Anti-Sanders rhetoric: Sanders doesn’t stand a chance!

Published online on 23 October 2015.

Wow — to imagine I just blew by my 400th diary here at!  Now what I need is for someone with UID >1,000,000 to tell me “you don’t belong here because blah blah blah.”

Anyway Kosers, a more recent example of anti-Sanders rhetoric comes to us from Slate, courtesy of Naked Capitalism, and is titled “No, He Can’t.”  Here’s the main argument:

If compromise is off the table, then what about the “political revolution?” It’s possible. Sanders might bring a wave of new voters to the polls and secure Congress for Democrats. But as we saw with Obama, this gives you nothing in particular.

Why is this so?  Well, gridlock in Congress y’know.  The author, Janelle Bouie, continues:

On Thursday, I argued that both Hillary Clinton and Sanders need to give plans for executive branch action, given gridlock in Congress. In response, on Twitter, some Sanders supporters said this was wrong: That Sanders—with a long career in lawmaking—could win Republican support; that Sanders would use the bully pulpit to rally voters; and that a Sanders win would necessarily bring the kind of wave that would give him votes for his policies.But this is blind to reality. Compromise is a distant shore. The Democratic Party has moved to the left, and the Republican Party has made a sharp turn to the right, guided by two generations of conservative revolutionaries, from Newt Gingrich to the Tea Party tidal wave of 2010.

Oh, here we go again. The Democrats have moved to the left, because Obama is a leftist y’know.  Folks, Obama is a “leftist” in a fantasy world which was designed to “make it so.”  And Sanders could sway Congress where Obama did not do so because, fundamentally, Sanders is a rather different creature than Obama.  Also, even if Sanders were to be elected President and were to face a Republican (or right-wing Democratic) Congress at the outset, the character of Congress could still change during Sanders’ tenure as President.

At any rate, Yves Smith has an interesting bead on this piece:

I encourage readers to shred the details of the Slate article, but let me go after its thesis, which regular readers, and anyone with any political savvy, will recognize as bunk. As Jeff W summarized it: “Bernie Sanders will fail because Barack Obama failed.”This is utterly ludicrous because Obama did not fail. He was always a neoliberal, pro-status quo candidate who artfully presented himself when campaigning as being well to the left of where he actually sat. He used his early opposition to Iraq and his short tenure in the Senate, where he was absent from a remarkably high proportion of votes, to play on deep antipathy to Bush. But as readers know, he’s for the most part continued Bush policies with slightly improved optics.

One aspect of this analysis is that Obama wasn’t a “failed liberal” because Obama wasn’t and isn’t a liberal.  This aspect of Smith’s argument is basically correct.  But the overall analysis, that Obama is like Bush, is only partially right.  Obama had two achievements in which he differed especially from Bush: 1) the ACA, which was a broadly-expansive and ambiguous piece of Federal legislation (such as what Bush would never have done) which eliminated health insurance denials based on “pre-existing conditions,” which expanded Medicaid in some states, and which subsidized health insurance subscription for a lower-income segment of Americans.   However, the ACA didn’t eliminate high-deductible policies or narrow networks, it didn’t create a “public option,” and it functioned economically to resuscitate the health insurance “industry” from the death predicted of it by John Geyman in a book published in 2009.  Also, 2) the sequester, which mandates Federal budget cuts for quite some time to come, and which Obama pushed through Congress but then hoped to blame on Congress as “their idea.” (One recalls how then-Vice President Dick Cheney said in 2002 that “deficits don’t matter” as diametrically opposed to the deficit-phobia which characterizes the Presidency and Congress today.)

So the idea that “Obama is like Bush” is not entirely true, and so the aspects of Obama policy which aren’t like Bush policy complicate Smith’s case.

At any rate, Smith has a fair amount of evidence to support her opinion, especially as regards Obama’s handling of the banking crisis; she’s especially interested in banking because, fundamentally, Yves Smith is an economics wonk.  So her opinion (with which I mostly agree) is as follows:

In other words, any time anyone tries to present Obama as having failed to implement a “liberal” agenda because the right was too powerful is either an apologist or ignorant. Obama has achieved precisely what he intended to achieve, which was to implement center-right economic policies with tepid social justice measures to divert attention from how he was serving the interests of the 1% and even more so, the 0.1%. And the fact that his allies in Congress have in large measure been voted out of office, that Sanders is going from strength to strength despite his lack of big corporate support, and that the neoliberal diehard Clinton is being forced to feint to the left are signs that the political tectonic plates are shifting.

So if you’ve read the Janelle Boule piece and the Yves Smith piece, you’re no doubt still wondering: Can Bernie Sanders change the world?  Are the tectonic plates really shifting?  In real life it’s too early to tell.  Nonetheless those who deny the possibility of “political revolution” do so at their own risk.


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