This is One Way (Necessarily Incomplete, By No Means Entirely Coherent, But Nonetheless Meaningful) Political Revolutions Can, Just Maybe, Start to Unfold in America
So, Bernie Sanders gave a big speech to his supporters tonight. It wasn't a concession speech--but then again, from his point of view, his candidacy was about building a movement, changing a party, and pushing an idea (lots of them, actually), at least as much as it was about him getting the Democratic nomination and then being elected President of the United States, and so what exactly would he need to concede? As he put it in the very first lines of his speech, "Election days come and go. But political and social revolutions that attempt to transform our society never end." Since there is no ending, there's no conceding.
So yeah, of course, he's not going to be the nominee, and he's not going to be president. To many, that idea was always just so prima facie ridiculous that his whole campaign was assumed to be nothing more than one long exercise in narcissism. But even those who took him seriously we're dubious of his approach. A man who had always kept his distance from the party structure attempting to win the support of that party, and affect change from the top? That's unworkable, and undemocratic too, making the man a confused hypocrite, at best.
There's a lot which can be said about that, and those things should be said, so that those of us who think his candidacy spoke for principles and policies worth pursuing can see the things that Sanders did wrong, and try to correct them, and the things he did right, and try to build upon them. But if we can set aside all the analysis for the moment, and just accept that, for better or worse, Bernie Sanders, the self-described democratic socialist, really did believe (and act upon the belief!) that, in our present electoral and media environment, someone with the right message could break into the insanely expensive, insular, and by no means transparent or fair presidential nomination contest, and by so doing turn strongly populist ideas into a politically effective and electorally plausible movement...well, as surprising as it may be to those of us who cynically study this stuff, the fact is, he may have a point. As he put it tonight:
When we began this campaign a little over a year ago, we had no political organization, no money and very little name recognition. The media determined that we were a fringe campaign. Nobody thought we were going anywhere. Well, a lot has changed over a year. During this campaign, we won more than 12 million votes. We won 22 state primaries and caucuses. [Those in green.] We came very close--within 2 points or less--in five more states. In other words, our vision for the future of this country is not some kind of fringe idea. It is not a radical idea. It is mainstream. It is what millions of Americans believe in and want to see happen.
For the most party, Sanders's speech was a repetition of his standard call for greater egalitarianism and a demand for social, environmental, racial, and economic justice--rhetorically speaking, it wasn't anything new. But it did make clear a few basic points, points which I think flow pretty naturally from his own democratic and revolutionary convictions. First, it was a promise that he and his supporters would keep up the pressure on Clinton--even as he said he would work with her to defeat Donald Trump--all the way through the Democratic convention and beyond.
The major political task that we face in the next five months is to make certain that Donald Trump is defeated and defeated badly....But defeating Donald Trump cannot be our only goal. We must continue our grassroots efforts to create the America that we know we can become. And we must take that energy into the Democratic National Convention on July 25 in Philadelphia where we will have more than 1,900 delegates.
I recently had the opportunity to meet with Secretary Clinton and discuss some of the very important issues facing our country and the Democratic Party. It is no secret that Secretary Clinton and I have strong disagreements on some very important issues. It is also true that our views are quite close on others. I look forward, in the coming weeks, to continued discussions between the two campaigns to make certain that your voices are heard and that the Democratic Party passes the most progressive platform in its history and that Democrats actually fight for that agenda. I also look forward to working with Secretary Clinton to transform the Democratic Party so that it becomes a party of working people and young people, and not just wealthy campaign contributors.
Sanders listed several things that he thought important enough to call out, which made clear where he understands the real popular pressure of his push for changing the Democratic party's platform needs to be: raising the minimum wage, passing a modern version of Glass-Steagall, ensuring a President Clinton doesn't change her mind again about the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and signal that she'd be okay with it coming to a vote in Congress during the lame duck session, making sure public colleges and universities move in the direction of free tuition, ending "perpetual warfare in the Middle East," guarantee health care as a right, and--probably most important to him--"break up the biggest financial institutions in this country." Will a Democratic party establishment which supported Clinton strongly all through the primaries be amenable to such priorities? Some of them, surely; but likely not all. Hence, the need to continue to put the pressure on the Democratic party as a vehicle of the movement Sanders has helped spark.
Beyond all that, though, Sanders' speech this evening was also a classic bit of civic republican/participatory democratic encouragement:
We need to start engaging at the local and state level in an unprecedented way. Hundreds of thousands of volunteers helped us make political history during the last year. These are people deeply concerned about the future of our country and their own communities. Now we need many of them to start running for school boards, city councils, county commissions, state legislatures and governorships....
And when we talk about transforming America, it is not just about elections. Many of my Republican colleagues believe that government is the enemy, that we need to eviscerate and privatize virtually all aspects of government--whether it is Social Security, Medicare, the VA, EPA, the Postal Service or public education. I strongly disagree. In a democratic civilized society, government must play an enormously important role in protecting all of us and our planet. But in order for government to work efficiently and effectively, we need to attract great and dedicated people from all walks of life. We need people who are dedicated to public service and can provide the services we need in a high quality and efficient way.
When we talk about a Medicare-for-all health care program and the need to make sure all of our people have quality health care, it means that we need tens of thousands of new doctors, nurses, dentists, psychologists and other medical personnel who are prepared to practice in areas where people today lack access to that care.
It means that we need hundreds of thousands of people to become childcare workers and teachers so that our young people will get the best education available in the world.
It means that as we combat climate change and transform our energy system away from fossil fuels, we need scientists and engineers and entrepreneurs who will help us make energy efficiency, solar energy, wind energy, geothermal and other developing technologies as efficient and cost effective as possible.
It means that as we rebuild our crumbling infrastructure, we need millions of skilled construction workers of all kinds.
It means that when we talk about growing our economy and creating jobs, we need great business people who can produce and distribute the products and services we need in a way that respects their employees and the environment.
In other words, we need a new generation of people actively involved in public service who are prepared to provide the quality of life the American people deserve.
It wasn't quite Kennedyesque--but it gestured in the direction of that kind of idealism, and we who donated money and knocked on doors and carried signs and signed petitions and wrote blog posts and voted for the man are better for it. If we keep at it, maybe, in some tiny little ways, the country may be better for it too.