safe choice, Hillary Clinton, instead of the black guy with Hussein for a middle name, the guy who (as conservatives never stop reminding us) talked about "fundamentally transforming the United States of America."
We wanted big changes then, too. I'm not convinced that Sanders voters expect much more than a lot of Obama voters did eight years ago.
I agree with Chait that this doesn't seem like a great time for progressive shouts of "Be realistic -- demand the impossible":
Those areas in which a Democratic Executive branch has no power are those in which Sanders demands aggressive action, and the areas in which the Executive branch still has power now are precisely those in which Sanders has the least to say. The president retains full command of foreign affairs; can use executive authority to drive social policy change in areas like criminal justice and gender; and can, at least in theory, staff the judiciary. What the next president won’t accomplish is to increase taxes, expand social programs, or do anything to reduce inequality, given the House Republicans’ fanatically pro-inequality positions across the board. The next Democratic presidential term will be mostly defensive, a bulwark against the enactment of the radical Ryan plan. What little progress liberals can expect will be concentrated in the non-Sanders realm.As Zandar reminds us:
The political reality is that the House, the Senate, and 24 states are under total GOP control, along with 70 of 99 state legislatures and 31 governor's mansions. Until that is fixed, even the most left-friendly president won't be able to get things done.It was more realistic, I suppose, to expect big change in 2008. But I don't think expecting more than is possible is anything new -- a lot of 2008 Obama voters expected a lot more than we got.
And obviously this is the way a lot of us are in America right now. It's not just that the two poll leaders on the Republican side are extreme and crazy -- they imply that nothing is impossible for conservatives, and their voters believe it. Donald Trump says he can deport every undocumented immigrant, make Mexico pay for an absolutely impermeable border wall, and not only defeat ISIS but get away with impounding other people's oil. Ted Cruz is running on the premise that his party, on seizing the Senate, should have instantly overturned Obamacare and ended deficit spending, the president's veto power notwithstanding, and that if there'd been more Republicans like him in the Senate, it absolutely would have happened.
But maybe raising unrealistic expectations is just how successful politicians motivate voters nowadays. And maybe it works out: Obama promised more than he delivered, but he delivered a lot; Republicans in the Tea Party era promised to reclaim America at the national level and failed at that (so far), but they seized (and fundamentally transformed) many of the states.
At this point, even Hillary Clinton is overpromising on a few issues. Maybe -- hello, Jeb and Marco -- you just can't win without doing that these days.