Bernie Sanders wants to be President of the United States. He also wants to start a “revolution” against the “billionaire class.” Unfortunately for him, these are incompatible goals. In fact, Bernie’s ascent to the Oval Office would be about the worst thing that could happen to his revolution.
This is something I’ve been feeling for a while, but I’ve been having trouble articulating it. While reading this piece in Bookforum, though, I finally figured it out. The piece is worth a read, but it is a little long, so let me summarize. The piece is about two new books, The Black Presidency by Michael Eric Dyson and Democracy In Black by Eddie S. Glaude Jr. Dyson is, and has been, a fan of Obama. He praises a lot of things that Obama has done and tends to find excuses, like Republican obstructionism, for Obama’s failings. Glaude was an “Obamaphile” in 2008, but has since become a vocal critic. He says that Obama has utterly failed the African American community.
Now, you may be wondering what this has to do with Bernie and his revolution. Basically, Glaude was to Obama in 2008 what people who are “feeling the Bern” are to Sanders now. Glaude bought the “Hope and Change” rhetoric completely. He believed Obama was going to be a transformative president. When Obama failed to live up to those hopes, Glaude became completely disillusioned. And that’s not uncommon. Many of Obama’s most ardent supporters from 2008 are now completely incapable of seeing any of the good he has done. Bernie’s supporters believe in the revolution. They believe that he will take on Wall Street and the billionaire class. They believe he will do something about income inequality. Plus, he’ll get us single payer health care and free education once he has broken up the banks. The thing is, though, as president, he won’t do any of those things. Being wildly optimistic, the best we can hope for out of a Sanders presidency is Obama part II.
The President of the United States just isn’t a revolutionary position. It is the most elite position in the establishment, but it is fully entrenched in the establishment. Revolutions, at least the type of populist revolution that Bernie is talking about, work from the bottom up, not the top down. There is simply no mechanism in place for the president to break up the banks or raise the minimum wage or forgive student debt. All of the things that Sanders wants require cooperation with Congress or the courts or both. Since the Senate has consistently refused to fill court vacancies with Obama’s picks, the judiciary won’t have enough sympathetic judges to help the revolution. And since Bernie seems completely disinterested in the Democratic under-ticket, the Republicans are going to retain control of Congress which means that there will be no support for the revolution in Congress. In other words, none of the things that Bernie talks about will come to pass.
When all of Sanders’ rhetoric comes to naught, his most ardent followers will become disillusioned, just like Glaude did with Obama. When that happens, the revolution will die. Disillusionment cannot sustain a revolution. A revolution needs either anger or success. A Bernie presidency cannot provide either.