Wednesday, February 3, 2016

It Takes a Movement

Robert Reich. (photo: Richard Morgenstein)
Robert Reich. (photo: Richard Morgenstein)

By Robert Reich, Robert Reich's Blog
02 February 16
n 2008, when then-Senator Barack Obama promised progressive change if elected President, his primary opponent, then-Senator Hillary Clinton, derided him.

“The skies will open, the light will come down, celestial choirs will be singing and everyone will know we should do the right thing and the world will be perfect,” she said, sarcastically, adding “I have no illusions about how hard this is going to be.

Fast forward eight years. "I wish that we could elect a Democratic president who could wave a magic wand and say, ‘We shall do this, and we shall do that,’” Clinton said recently in response to Bernie Sanders’s proposals.  "That ain’t the real world we’re living in.“

So what’s possible in “the real world we’re living in?”

There are two dominant views about how presidents accomplish fundamental change.

The first might be called the “deal-maker-in-chief,” by which presidents threaten or buy off powerful opponents.

Barack Obama got the Affordable Care Act this way – gaining the support of the pharmaceutical industry, for example, by promising them far more business and guaranteeing that Medicare wouldn’t use its vast bargaining power to negotiate lower drug prices.

But such deals can be expensive to the public (the tab for the pharmaceutical exemption is about $16 billion a year), and they don’t really change the allocation of power. They just allow powerful interests to cash in.

The costs of such deals in “the world we’re living in” are likely to be even higher now. Powerful interests are more powerful than ever thanks to the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision opening the floodgates to big money.

Which takes us to the second view about how presidents accomplish big things that powerful interests don’t want: by mobilizing the public to demand them and penalize politicians who don’t heed those demands.

Teddy Roosevelt got a progressive income tax, limits on corporate campaign contributions, regulation of foods and drugs, and the dissolution of giant trusts – not because he was a great dealmaker but because he added fuel to growing public demands for such changes.

It was at a point in American history similar to our own. Giant corporations and a handful of wealthy people dominated American democracy. The lackeys of the “robber barons” literally placed sacks of cash on the desks of pliant legislators.

The American public was angry and frustrated. Roosevelt channeled that anger and frustration into support of initiatives that altered the structure of power in America. He used the office of the president – his “bully pulpit,” as he called it – to galvanize political action.

Could Hillary Clinton do the same? Could Bernie Sanders?

Clinton fashions her prospective presidency as a continuation of Obama’s. Surely Obama understood the importance of mobilizing the public against the moneyed interests. After all, he had once been a community organizer.

After the 2008 election he even turned his election campaign into a new organization called “Organizing for America” (now dubbed “Organizing for Action”), explicitly designed to harness his grassroots support.

So why did Obama end up relying more on deal-making than public mobilization? Because he thought he needed big money for his 2012 campaign.

Despite OFA’s public claims (in mailings, it promised to secure the “future of the progressive movement”), it morphed into a top-down campaign organization to raise big money.

In the interim, Citizens United had freed “independent” groups like OFA to raise almost unlimited funds, but retained limits on the size of contributions to formal political parties.

That’s the heart of the problem. No candidate or president can mobilize the public against the dominance of the moneyed interests while being dependent on their money. And no candidate or president can hope to break the connection between wealth and power without mobilizing the public.

(A personal note: A few years ago OFA wanted to screen around America the movie Jake Kornbluth and I did about widening inequality, called “Inequality for All” – but only on condition we delete two minutes identifying big Democratic donors.  We refused. They wouldn’t show it.)

In short, “the real world we’re living in” right now won’t allow fundamental change of the sort we need. It takes a movement.

Such a movement is at the heart of the Sanders campaign. The passion that’s fueling it isn’t really about Bernie Sanders. Had Elizabeth Warren run, the same passion would be there for her.

It’s about standing up to the moneyed interests and restoring our democracy.


+76 # librarian1984 2016-02-02 14:06
There is another issue: electability.
Things don't get accomplished by skeptics; they get done by those who won't take no for an answer.

