Barack Obama, Bernie Sanders and Why It Might Be Time to Panic

The Democratic Party is completely ignoring the lessons of the 2016 election.

Photo by Jesusemen Oni

Barack Obama is the best President of the United States of my lifetime, which began in 1978. In fact, the competition isn’t very close.

With all due respect, we need no discussion to eliminate Jimmy Carter despite his integrity and both Bushes despite their…well, existence?

Ronald Reagan fostered economic prosperity for many, but he decimated the underprivileged, disproportionately minority communities via Reaganomics and the War on Drugs. Additionally, the administration and Ronnie, personally, ignored the blossoming AIDS crisis in the homosexual community. If you care at all about social justice, equality and respect for basic human rights, the Gipper is a non-starter without needing to delve deeper into anything else.

That leaves Bill Clinton, but there’s no real argument for ol’ Slick Willy, either.

The economic prosperity of the 1990s was a function of the Internet Bubble, which WJC neither created nor sufficiently protected as it burst while he was still in office. Like Reagan before him, Bill decimated the underprivileged, disproportionately minority communities by embracing financial deregulation, signing off on unbalanced free-trade agreements, passing his now-infamous crime reform bill and enacting welfare reform. You could argue these had unintended, unforeseeable consequences, but they still happened. As did the Monica Lewinsky affair, which is no badge of honor even if you don’t believe it fell in sexual harassment-assault territory. So Clinton is out, too.

Granted, Obama was far from perfect and history probably won’t judge his administration as kindly as the groupie love showered upon him while leaving office. However, the warts on his resume are the same that exist on all the others without any especially egregious ones (yet). Meanwhile, Barack did many things deserving of praise.

But about those warts…

Consider that Barry roared into office by wrapping both arms and legs around a message of changing the status quo in Washington DC. Eight years later, that “change” included:

  1. A comfortable bailout for Wall Street while Americans of lesser net worth and political influence were tossed crumbs (or less).
  2. Drone strikes, drone strikes and more drone strikes as American military activity in the Middle East sprawled.
  3. Arguably unprecedented attacks on freedom of the press and governmental transparency.
  4. A rapidly revolving door between the administration and Silicon Valley, particularly Google.
  5. Highly questionable surveillance of American citizens.
  6. A more partisan political environment than the one Obama promised to change on the campaign trail in 2008 thanks, in part, to the hyper-partisan way in which he rammed through Obamacare to burnish his legacy (it should go without saying that the Grand Old Party also deserves a great deal of blame here).

Since leaving office, Obama has looked even less like the person he campaigned as. There was his Virgin-branded vacation with billionaire Richard Branson on the latter’s private island in the British Virgin Islands. There was also the quaint yachting excursion in French Polynesia with a handful of celebrities worth hundreds of millions or billions. Not to mention a $65 million book advance and his first forays into the lucrative public speaking tour, which include a $400,000 payday from an investment banking firm that shamelessly profited off the hundreds of its employees who were killed at the World Trade Center during the September 11th terrorist attacks.

Got that?

Barack Obama, a man whose political rhetoric routinely vilified Wall Street for the harm caused by its shameless greed, is now surrounding himself with the richest people on the planet and accepting a fat check from Cantor Fitzgerald, which lost over 600 employees in the Twin Towers, sued American Airlines and then kept most of the settlement for themselves while neglecting to inform the surviving family members of their deceased colleagues.

For a man who rose to the presidency on a message of hope and change, the reality has been tremendously depressing. Consequently, the best POTUS of my lifetime is simultaneously the most disappointing.

Not. Reassuring.

Photo by Gage Skidmore

Bernie Sanders is currently the most popular active politician in the country. The Senator from Vermont has strong favorables no matter how you slice the responses (pages 30–33).

In a field that includes Donald Trump, Mike Pence, Paul Ryan, Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, Sanders ranks as the most popular overall, the most popular with male voters, the most popular with female voters, the most popular with voters in the 18–34 range, the most popular with voters in the 35–49 range, the most popular with voters in the 50–64 range, the second-most popular with voters over 65 (Pence is tops), the second-most popular amongst white voters (Trump is tops), the most popular with Hispanic voters, the second-most popular with Black voters (Clinton is tops), the most popular with voters of “Other” ethnicity, the most popular with Democratic voters, the most popular with Independent voters, the most popular with liberal voters and the most popular with moderate voters. Bernie is the most popular candidate regardless of education or income level and only rural voters prefer another candidate over him (they prefer both Pence and Trump).

Bernie Sanders is even more popular than Hillary Clinton amongst Hillary Clinton voters (82 percent to 80 percent).

Approval ratings and popularity do not equal election victories, per se, and the 2016 election proved political polls should be taken with a very large boulder of salt, especially when discussing the results of only one poll.

However, look at the margins at play in some of the key demographics. Nobody comes within 10 points of Sanders amongst women, voters in the 18–34 range, voters in the 35–49 range, Hispanic voters (actually, nobody’s within 25 points of him there), voters of “Other” ethnicity, Independent voters, moderate voters and third-party voters. Only Hillary and her notorious Black Firewall barely keep the Bern from being most popular in the Black community; nobody else comes within 30 points of him.

