It's a Movement, Stupid: Why Bernie Can Deliver on Promises of Change, While the Sensible Centrists Can't
It's a Movement, Stupid: Why Bernie Can Deliver on Promises of Change, While the Sensible Centrists Can't
By John Atcheson /

The Democratic Party is engaged in an epic battle about how change happens.  On one side is the establishment who are backing Hillary’s cautious, pragmatic, and incremental approach.  On the other are the Sanders supporters who are calling for a revolution.

There’s an irony in this debate. The establishment is interested in retaining power, while the Sanders and his supporters are seeking change.  Here’s the irony – the only way the Democratic Party can get and keep power is by embracing revolutionary change. 

The Consequences of Politics Without Passion or Conviction

Democrats have been trying the “pragmatist” approach for decades now.  Since Reagan, they’ve been loath to confront the conservative mantra of small (read ineffective) government, low taxes, deregulation, trickle down economics, and obscene support for “job creators.” In reality, however, all that just is code for corporate welfare and giant giveaways to the uber rich.

The reason, of course, is that Democrats are as dependent upon the campaign contributions from these groups as the Republicans are. 

As a result, what the press, the pundits, and those in the Party establishment think of as the “sensible center” has drifted further and further to the right and the terms of the national political debate occur exclusively on the conservative’s side of the fence.  If that’s where you start the negotiations, then any compromise only accelerates the rightward drift. There’s nothing sensible about that. 

That’s what passes for “sensible” and “centrist” – a guaranteed loss of ground.

The problem with all this – and the part the Party establishment, the pundits and the main stream media (MSM) just don’t get – is that the vast majority of Americans haven’t moved to the right with the Party.  As a result, many are staying home on election day, and Democrats are losing power.

You can’t compromise your way to your goal, especially if you can’t get elected

As income disparity and the influence of money in politics has expanded, voter turnout has only gotten worse. The 2014 midterm election represented the lowest voter turnout in modern US history. 

And while the party in power normally loses ground in the midterms, 2014 was a rout of epic proportions for Democrats.  Basically Democratic candidates took the “sensible centrist” position and avoided taking stands that the MSM and the punditocracy defined as controversial.  And no one showed up at the polls except the radical right. 

If you stand for nothing, you will get beat by anything

Democrats are getting slaughtered at all level of government because citizens are tired of voting for people who don’t represent them. 

For example, at the state level, Republicans have total control—that is, a Republican governor and Republican majorities in the legislature—of 24 states.  Democrats, by comparison, control only 7 state governments. The rest are split. 

It’s not that Bernie doesn’t know how the political process works, it’s that he knows it’s NOT working

When Hillary tells you Bernie Sanders doesn’t know how American Politics works, and people like Paul Krugman, Tom Friedman, and Jonathon Chait repeat it, they’re missing one important fact:  The American political process doesn’t work, and it won’t, until and unless we get a real political revolution.

It’s certainly not working for the 99% of Americans who are getting left behind economically. It’s certainly not working when the interests of the elite few trump the desires of the rest of us.  And it’s certainly not working when the progressive issues the majority of Americans favor are completely ignored by the government they elect.

If we have a different Congress, things will change

This, of course, is the crux of what the Party establishment, the mainstream media, and the punditocracy don’t get.  If Bernie Sanders gets elected, it’s because he got the disaffected majority off the couch and into the voting booth.  And if that happens, Congress will have a completely different make-up.  Yes, the influence of gerrymandering might dilute the gains that would otherwise be made, but it will not prevent more progressives from getting into office.  More progressive voters, means more progressives get elected.  And if that happens, Sanders will have more success than any of these so-called experts predict.

If we don’t, they won’t …

If we don’t get the disaffected back into the political process, then Democrats will be lucky to get Hillary elected.  She’s a uniquely vulnerable candidate, with high distrust levels, and net negative favorability ratings – both of which make it easy for the opposition to peal away votes. But demographics favor Democrats in presidential races so she might just squeak by.

But even if Hillary does survive the campaign and get elected, she will be facing a substantially similar Congress.  Under the best of circumstances, the Democrats could win back the Senate – but as long as 60 votes are needed for legislation, that won’t change the balance of power, nor will it prevent gridlock.

So no amount of experience; no amount of steely-eyed realism; and no canny pragmatism will enable Hillary and the DNC to get things done. The problem with government has never been that Democrats lack negotiating skills – it’s that the opposition has no desire to negotiate.  Republicans in this day and age are not interested in governing – they’re interested in making government unworkable. That’s how their true base—the uber rich and the corporate PAC funders—gets served.

The problem with the Democrats is that they haven’t been that much different.

Bernie Sanders offers an alternative – one that just might excite the people and create a new power base, one in which the power emanates from the people and one in which the government works for the people.

Let’s hope he succeeds. The only alternative is the same old game with different players.  That’s what the self-appointed cognoscenti of the establishment just doesn’t get.

John Atcheson is author of the novel, A Being Darkly Wise, an eco-thriller and Book One of a Trilogy centered on global warming. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the San Jose Mercury News and other major newspapers. Atcheson’s book reviews are featured on

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It's a Movement, Stupid: Why Bernie Can Deliver on Promises of Change, While the Sensible Centrists Can't