Sunday, April 17, 2016


There are plenty of reasons a voter might want to choose Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton, but, as Jonathan Capehart notes, the likelihood of a sustained political "revolution" shouldn't be one of them:
A familiar and self-defeating pattern among Democrats is emerging for a fourth consecutive presidential election cycle. It goes something like this: The favored establishment candidate faces a challenge from the left fueled by grass-roots fervor, money and media attention. Whether that challenger wins the nomination (Barack Obama in 2008) or loses (Howard Dean in 2004), there is always talk about how their following is the start of a movement that can no longer be ignored.

That is, until the presidential election is over. After that great day at the polls, despite all the heady talk of political revolution, those fired-up folks go home -- and stay there for the next four years. The campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) swears this time will be different. Sorry to be the skunk at the garden party, but it won’t.

... “We’ve heard that song before,” [Doyle McManus of the Los Angeles Times] writes. “In 2004, insurgent candidate Howard Dean tried to turn his campaign into a progressive movement, Democracy for America, with negligible results. In 2008, President Obama’s campaign staff tried to remake their grass-roots network into something called Organizing for America, but that effort failed completely.”

Democrats always forget that political revolutions are not quadrennial affairs....
Capehart's point is that Democrats don't vote in off-years. Part of the problem is that the leaders of presidential-year "revolutions" (I'd include Ralph Nader in 2000) tend not to win, except for Obama, and he won at a time when just putting America on a timetable for termination of the Iraq War and other within-the-pale proposals seemed to constitute serious change.

Is the problem that Democratic and progressive voters are just too lazy to vote in non-presidential years? Or is it that the party's candidates aren't particularly inspiring to those voters? I think it's a little of both. Run-of-the-mill Democratic congressional candidates rarely promise big changes from the status quo. On the other hand, voters don't seem to grasp the fact that just keeping power out of the hands of ever-more-extreme Republicans is a worthwhile end in itself.

A lot of the energy that goes into would-be progressive revolutions in presidential election years seems to gravitate in other years to non-electoral political activity -- Occupy Wall Street for a brief moment, but also LGBT activism, the fight to increase the minimum wage, the pro-immigrant movement, and Black Lives Matter. Some of the energy is dissipated because most downballot Democrats don't seem particularly connected to progressive movements. The Tea Party movement very rapidly fielded a large number of candidates in congressional, gubernatorial, and state legislative races who sounded jut like Tea Party activists; if you were an angry right-wing ideologue, it wasn't hard to find a candidate who was worked up about the same issues you were. Progressive voters rarely have that luxury.

There need to be more genuinely progressive candidates, especially in off years -- and maybe that's just impossible, given the realities of campaign finance in America. (Genuinely progressive candidates want things rich donors don't.) The alternative is a focus on political movements rather than elections -- which is unfortunate, because elections also matter. Even disappointing Democratic candidates are better than increasingly awful Republicans. They're still needed to hold the line while non-electoral activists fight for real change in other ways.


Raymond Smith said...

The very interesting part of this election is that the DNC elites decided a long time ago that Hillary was the one. The problem is that Democratic voters and others are clearly bringing out a problem.

In more then one poll Hillary has a very serious favor ability problem. The elites want to ignore this but why do they support a candidate with these type of problems, instead of supporting the other one that does not have this problem?
Sometimes just because someone is well liked by a few party elites it doe not justify ignoring the situation and supporting a weaker candidate.

I will vote for Hillary if she wins the nomination but do not be fooled she is not as strong a Democratic Candidate as some try to make others believe.

Unknown said...

By February 20th. "Bernie Who?"

Chris Andersen said...

The exception to this would be 2006 in which Howard Dean, who had gone on to win the DNC chairmanship, helped usher a wave election that swept Democrats into control of Congress in an off-year Congressional election.

The difference between 2002 and 2006 is that the supporters of Dean moved in to the party and tried to take it over (to various levels of success(*)). Nader supporters were never interested in using the Democratic party to advance their goals since they considered the party to be as bad as the Republicans and therefore to yucky to have anything to do with.

It remains to be seen which direction Sanders goes. Dean had two advantages: he was a lifelong Dem and the Dems had just lost at the polls so DNC chair was about the most powerful position a Democrat could hold at the time (and it was quite achievable since there was no other party leader to put their fingers on the scale). If Clinton wins in 2016 then Sanders' supporters ability to move into the party apparatus will be much more limited. She will get to name the DNC chair and congressional leaders will, at least at first, be on her side (especially if she helps take back the Senate and, God willing, the House).

I think the best hope for Sanders people is to move in at the County party level and start a multi-year program of reform. That will require a lot of patience on their part and I'm just not sure they have what it takes.

Jerry Critter said...

For the revolution to win, we must play the long game. Bernie is only the beginning. It is either "long game" or "no game". If history is any indication, it will,be "no game", at least until things get worse.

pbriggsiam said...

You chose Capehart to help you make your point? Really??

Unknown said...

Very interesting! Thank you for sharing!