Again, it would be silly to read too much into the results of one poll, even one from a well-respected source. Nevertheless, the Harvard-Harris poll clearly demonstrates a level of popularity that is a nifty trick for a septuagenarian who’s been in politics for over three decades yet was a complete unknown as recently as two years ago.

The trick looks niftier when you consider Sanders has inspired his popularity by staying true to essentially the same message he’s been flogging throughout his time in politics i.e. corporate greed and big-money interests have corrupted American politics while exacerbating national income inequality. He hasn’t done it by being particularly charismatic, by pandering (much) to special interests, by catering to deep-pocketed benefactors or by resorting to any of the standard political games that allow our nominal leaders to excel in DC without actually standing for any enduring principles.

Given all of the above—not to mention the smoking crater left in the middle of the Democratic Party by the 2016 election—it would be unmitigated idiocy to ignore the influence and potential of Bernie Sanders.

Naturally, that is precisely what the Democratic establishment is doing. Instead of embracing Sanders’ popularity and using it to their advantage, Democratic luminaries and their mainstream media appendages are actively fighting to undermine it.

Amongst other things, donkey power brokers have:

  1. Derailed Keith Ellison, a representative of the Sanders/Warren Democrats (aka the actually progressive wing), as his bid for the Democratic National Committee chair was gaining serious momentum.It accomplished this by pushing Tom Perez, an Obama administration veteran and Clinton loyalist, into the race. Glenn Greenwald and The Intercept have a more detailed breakdown of the specifics of how it happened and the likely reasons. The short version is that Ellison made the Obama White House and the parts of Team Clinton who weren’t off wandering in the woods uncomfortable because of his unapologetic support of Sanders and the message his election would send to the rest of the party.
  2. Called for Hawaii voters to reject Tulsi Gabbard and remove her from Congress because she didn’t fall in line behind the “hooray for blowing up Syria” party chorus. Once upon a time, Gabbard was yet another rising star in the party and for good reason. Back then, she was considered intelligent, strong-willed and genuinely dedicated to serving the underprivileged classes’ best interests. Of course, that was before she became one of Sanders’ highest-profile surrogates, broke with party orthodoxy to support Bernie and suffered a purely coincidental fall from grace.
  3. Totally ignored James Thompson’s oh-so-close bid for a congressional seat in deep red Kansas. Thompson, a self-avowed Sanders acolyte and true-blue progressive, received literally zero support from the national Democratic apparatus until a few days before the election and then it only scraped off a barrage phone calls. Perhaps more frustrating, the local Democratic apparatus coughed up a piddling $3000 of the $145,000 it reportedly had on hand. No heavyweight Democrat—other than Sanders—joined the Kansas fray even after the Republicans rallied some of theirs. Party leadership justified the black out by claiming any direct help would’ve hurt the candidate by tying him to the Democratic Party, which ignored the fact that running as a Democrat probably did an effective job of establishing guilt by association and implied party leadership is too incompetent to imagine indirect, subtler ways to boost a candidate in a winnable race.
  4. Launched an open attack on Sanders after he stumped for Heath Mello in the race for Mayor of Omaha based on the latter’s support for pro-life policy while a state senator. Instead of making perfectly legitimate criticisms of Bernie’s awkward handling of the situation, Democrat mouthpieces—many with direct ties to Hillary Clinton—jumped straight to the ludicrous and incendiary by impugning the Senator’s attitude towards women and reproductive rights.

One or two of these could be dismissed as coincidence, even against the memory of a Democratic primary in which the party establishment was caught violating its own bylaws in an effort to slow down Sanders’ campaign. Taken together, however, these four examples establish an unmistakable pattern in which the Democratic Party’s powers-that-be either neglect or intentionally diminish Sanders and those who embrace his core message.

Bottom line: The Democrats have had more than six months to process the most humiliating defeat in American electoral history. While picking up the pieces and charting a path forward, they’ve discovered an ally who appears to be tremendously popular with all the voter blocs thought crucial to Democratic electoral success like young voters, moderates, Independents, women, minorities, etc.

And the party establishment is eagerly knifing this ally in the back.

Again, not reassuring.

Photo by Charles Levy

The American public has been clamoring for more populist leadership since 2008. As the United States has drifted farther and farther toward outright oligarchy, voters have flocked to promises of change with increasing desperation.

Barack Obama was our first and best attempt. He swept to the presidency on such a promise and almost immediately abandoned it. Since leaving office, Obama—still a hugely influential public figure—has been busy morphing into the very thing he denounced on his meteoric rise. A few more lucrative speaking fees from corporate benefactors and he will complete the transition to Bill Clinton 2.0.

Bernie Sanders tried to repeat the trick and stalled out in the primary. He is currently America’s most popular active politician, basking in a broad-spectrum glow of approval. He’s generating enthusiasm and momentum for issues he’s been championing for decades, issues that are critical to the middle and working classes as well as the poor. He’s allied himself with Democrats, which means he could be a potent weapon for the Dems as they try to fix what the 2016 election revealed to be a hopelessly dysfunctional party.

The Democratic establishment has responded to this stroke of good fortune by looking for reasons to curb stomp it into oblivion.

So where does that leave the electorate?

In a lot of trouble. With President Donald Trump looming over it all.

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