The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (Because It Was Preempted for a Real Housewives Marathon)
Why Bernie Could Win and America Still Lose
I always feel awful during election season. The acres of my news feeds devoted to ignorant memes and easily snoped out nonsense gets in the way of how I really want to spend my online time 1. Meticulously detailed deconstructions of the X-Files reboot and 2. #HamforHam videos. In typical years it’s the Republicans making me feel so bad. That people would spend their vote on any of those barely coherent sacks of dirt always boggles my mind. This year either I’ve gotten better at managing my Facebook settings or my conservative friends aren’t bothering to hype their options too much because their options are so basely offensive and weird. No, this year is different. This year it’s the Dems making my stomach hurt.
I have always been a political junkie and my heart has always been blue. When I woke up the morning after Carter lost to Reagan I sobbed at the injustice of it all then ate my cereal and trudged off to kindergarten because I was five. I actively campaigned for Bill Clinton my senior year of high school even though I’d miss the chance to vote by four months. I caught shit for it too, wearing oh so clever anti-George H.W. Bush shirts that I’d ordered from the back of Rolling Stone magazine. Jerry Falwell, Sr. was still alive then and inviting the 90’s versions of Ted Cruz and Donald Trump to hang out in my hometown. I wrote angry letters to the editor and cursed at them under my teenage breath. I ranted during physics class when George Bush’s face popped up on the high school news show Channel One to weigh in on the riots in LA after the Rodney King verdict. “IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT! YOU DON’T GET TO HAVE SYMPATHY!” My classmates thought I was a loon. My liberal street cred is hard won.
So I don’t have the stomach for Dems beating up Dems. I know that every time a Democrat is shitty to another Democrat a Republican demon gets its horns. I’ve been in the bag for Hillary since she announced last April and though I am shouty by nature I have kept mostly quiet about it until recently because I’ve wanted to make sure that whatever I say is a promotion of the candidate I want and not a knock on the other guy. Because there are so many Republican demons out there and they want nothing more than to earn their horns.
I’ve got no beef with Bernie Sanders. I love his ideas and his dreams and his devotion to the workingman that’s spanned decades. I appreciate his service to our country. If I dug a little I could find something bad to say about him but I won’t (because demons). I could go on and on and on about why I love Hillary Clinton and how much I respect her. What seeing her be president would mean to that teenage me who watched her get pissed on by Republicans so much dumber than her when she dared to suggest our health care system needed fixing. The model of grace and poise required to reinvent herself many times over and give her life to public service while being a hated punch line for dick joke memes. I could go on but instead I’ll just point you here and here and here because these people say it so great.
So, no bashing. Instead? A reality check. Because I find that I keep posting the same thing over and over again on any discussion of Bernie. There is just something I do not get about the current political landscape for Dems, something fundamental I do not understand. And that is: What country do you think we live in? That’s not a smart-ass question. I really mean that. What country do fervent Bernie supporters think we live in right now and why does their version of this country differ so very much from the one I see when I leave my house?
I’m a big fan of Robert Reich. I’ve always valued him as a thoughtful realist who could effectively break down the complicated bits of our broken economic system and make sense of them for normal people. But lately I’m wondering if I’ve landed in some parallel world where magical thinking rules the day even for the brainy math guys. From his latest blog post on Alternet titled “The Real Reason Hillary Won’t Effect Change, but Bernie Could” we have this:
In 2008, when then-Senator Barack Obama promised progressive change if elected president, his primary opponent, then-senator Hillary Clinton, derided him. “The skies will open, the light will come down, celestial choirs will be singing and everyone will know we should do the right thing and the world will be perfect,” she said, sarcastically, adding “I have no illusions about how hard this is going to be.
Fast-forward eight years. “I wish that we could elect a Democratic president who could wave a magic wand and say, ‘We shall do this, and we shall do that,’” Clinton said recently in response to Bernie Sanders’ proposals. “That ain’t the real world we’re living in.”
Reich goes on to explain that the reason the skies did not open and light did not come down is because Obama caved on his initial promises and instead began to focus on “deal making” rather than “grassroots mobilization.” It’s framed in a way that suggests political expediency and a desire to restock the Obama war chest for the 2012 campaign was the primary motivation for a shift away from grassroots outreach and that’s why we didn’t get as much change as we were promised. That is certainly one way to look at it. Another way? Americans just aren’t that interested in changing things. When I look out my window that’s what I see.
Did the massive grassroots outreach that was assembled in 2008 wither because we weren’t asking for enough and our dreams were too small like Robert Reich asserts? Or because the American public is so apathetic that we don’t bother supporting what we already have, because while things are so so so bad for too many Americans they’re only just kind of bad for most people? After spending the majority of my adult life with nonprofits, public service and volunteer work I say with confidence it’s the latter.
We all know that Bernie Sanders can get nothing done if he doesn’t have a congress to do it with him. How exactly do those calling for a Bernie revolution think we will get this congress? Have these people ever volunteered in the beleaguered and underfunded field offices where opposition candidates try to take on the entrenched rednecks who run on nothing but the second amendment and coal? Have they ever knocked doors and made phone calls? (Neither of these are fun. People do not open their doors and there are always dogs barking at you from the other side. People hang up on you if they answer at all.) This is the messy reality of creating the change that people say they want. While acknowledging that the citizens of this great country are capable of amazing bouts of ingenuity and togetherness I will also go to my grave asserting that at the end of the day we are a pretty lazy people. That until we feel the hurt very personally we are rarely moved to do anything and even then it’s doubtful because we can usually content ourselves with some Netflix and pizza. I say this as a person who for years has begged for help regularly from everything for campaigns to schools to nonprofits to community events. I have never in my life seen a signup genius form completely filled and this is for things that have a direct impact on the people involved, not just some abstract concept of “making things better.”
You want change? You want this country to be better? Oh my god, I want that too! You know how you get that? You work for and vote for city council members and board of supervisor members and school board members AND MAYORS!!! who also want those things. You donate money and knock doors and make phone calls and talk to your friends and neighbors about the people who will make things happen in your statehouse and in congress. You start reading your local paper and connecting the dots between how your schools are funded and whom you vote for in the midterm elections. THAT IS HOW WE GET CHANGE. Through hard work and time and devotion to the endless small, not-fun causes that impact us every single day. Not by posting memes every four years and losing interest as soon as the big one is done.
We have a dreamer with big ideas as president who had the biggest grassroots organization this country has ever seen in place on day one of his presidency. It shrank and died as people went back to their lives and slept while their districts were gerrymandered by a bunch of racists who blocked him at every turn. We did nothing to help him. We let him fight the fights alone for the last eight years. Until we show that we can do better on the small stuff I personally don’t think we deserve another dreamer with only big ideas. We need a pragmatist who knows how messed up the system is and how to work within it, who acknowledges the value in winning the small battles. Hillary Clinton was right in 2008 and she is still right eight years later. Your job now is to go home and do your work and if you do it good enough maybe we’ll deserve Elizabeth Warren in eight years or even Bernie if he’s still up to it. In the meantime, Hillary has some ball busting to do.