Tue, Jul

You Say You Want a Revolution


GELFAND’S WORLD--Here's to all the Bernie Sanders supporters on the morning after the night before. You've got the political hangover of all time. You came so close, within a couple of hundred delegates, and then the roof fell in. On June 7, Hillary Clinton won four states out of six, including the big prizes, New Jersey and California. We've known for months that the only way Bernie was going to have any kind of chance at the nomination was to sweep most or all of the last dozen primaries by big numbers. He didn't even come close. 

You are also getting whined at, guilt-sucked, and somberly advised to get over your Bernie obsession and get on the Hillary Clinton train. The people who are giving this advice are right, but for all the wrong reasons. Here is the real reason. 

You say you want a revolution. But the movement is suddenly without an immediately obtainable goal. Taking the 2016 presidential election is no longer a possibility. The question for the Sanders supporters is whether you actually heard what Bernie has been saying, because if you did, you will realize that the revolution of which he speaks is a lot bigger than his would-be presidency. It requires getting major bills through both houses of congress, it requires a president who will sign them, and it requires a Supreme Court that won't find excuses to undermine every reform. 

How could that be accomplished? What will it take to make the revolution happen? 

Let's be blunt and not nibble around the idea of what is needed. Millions and millions of new voters need to get in the habit of voting in every election -- not just in the search for a miracle president every four years, but in every single election, from the off-year congressional votes, to your City Council selection, to your state legislative representatives and your governors. Nothing less will suffice. 

It's necessary to take back the governorships and state legislatures in states that have gerrymandered congressional districts to the advantage of Republicans. Just remember that in the last midyear elections, the Democratic congressional candidates as a group got more votes than the Republicans, but the Republicans got control of the House of Representatives. That's the effect of the redistricting of 2002. The 2020 census will prompt a lot of redistricting in advance of the 2022 elections. The state level races that lead up to the 2022 redistricting have to be one of the major targets of a political revolution. 

Winning congressional seats, especially in less gerrymandered districts, is another task. We can start now and build on our successes, but it won't happen if the liberal residents of this country allow themselves to be bamboozled into the fashionably cynical belief that all politicians are the same, and that it doesn't help to vote. 

It's true that any one vote doesn't count if we only think of ourselves as individuals on the losing side. That's the wrong way to think about coalition building. You have to think of yourselves as small parts of a winning coalition. If any one of us who votes were to miss voting this time around, it wouldn't change the outcome. Elections aren't won by a single vote very often. But elections can be lost by a few thousand votes and, once in a while, by a few hundred votes. You have to think of yourself as one element of a winning coalition, because when enough people choose to avoid participating in the coalition, we lose. 

The great mass of us, as active voters, would certainly hold the controlling power. You as an individual have to set aside your personal doubts and egotism and join in a mass movement that will potentially go on for a decade or two or three. It has to be a solid commitment by enough people who agree to become chronic voters. 

Here's the not-so-secret fact about Bernie's promises. He would never be able to do all those things like bringing Wall Street under control or creating a truly universal health care system all by himself. Some of it would require active participation by both houses of congress. It's true that a liberal Democrat as president can do some things administratively, but the larger body of work requires a groundswell in the American political landscape that leads to big legislation. 

Such a groundswell is not an impossibility. The large fraction of the American people who don't vote routinely, or vote only in rare presidential elections, have it within their power to effect the revolutionary change that Sanders calls for. But they have to do it as a collective effort, and they have to do it by voting. 

One of the other secrets of making this kind of revolution work is that you have to keep at it, election after election, even in those elections when the guy representing your party isn't your favorite person in the whole world. But if you and your neighbors vote routinely in a way that makes your district into a solid Democratic Party district, then you can afford to replace the less useful representatives with people more to your liking. This is nothing more than what the Tea Party voters have been doing to Republicans in their own districts. 

The trick is to build party control over the district first, and only then mess with the candidates' lineup. The Republican Party lost a couple of critical U.S. Senate seats a few years ago by ignoring this concept. 

The final secret of making the revolution work is that you don't accept the argument that we can live with a Donald Trump presidency because Hillary isn't perfect enough. That's a version of the argument that there is no difference between the parties. If you can convince yourself of that, you're not paying attention to the details that affect your neighbors' lives, things like being able to buy medical insurance at $150 a month instead of $3000 a month. Even if it means nothing to you, it means a whole lot to the ten million plus people who now have this advantage. And if you want to argue that the European systems are better, that's a fair statement, but will you sit idly by in implicit acceptance of our status quo, or will you work to bring the U.S. up to the level of France and Switzerland? 

Yes, we all agree that the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, is imperfect. It would make a lot more sense to modify it so it provides universal coverage for all U.S. residents. Another useful modification would be to abolish the current billing system and replace it with revenue from income taxes and tariffs. These will be evolutionary changes in a system that was created in the belief that it would gradually improve. That's how Medicare and Social Security developed -- out of small beginnings -- and we have the ability to bring Obamacare into a more civilized form. 

But this evolution of our medical care system, an essential part of the political revolution, will be damaged if the Republicans get a chance to abolish it in the way they have promised. They want to take us back to the miserable system we had just a few years ago. One part of the political revolution is keeping the improvements you have just achieved, even improvements that are incomplete. 

Especially improvements that are incomplete . . . those are the foundations from which we can build the future that we speak of when we talk about the political revolution. Even revolutions can be incremental. In the U.S., they are almost always incremental. 

Another example: Bernie Sanders points out, rightly so, that our legislative system has been corrupted by the need for campaign money. This is something that is reversible. It would definitely take acts of congress, which means that we and the new voters have to do all that voting, until the ruling philosophy of this generation's leaders is replaced. Perhaps that won't take place until we have a new generation of leaders, or perhaps some of the current group will take the hint when liberal Democrats start filling seats previously held by conservatives. In either case, we have to make that generational switch happen. 

But we also need to have a Supreme Court that won't arbitrarily overturn these much needed reforms. That means we need to elect a Democrat as president right now, because the Republican candidate has already explained the kind of people he would nominate to the Supreme Court, and it isn't a pretty sight. 

So anybody who wants the political revolution but doesn't think Hillary Clinton lives up to your standards, think of it like this. If you allow Clinton to be defeated due to your lofty ideals, you are doing the one worst thing to do if you hope that eventually the political revolution will happen. Instead, we will be taken backwards and Citizens United will remain the law of the land. There needs to be a law that legislative control over campaign spending is legitimate, and we can't afford another 20 years of reactionary control over the Supreme Court if we hope to effect necessary changes such as this. 

I should point out that you don't actually have to be registered as a Democrat, at least in California, to join the political revolution. Registering as No Party works just fine, because our Top Two primary system gives you the chance to participate. That's exactly what I do, and it works just fine for me. 

I'd like to finish by linking to a slightly different approach by Marc Cooper. It's a little more radical sounding, but I'd like to think that it gets to about the same place, namely that people newly engaged in the system should stay engaged. I'm a little more optimistic about a Clinton presidency than Marc, but the differences don't matter, because the Donald Trump alternative is simply unacceptable. 

(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for City Watch. He can be reached at [email protected]


Get The News In Your Email Inbox Mondays & Thursdays