Sunday, March 1, 2020

#61 / Electable? Maybe! But Can He Govern?

Bret Stephens is said to be "known for his neoconservative foreign policy opinions" (that's according to the Wikipedia article about Stephens linked above). Considering this characterization of Stephens' politics, it might seem natural that the title of his New York Times Op-Ed on February 22, 2020, should be read as a gleeful boast: "The Democrats Are in Trouble." 

In fact, though, Stephens' headline is not intended to be a boast, but to indicate a deep and distressed concern. Though Stephens is a neoconservative, he is not a fan of president Donald J. Trump. I have no reason to doubt the sincerity of Stephens' distress at what he sees as problems ahead for the Democrats. Whether Democrats should be paying much attention to political advice from a neoconservative is definitely open to question, but I think it's worth considering what Stephens has to say: 

For ... those of us who want Trump and Trumpism defeated and replaced by something considerably and sustainably better — the prospect of a Sanders candidacy is doubly depressing. He is the candidate Trump most wants to run against. And he would be the president least likely to govern well. 
This week, as Mike Bloomberg nearly achieved onstage spontaneous combustion, that prospect came appreciably nearer. To call this bad for the Democrats is an understatement. It’s a fiasco-in-the-making for the country, too.

This opinion, without using the word, is a claim that Sanders is not "electable." If Sanders is "the candidate Trump most wants to run against," which is what Stephens claims, that is because Trump believes (and Stephens agrees) that Sanders would be the easiest candidate for Trump to beat. Maybe. But Maybe not, too!

If you want to think more about this electability argument, let me refer you to an article that appeared in the March 2020 edition of In These Times. The article is titled, "Bernie's Gamble: New Voters." That article makes a pretty good case that Bernie Sanders has what very well may be a workable plan to win the Democratic Party nomination for president, and then to win the presidency itself. It is, however, an unusual (and thus high-risk) plan. Here is a brief quote from the article, giving Sanders' view (which is quite different, of course, from Stephens' view):

“We need to appeal to young people and disenfranchised working-class people who are giving up on the political process,” Sanders told rallygoers in Iowa City on January 12. “That’s the way we’re going to beat Trump.”

"Beating Trump" is a prime objective for Democrats everywhere, and there are many non-neoconservative Democrats who worry that if Sanders is able to use his populist strategies to wrest the nomination from the Democratic Party establishment, he will not, in fact, be able to go further, and prevail in November. Sanders is an "old guy" from Vermont, who isn't even a Democrat; he has had a heart attack, and Sanders insists on self-identifying as a "socialist." As horrible as Donald Trump is, the worriers in the Democratic Party think that Trump could easily defeat Sanders. Bret Stephens is not alone!

Maybe the neoconservative Stephens is making an accurate forecast, and maybe he is not! I, personally, think it is a bit premature to start making predictions about "electability." There are lots of primary elections still to come, including our own primary election, here in California. That election will take place in just a couple of days. March 3rd, our California primary day, is also "Super Tuesday," with primary elections taking place all around the country. The primary elections that will be held on March 3rd will tell us a lot about whether or not Bernie is really going to be able to prevail at the Democratic National Convention. Sanders supporters are not taking that for granted; not by any means.

As I read the In These Times' analysis, I was not so much interested in the "electability" question as I was in another question raised in the Stephens' Op-Ed - whether Bernie Sanders could "govern." Obviously, the two issues are related. If a voter thinks that Sanders is the candidate "least likely to govern well," then voting for him would be contraindicated. Thus, as I read what In These Times' had to say about Sanders' campaign, I searched for clues about whether Sanders could "govern," were he elected president.

My conclusion is that Sanders can, in fact, govern, but that he is proposing a different way of "governing" the country. You might notice, as an evidence of this, that Sanders does not say what "he" will do as president. He talks about what "we" will do. This is consistent with his campaign slogan, "Not Me, Us."

Sanders is saying, if he is elected, that he will organize and mobilize voters to force the Congress to do what the majority wants its government to accomplish. This includes an all-inclusive health care program, a direct attack on wealth inequality, and a Green New Deal that will reorient our economy in a way comparable to the reorientation that it underwent - very rapidly, by the way - in response to our entry into World War II.

The only way that such a significant reorientation of our political and economic life can occur is through a popular citizen mobilization - not by getting someone elected, and then going back to "ordinary life." Sanders is calling for voters to move to a continuing pattern of participation that can require all elected officials, at every level, to do what the majority requires - and in the case of global warming, what we must do to survive.

Since I think a fundamental change in direction is needed in this country, I am encouraged when I see someone not only talking about what needs to be done, but who makes clear that "we," not "he," are the only ones who can accomplish it.

If you like the more traditional way that politics has been practiced in our country, since the end of the New Deal, you can get your advice from both neoliberals and the neoconservatives! They come in all flavors, from Bill Clinton to Donald Trump.

Since I do think that fundamental changes are needed, in all the areas noted above, I am sticking with Bernie. I am hoping that he does turn out to be "electable," but he won't be elected without a broad mobilization of "new voters," and new energy from traditional voters. Whether or not that occurs will determine the "electability" question. After that, I am hoping that WE are up to the task of governing this country, and making the changes so desperately needed.

I, personally, think it's worth a shot. We know where we are going if we don't make those fundamental changes!

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