Book review: The Essential Bernie Sanders

Published online 18 September 2015.

Book review: Tasini, Jonathan: The Essential Bernie Sanders and his Vision for America.  White River Junction, Vermont: Chelsea Green, 2015.

Okay, so the Amazon page for this book says this book came out ten days ago, so it’s pretty current.  And, again, it’s refreshing to see that Sanders has a book out — I was beginning to wonder if Hillary Clinton were the only Democratic Party Presidential candidate with a book in my local Barnes & Noble bookstore.  I was also, recently, at Vroman’s in Pasadena, noting from a display there that many of the Republican candidates have books out as well.  I may review some of this other literature later, or I might get bored with them.  So many politicians promise a lot of empty stuff which turns out to be more of the same.  For now, Sanders.I’m going to preface this review by stating that the most intriguing thing about the Sanders campaign is statements such as this:

So what Sanders is saying, as I read it here, is that a “political revolution” is the prerequisite for his getting anything done as President.  Perhaps Tasini’s book, which more or less encapsulates Sanders’ positions on the issues, will lay out the sort of “political revolution” Sanders has in mind.  We can assume from the video that Sanders wants a revolution against big money in politics — which begs the question of “but then what?” In this light, I want to say some things about “political revolutions”:

1) They don’t happen all the time.  Revolutions are the product of special circumstances, circumstances so disruptive to everyday life that a revolution had to happen.  The French Revolution was a convergence of Enlightenment idealism (and the Enlightenment was an event which will only happen once), high bread prices, a bankrupt government, and an ongoing bourgeois revolution that we now know as “capitalism.”  The Russian Revolution combined intellectual ferment going back at least to Chernyshevsky and adolescent-stage capitalism with a world war and an uncooperative government that was fundamentally the product of the 4th-century Roman Empire.  So when looking at the prospects for “political revolution,” take a good hard look at America, to see if the enabling conditions for such a thing are actually there.

2) It’s hard to imagine a revolution with a time limit.  The issue in question here is Sanders’ promise to support the eventual Democratic Party nominee.  Now, as far as I know, there are no other Presidential candidates telling America that we need a “political revolution.”  So if Sanders concedes the nomination to some other candidate, perhaps Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden, what happens to the “political revolution”?  Does it stop dead in its tracks?  Do we go back to “Omigod vote for the Democrat because Republicans“?

3) Revolutions involve broad, general changes.  It’s clear that such things are coming to America — if the status quo continues, climate change (at the very least) will make life hard for everyone.  But a political revolution will involve more than electing Bernie Sanders.  Sanders, in turn, will need help from the people and from Congress.  Is such help coming in sufficient quantities to “make it so”?

Okay, now the book.  The Essential Bernie Sanders is a series of impassioned pleas, approved no doubt by the Sanders campaign, for various policy initiatives.  Here they are, chapters one through twenty:

1) This chapter is about “Ten Fair Ways to Reduce the Deficit and Create Jobs.”  The ways involve taxing the rich.

2) This chapter is about why we need single-payer health care.

3) Here the book advocates tuition-free public college.

4) The fourth chapter is about Sanders’ advocacy of alternative energy in the face of the threat posed by climate change.

5) As detailed in the first chapter, Sanders is an advocate of more progressive taxation.

6) Sanders is in favor of breaking up the biggest banks.

7) This chapter is largely about the Employee Free Choice Act, a measure designed to strengthen unions against management persecution.

8) Sanders’ idea of “family values” is about subjects such as medical leave — so that parents can have some sort of employment security while attending to sick children.

9) Sanders wishes to expand Social Security.

10) This chapter is about an effort to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision through Constitutional amendment.

11) Here Sanders promises more money for America’s infrastructure.

12) Sanders wishes to expand benefits for military veterans.

13) This chapter is about Sanders’ support for labeling for genetically-modified food.

14) This chapter is about Sanders’ support for the DREAM Act.

15) This chapter is about Sanders’ support for civil rights.

16) This chapter is about Sanders’ support for some sort of cut (not exactly defined) to military spending and about his historic vote against the 2003 resolution to go to war in Iraq.

17) Here Sanders’ opposition to toxic trade deals is outlined.

18) Sanders is in favor of net neutrality.

19) Sanders wants to see more oversight placed upon the Federal Reserve Bank.

20) Sanders was and is opposed to the PATRIOT Act.

The book concludes with a brief biography of Bernie.  Analysis lies below the noodle.

Apparently, much of what Sanders wants to do is predicated upon what Sanders has done already, and for the most part Sanders’ promises and accomplishments came in the form of bills he has once proposed or supported.  Now, one might expect that a Presidential candidate eager to display the integrity of his character would illustrate what he’s done in the past.  Here, however, we might be looking into the possibility of “political revolution,” which should vastly amplify the realm of the possible, and, perhaps, reduce the amount of compromising which Sanders has felt obliged to perform.  Conversely, if there no “political revolution,” a President Sanders may feel obliged to “compromise” all the time.

I’m at a loss to understand what the general obsession with the Federal deficit is about.  An $18 trillion national debt is kept aloft through dollar hegemony, in much the same way that much smaller national debts were kept aloft.  Remember back in 1992 when Ross Perot told everyone we had to pay back our $2 trillion national debt?  The same logic doesn’t hold now that didn’t hold then.

This book could say more about what Sanders’ foreign policy is about.  It will take a lot of foreign policy effort to create an international treaty to keep the grease in the ground.

Generally, though, this book, and Sanders’ candidacy, are about re-establishing the principle that the working class should get something from government outside of the police state, the military, the “free market,” and the value of money.  For that alone Sanders’ book and candidacy should be applauded, even though much of the rest of it appears now to be “up in the air.”  There are references and an index at the end, both of which are certainly praiseworthy things.


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