Bernie Sanders’ “revolution” will not be televised, and it is not going to be reported in the rest of the mass media either. Sanders’ self-described revolution is against plutocracy, and the plutocracy owns the mass media. Anyone still getting their information from the mass media is missing out on the history being made in a historic political year that rivals any election of the past two generations. The 2016 election could rank, for better or worse, with those critical elections of 1800, 1860, 1912, 1932 and 1980.
Yet patriots must answer the plutocratic propaganda that pollutes the information environment. First, they ignored Sanders’ statement that he would not run for president if he “cannot run to win.” During the summer, they pretended he was just a gadfly that could be ignored. In December, the mass media propaganda designed to suppress morale communicated that Bernie Sanders was losing and unelectable. Upon closer analysis of the facts, it was found that he was more electable than Clinton, already ahead with the people, if not yet with partisan Democrats, and was likely to widen his lead as he became better known. That has proven true.
The latest propaganda designed to encounter the enthusiasm behind his winning campaign is that Hillary Clinton is experienced and pragmatic whereas Bernie Sanders is an inexperienced dreamer who by reaching for impossibly poetic ideals will sacrifice the achievable prosaic reform.
It must be said very clearly that this is a lie that deploys “the big lie” technique of propagandists. It must be called out as such. “Very Serious Columnists” who purvey this lie have been attacked for their partisan motives. A Madame Defarge might find employment sorting out the hacks for plutocracy from the advocates of democracy on this issue. But it is important to resist propaganda not just by rejecting its partisan messengers but also by clearly marshaling the contrary facts.
In a democracy, it is not an impractical dream to think that the majority could enact the policies it favors.
The most consistent message from Sanders is what he said when he first explored a presidential bid. He would be “running against Citizens United,” and its “undermining of American democracy” by an “oligarchy.” In the presidential debates, he carefully defined the central issue of the 2016 campaign: “Very little is going to be done to transform our economy and to create the kind of middle class we need unless we end a corrupt campaign finance system which is undermining American democracy.” Sanders concluded his Iowa campaign by making clear that no president can address the many problems for which Americans demand solutions except by first waging a revolution against “a handful of billionaires” who “are able to buy elections…. That is not democracy, that is oligarchy, and together we are going to change that.”
If Sanders does not succeed in overthrowing the plutocracy and restoring US democracy, he is quite clear that “very little” is going to get done for the people by him or anyone else. That is not the talk of an unrealistic dreamer. It is the honest, clear-eyed, practical assessment of a politician who has been around long enough to know exactly what the score is. Money in politics is a civil rights issue; it’s a climate change issue; it’s a jobs issue; it’s a war issue.
The difference between Sanders and Clinton is that Clinton and her supporters assume that under her presidency, the plutocracy will be in good hands, just as it has been under President Obama’s. Therefore, as she suggests, what little gets done will be by way of “pragmatic” reform based on her “common ground” with Republicans. This is code for those reforms that the plutocracy authorizes at the point at which the much-vaunted boogeyman of partisan polarization suddenly and miraculously, it seems, gives way to bipartisan service to plutocracy. It is Clinton who is inducing dreams in her followers by suggesting that she can, without either overthrowing or getting permission from the plutocracy, accomplish even piecemeal “pragmatic” reform of any real significance to them. Her job, as was Obama’s, would be to maintain the status quo by preserving and more deeply entrenching the current corrupt system.
When applied specifically for reform of the corrupt system that is US politics, the incremental kind of measures that Clinton prefers are actually counterproductive. Piecemeal anti-corruption reform will, paradoxically, make the system even more corrupt. It takes systemic reform to overcome systemic corruption. Anything less, like constitutional amendment, disclosure or public financing, for example, can be co-opted by the corrupt system and repurposed for its own ends.
Since systemic change must start from the top, the precise approach to reform of political corruption by the presidential candidates, whether counterproductively incremental or effectively systemic, is key to the future of US democracy and therefore of most, or nearly all, Americans. We have already had 40 years of diversionary and piecemeal reform proposals as systemic corruption and economic inequality have only grown worse.