Contrary to the statements of the Clinton campaign, Sanders consistently outperforms Clinton in GOP matchups.

More importantly, Clinton will mobilize the GOP base, while Sanders will energize the Democratic base.
-24 # Rain17 2016-02-02 22:41
"Sanders consistently outperforms Clinton in GOP matchups."

The problem with this point is that less people know about Sanders. He has lesser name recognition in comparison to Hillary. Once people know about him I suspect support will drop for him.

The problem is that Sanders has said that he is a "Democratic Socialist". And, despite what people say here, it's a deal-breaker with many voters. Sanders's radical past is almost certainly going to be brought up, including:

--The fact that he applied for conscientious objector status in the Vietnam war.
--The fact that he called for the nationalization of businesses in the 1970s.
--The fact that, as mayor of Burlington, he traveled to the USSR in the 1980s.
--The fact that he visited the Sandanistas in Nicaragua in the 1980s.
--Stating out loud that he plans to raise taxes.

All of these facets of his past will almost certainly end up in negative ads should be the Democratic nominee. I am afraid that Sanders won't survive the onslaught that is almost certainly coming his way. Whatever Hillary has said about him is only the tip of the iceberg.

This is why I am voting for Hillary in the primary. I don't think Sanders can survive this onslaught of negative ads.
+10 # jimallyn 2016-02-02 23:58
Quoting Rain17:
--The fact that he applied for conscientious objector status in the Vietnam war.
--The fact that he called for the nationalization of businesses in the 1970s.
--The fact that, as mayor of Burlington, he traveled to the USSR in the 1980s.
--The fact that he visited the Sandanistas in Nicaragua in the 1980s.
--Stating out loud that he plans to raise taxes.

To many, those are good reasons to vote for Sanders.
-10 # Rain17 2016-02-03 00:08
But they aren't to a majority of voters.
+7 # mentor 2016-02-03 06:20
A really big problem is the stupidity and intellectual laziness of too many voters.
-2 # MidwestTom 2016-02-03 10:30
The Democrats are the ones always pushing for extension of the vote to uniformed voters.
+6 # newell 2016-02-03 08:52
All my heroes ain't Reagan cowboys. My heroes were consciencious objectors that chose a cage over killing innocent civilians. And I believe most Americans would agree if given the choice of a Clinton or a Bush who didn't show the leadership to publicly announce, like Ali and Bernie and MLK, that the war was wrong. Fact--people said many things in the 70's. Fact-- Burlington has a sister city in Russia. Many cities do--we were trying to avoid all the yahoos that wanted a nuclear war. Fact--Reagan illegally sold them weapons. Fact--Eisenhowe r had a 92% tax rate on the rich.
+1 # Raging Moderate 2016-02-03 13:39
You are exactly right. I have been saying the same thing for months
-29 # Shades of gray matter 2016-02-02 14:24
Inconvenient Truth: Among young Iowa voters, The Bern "Movement," "Revolution," drew FAR FEWER caucusers than Obama, costing US a desperately needed win. WHY? Is this a social media "virtual Movement"? Twit "Virtual Revolution"? Clicking "Like" won't threaten U.S. BASED criminal GlobalCorp technocracy. Droning on and on won't ground drones.
0 # Buddha 2016-02-03 14:11
Actually, I hate to admit it, but Shades is actually correct here. Something like only 18% of Millenials caucused in Iowa, and they are the ones Bernie most needed to turn out in historic numbers. If even just 25% of them showed up, Bernie would have won handily. And African-America ns and Hispanics, those most screwed by our racist status quo Drug War and neo-liberal economic structure, still overwhelmingly support Mrs Status Quo HRC herself. I love Bernie and wholeheartedly support him...but it seems as if the masses are after 3 decades of Reaganism too misinformed, too beaten-down, and too lazy to rise up and take our democracy back from the Oligarchs who have stolen it.
+63 # Bernforward 2016-02-02 14:43
Robert, You have been so right for so long and this is not an exception.Berni e stands for the government we want, while Hillary stands for the government we have, and what we have is an oligarchy ! ! !

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