My friend of the deepest blue persuasion is pessimistic about Bernie Sanders’ chances. He’s a lefty for whom the term socialist is not a label of derision but rather one that brings up fond memories of galvanized workers demanding eight hour work days. And he’s from Canada! So when even he shifts uncomfortably at Sanders’ prospects, I lean in.
Rightly, he pointed out the difficulties. First, the odds of Sanders succeeding in the Democratic primaries is scant. The superdelegate count is going to kill him. He trounced Hillary Clinton by 20 percent in the New Hampshire primaries and the end result was a virtual tie in delegates offered up by that state. We can thank the Democratic Party’s odd primary rules for the outcome—odd primary rules that allow for so called superdelegates.
There are 712 superdelegates, about 30% of the 2,382 delegates needed to win the Democratic nomination. They are ‘establishment politicians’ made up of every Democratic congressperson, sitting governor, and the President and Vice President. They also include members of the Democratic National Committee, like elected Democratic mayors and county executives, and other party officials. And, the main rub — they are allowed to back any candidate they want, regardless of the election results in their state.
So, my lefty friend noted, unless Bernie can come up with a convincing majority in the primaries—and not just ‘close’ ties, superdelegates will likely sway the outcome. And, he noted, these superdelegates were created precisely in order to give a bigger voice to the establishment who could better “figure out a way to unify our party.” Code, my friend said, for gathering both the conservative and liberal Democrats under one big tent.
“Needless to say, Bernie is no friend of the Democratic establishment. For years they have lived off of Wall Street’s largesse.”
“Not good,” I said.
“But that’s not all,” he added, “Let’s say something unusual happens. Something truly radical and Bernie Sanders actually WINS the Democratic Nomination.”
“Okay,” I agreed, eagerly, “Let’s say that!”
“He still has to govern an electoral body swayed far way to the right. The House will remain Republican for the foreseeable future. The Senate will be contentious, but even if a Democratic majority should prevail, the House will hold the purse strings. If you think they’re giving Obama a hard time, can you imagine their reaction to an avowed socialist? Gridlock doesn’t even begin to define that outcome.”
“Democratic socialist,” I grumbled, leaning back, my heart sinking a little as each wise word came thudding in. And yet, I couldn’t quite let it go, this idea that change was not just possible, but inevitable.
“Let me ask you, regardless of the outcome for the idea, don’t you think it’s important that we break up the big banks?”
“Sure, but it’s not going to happen.”
“Wait. Don’t speculate about what will or will not happen. Let’s just talk about the policy on its merits, isn’t that a good, important idea?”
My friend made a face, “Sure it is. We need to break up the big banks. They’re monopolizing our present, helping to buy off our elections and forfeiting our futures. But–”
“Shhh,” I held up my hand. “Wait. Now tell me how guaranteeing healthcare for everyone using a single payer system by expanding Medicare isn’t a good idea.”
“Of course it’s a good idea. I’m from Canada and I know exactly how well it operates. I also get insurance whenever I come down here so I don’t have to worry about paying $50,000 for a broken leg. You don’t have to convince me of that.”
“Okay what about reversing trade policies like NAFTA or TPP that route our jobs overseas? Or raising the minimum wage and making college tuition free?”
“Pie in the sky.”
“No, it’s not. If you can pay for endless war, you can certainly pay for these things. Here’s how that could work. You create a simple progressive estate tax on the top 0.3 percent of Americans who inherit more than $3.5 million. There’s another thing you can do that Bernie is proposing. You can enact a miniscule tax on Wall Street speculators who caused millions of Americans to lose their jobs, homes, and life savings. It’s called a transaction tax. It’ll have two benefits. First, it will provide funding for those who can’t make it in our rigged system and second, maybe even more importantly, it will reduce the level of booms and busts on Wall Street by making ‘automated’ sell and buy orders less attractive. This isn’t pie in the sky at all. It’s absolutely practical and smart.”
“Okay, all that’s good, but, like I said, it will never happen.”
“So, let me rephrase that. You just said that everything in Bernie Sander’s platform is a net good, a positive thing for our country. Now he has a chance, even if it’s an outside chance. You know what the only thing really holding us back is?
My friend looked at me blankly, then quipped. “Um, superdelegates, a belligerent majority in congress?”
“No.” I said, “It’s us. The American electorate, if we don’t vote for what we really want and what we need.”
I’m not sure if I convinced him, but he looked a little bemused, then quipped.
“You have that endearing American trait; optimism.”
“Okay, call me silly, but I look at it this way. The civil rights marches and the gay rights movement didn’t happen because some pundit decided they were a good idea. Far from it. The Times tagged Martin Luther King as persona non grata for years. The level of animosity against such movements from the elite was massive, but the elites didn’t get to decide the outcomes for those movements. The people did. The elites were dragged along in the movement’s wake. The same thing can happen here. You change hearts, and then you change the system.”
“Sanders has already made it necessary to take income inequality seriously –he’s moved the issue to the center of the Democratic debate. And, by the way, even if he doesn’t win, the longer he lasts and the better he does the more attention it will get. And then, more hearts will change.”
“Will?” My friend raised his eyebrow.
“Yes, will. Then outcomes will follow.”
“Right?” He sounded equivocal, at best.
“Yes, first, hundreds of things change—perspectives and attitudes, a way of looking at the world, the context of even discussing subjects like free trade and income equality, but then only one little thing has to happen.”
The Virginia Presidential State Primary is next Tuesday, March 1st. Mark your calendar and please vote!
By Jack Johnson