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Don’t Screw This Up

If Democrats are unable to reconcile the differences between the two wings of the party (moderates and progressive liberals), what chance do they have of governing effectively after the election? A new administration can make progress on its policy promises only with some measure of reconciliation between Republicans and Democrats.

A vote for Bernie Sanders is a vote for continued gridlock in Washington D.C., at best, and that assumes that the Democrats hold onto the House. With Sanders at the top of the ticket this fall the greater the risk that Republicans will continue to dominate the Senate and even take over control of the House.

The election in 2016 taught us that it is possible for a presidential candidate to win the presidency without having a majority of the popular vote. That could happen again this year. The question for Democrats during this primary stage is which candidate would make it more likely that the party will have a victory in the Electoral College.

Sanders, by his own rhetoric, is running not so much to be a leader as he is to champion a “movement” or a “revolution.” I must admit that the notion of revolution appealed to me in my early 20s. We said we wanted a revolution… well, you know, it never came. Perhaps, as I grew older, I lost faith in the revolution, but Bernie still seems to believe.

The entire Sanders progressive agenda rests on his revolution becoming a reality. His theory of governing is that his agenda will be so popular that a grassroots’ movement will rise up and demand that Congress enact it.

But no matter how bold, or how logical, or how just, or how right these revolutionary ideas will seem to many, it is naïve to think that there will be no resistance from an equally determined oppositional leadership. There is no doubt that the Sanders revolution will encounter setbacks–probably more setbacks than successes–and the revolutionary fervor of his supporters will dwindle. The revolution itself will peter out.

The truth is that Sanders is running on a romantic memory of younger days when revolution was so cool they wrote songs about it. It appeals to today’s 20- and 30-year olds for the same reasons that it appealed to those of us of the Sanders generation who came from a certain socio-economic background.

Why did our revolution have to die? Why did the Age of Aquarius have to end? If only we could go back and see it through. We could have changed the world.

The Sanders movement has foundered on the hard reality of Super Tuesday. The massive turnout that he needed to fuel his revolution did not materialize. There is little reason for Sanders to expect that the remaining primary races will tell a different story.

Already, he is pushing the idea in the mind of his supporters that “the establishment” is to blame for the failure of the revolution to take hold. The rhetoric is so familiar. It was the establishment that held us back fifty years ago. We railed against the establishment. It was the target of our revolution. When the revolution died, the establishment was the convenient culprit, but maybe we just got tired of the struggle.

By casting the contest within the Democratic Party as us progressives versus them establishment moderates, Sanders is playing a dangerous game. To defeat the Republicans in November, the party cannot afford to mire itself in a self-defeating battle in which the damage is done as soon as sides are declared.

The party message in the fall is unity over divisiveness. Democrats must first demonstrate that they are capable of unifying themselves before anyone will believe that they can bring the country together.

For Sanders, that means having a plan B if the promised revolution continues to fizzle. Real leadership in that circumstance would be to show by example that reconciliation within the party is not only possible but necessary for success in the general election. Blaming the establishment does not get it.

For his part, Biden must resist the tendency to demonize and instead embrace the Sanders movement. There must be a meaningful role for progressive policies within the party.

Just as important, Democrats must make a home for disaffected Republicans who have no faith in liberal ideas but who share a desire for a return to decency and honesty in our politics.

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1 Comment

  1. Jay

    Your “Don’t Screw This Up” post is spot on, right on, damn straight, and the cat’s meow, plus it hits the bull’s eye and the nail on the head. I am especially impressed that you used the word “foundered” correctly. So many people flounder with that one.

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