Although he consistently defines plutocracy as by far the most important issue, Sanders is not running a single-issue campaign. While leveling with the people about the extremely limited possibilities for the other policy reforms that he advocates, if the current systemic corruption is not reformed, Sanders at the same time does inform his supporters about those reforms that he will pursue if democracy is restored.
It is very appropriate that Sanders should campaign on these other secondary policy issues. It is wrong to call them idealistic dreams. They could nearly all be implemented relatively easily, indeed would already have been implemented, if the United States were a democracy. These issues represent pent-up demands behind a dam of plutocratic corruption that for decades has blocked their flow into public policy.
A democracy is how majorities get the policies they want, which are not inconsistent with democracy itself. Policies like single-payer health care, free state college tuition, an increase in the minimum wage and virtually all of Sanders’ other “middle-class” economic reforms have large majority backing. In a democracy, it is not an impractical dream to think that the majority could enact the policies it favors. Only in a plutocracy is policy that serves the majority a mere impractical dream. History shows that once that dam is lowered, policy change flows rapidly over it.
By framing his campaign around a platform of majoritarian policy reforms, Sanders is presenting a far clearer picture of what the country would look like under his presidency if he succeeds in his priority task of overthrowing the plutocracy. This provides a richer and truer explanation of the importance of this single decisive issue than if he had run a single-issue campaign, as erstwhile candidate Lawrence Lessig wanted.
The difference is then quite clear. It is not a difference between dreams and pragmatism. Hillary Clinton and her mass media backers criticizing Sanders for being an impractical idealist are clearly assuming that the plutocracy will continue on her watch, as it certainly would. In her plutocracy, as in Obama’s plutocracy, none of Sanders’ policies would be anything but an unattainable ideal, as he himself consistently indicates.
Sanders is focused on, and promises to achieve with the continued support of the people, the overthrow of “the billionaire class” plutocracy. If he accomplishes that, then adopting what are, in Clinton’s world, “impractical” reforms would actually become a matter of the ordinary nuts-and-bolts working of democratic politics.
The Democratic primary election has nothing to do with relative pragmatism, dreaming, or more or less experience running the corrupt US system of politics. These ideas are products of propagandists designed to change the subject. The choice is between one candidate who is planning on the restoration of democracy and another who is planning for the perpetuation of plutocracy. What the propagandists do not want Americans to discuss is whether it is possible for democracy to break out in the United States, and how.
Bernie Sanders looks back at US history when the people came together to make democratic change through presidential elections, such as in 1800, 1860, 1936, 1964 and 1976. He claims to be leading just such change in 2016.
Hillary Clinton needs to persuade voters that 2016 is no different than any other election in the past 40 years since the Supreme Court legalized political corruption by decreeing, in Buckley v. Valeo (1976), that money is speech. Therefore, she argues, Sanders is dreaming by thinking he can overcome plutocracy as he admits is necessary to deliver the policies that a majority wants. “Not gonna happen,” says Clinton. “So hire me to get the crumbs the plutocrats will let us collect if they don’t get angry. That is a job I know better.”
Now that Iowa has spoken and the campaigns move on to New Hampshire, let us leave behind the propaganda that Sanders cannot win against the formerly inevitable one, and that Clinton is more pragmatic than the dreamer. Let us instead start to focus on the real issue that has been joined in this campaign. Can democracy be restored in the United States? What precisely are the strengths and weaknesses of the best-known strategy to get money out of politics and our politicians out of the pockets of billionaires? This debate should answer whether Sanders has a credible strategy to get money out of politics that can justify his optimism, if only the people will support him. Or is Clinton’s skepticism more than just wishful thinking that the comfortably kept political class will be able to continue what Mark Leibovich describes in This Town as the “sweaty orgy raging between corporate and political enterprise”?
The two “victory” speeches in Iowa framed this debate. Sanders’ interpreted the results as a rejection of the corrupt campaign finance system, the first and most important issue he discussed. Clinton recited the agenda of popular policy reforms, appropriating Sanders’ majoritarian positions on those issues, such as single payer. But she omitted mention of the necessary priority of first addressing the corrupt campaign finance system in order to deliver those policies. If all it takes is to vote for Hillary Clinton to get these policies adopted, as she promises, why were these policies not already delivered by President Obama?