There is no debate that Bernie Sanders is running an extraordinary campaign that baffles most pundits and political scientists. When no one predicted that this “fringe” candidate would be a factor in the Democratic race, he is now knocking on the doors of Iowa and has a commanding lead in New Hampshire.
While pundits have finally started to take Sanders seriously, they still struggle to understand his call for a “political revolution”. The editorial board of the Washington Post wrote a scathing op-ed calling Sanders campaign a fiction-filled campaign and argues that his ideas are too facile. Ta-Nehisi Coates challenged Sanders ability to coax a Republican Congress to pass his ambitious agenda. Greg Sargent finds Sanderstheory of change unrealistic. Joy Reid wonders how Sanders can pass a 52% tax rate in Congress. And these are just a few examples.
On the other hand, many Pundits feel that Hillary Clinton’s call for “incremental change” is more realistic in a bicameral system of governance where Republicans are more likely to retain one or both Houses of Congress. In their view, it’s better to get “some change” with Hillary Clinton rather than “no change” at all with a Sanders presidency. They see politics in Washington as a trench warfare where Hillary Clinton would deploy her arsenal of tactics and tricks that she acquired over the years to push Congress towards positive change.
I don’t blame the pundits for thinking that way, but a rude shock awaits them. As I already alluded to in my article here, this is nothing but wishful thinking. A Republican Congress would not allow any legislation, no matter how modest, to be passed in Congress. Hillary Clinton’s strategy is bound to fail. As Noam Chomsky explains, Republicans have become a “radical insurgency that has abandoned parliamentary politics”. Lawrence O’Donnell hits the nail on the head during a debate between Clinton and Sanders surrogates:
It is arguable that everything each of the candidates proposing in taxation and healthcare is theoretically impossible, especially if Paul Ryan is the speaker of the House… because this legislation would have to begin, as the Constitution requires, in the House of Representatives. It would not get a hearing. So when we discuss the area of it… the actual likelihood of legislation might be something we don’t spend a lot of time on.
[…] If we’re going to play the game or realism… if that’s what we’re going to do, then the realism is that nothing… nothing that either one of them are about will even get a hearing in Paul Ryan’s House of Representatives.
Does that mean that Democrats are doomed with a gridlocked Congress?
The simple answer is yes. The only option to break through this gridlock is by taking control of both houses of Congress. While this is easier said than done as Greg Sargent explains, there’s simply no other option. Democrats must either settle on a president whose role is to issue executive orders and block extreme right-wing agenda from passing through (such as repealing the Affordable Care Act, cut taxes for the ultra-rich and defunding Planned Parenthood), in which case any Democratic candidate would be equally qualified, or try something else.
The only person with a solution to the problem of gridlock is Sanders and his “political revolution”. While a political revolution may seem like a catchy slogan, it’s actually a well thought out strategy, albeit a very difficult one to achieve. Sanders plans to include younger and disenfranchised people back into the political process. In 2012, as much as 59% of young voters didn’t vote and a staggering 79% chose to stay home in 2014. The voter turnout for other age-groups is also nothing to be proud of. This is where Bernie Sanders is excelling. The 74 year old candidate has inspired young voters at a level not seen before, even greater than the level seen during Obama’s remarkable campaign in 2008. Sanders supporters treat him at times like an anointed saint or a famous rock star.
But the question remains, will they go out to vote? Young voters are known for their unreliability when it comes to showing up to vote. The answer to this important question lies with the outcome of the Democratic nomination itself. If Sanders manages to defeat Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination, then he successfully makes the case that his “political revolution” can work. If he is able to turn his rallies into a strong voting base that propels him to victory, there is no question that these same voters would get more Democrats elected in Congress.
How many Democrats? No one can know for sure. Will Democrats control the House of Representatives? It’s possible, but it’s more likely that Republicans would still retain control of the House of Representatives. And yes! Republicans will obstruct his big ideas from day 1. And no! He will not be able to coax a Republican-controlled House from implementing his ideas.
Bernie Sanders understands this challenge very well and explains his revolution in this speech. He doesn’t, and couldn’t possibly, promise when he’ll be able to achieve his goal of transforming Congress. He hopes to achieve this goal this year, but if not, he’s planning to transform the 2018 midterm elections “into the largest referendum in the history of midterms“. With voter turnout much lower during the midterms, this will be a difficult battle to wage. But when people are more involved in the political process and with higher voter turnouts, Democrats may be able to make some modest gains, or at the very least, fend off big losses. Bernie Sanders revolution is a quest which could happen this year, in 2018, or may have to wait until his second term.
If this seems too gloomy, well that’s because the situation is too gloomy. If Democrats didn’t have control of Congress in 2008, you could kiss goodbye the Affordable Care Act and Dodd Frank Wall Street reforms. Bernie Sanders revolution may not be an easy thing to do, but unfortunately, it is the only answer to the problem.
This piece was originally published on Daily Kos.