(ANTIMEDIA Op-Ed) Let’s travel back in time to January 20th, 2009 — the day of President Barack Obama’s inauguration. It was momentous, epic. People cried. People huddled in groups… and cried. The nation had stood together and fought back against the Empire, and now it was time for the Chosen One to go to work.
Imagine, if you can, later that night, after the festivities died down. His daughters and wife went to bed. Obama kissed Michelle and said, “I’ll be there soon, I promise.” He had one last appointment, a meeting with a group of ‘insiders’ he had never met. Obama didn’t know who they were; he’d only met some of their representatives. But his advisors told him the people who set up the meeting were as aggressive as they were mysterious.
The men came in and they sat next to the fireplace in the Lincoln Room. A few of them were dressed like Secret Service officers; one of them looked kind of like the Cigarette Smoking Man from The X-Files, and another resembled the paralyzed and sinister Mr. Roque from David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive. One of the men’s faces was obscured in shadows — and it was this figure who spoke.
“You’ve done well. Congratulations, Mr. President.”
“Thank you. If you don’t mind my asking, what’s the purpose of this meet–”
“It was all very cute. The people are very… happy. You’ve done well.”
Obama paused and swallowed hard. “Thanks.”
“Now let me tell you something and I want you to listen very carefully,” the man said, leaning forward into the light so Barack could see the tip of his decrepit nose, his softly glowing eyes still recessed in the shadows. “You have a sandbox you can sit in. We will let you know which toys you can play with and which toys you can’t. But you will not leave that sandbox, ever…. because you are a good father and you love your family.”
It probably wasn’t that direct or dramatic, and it likely didn’t happen in one night. But at some point during that first year of his presidency, Obama was told what he had probably always suspected: the president is just a Director of Operations for the Deep State; the president sings the national anthem at the baseball game. And if he doesn’t, he goes the way of JFK.
You can see it in his eyes now. The look has been there for years. He wants to tell us how bad it is but he can’t. The bank where he works is being robbed, but he won’t press the panic button. Now, he and Hillary flaunt a kind of nauseating ‘wink-wink, I’m going to change it from the inside’ mentality. Unfortunately, we know only too well now that the inside is a point of no return; once you reach the singularity of the black hole, you can never escape. There is no changing the system from the inside. It’s a bloody, viscera-strewn zombie pit. And unlike The Walking Dead, no one emerges undead.
The same, sadly, would be true of Bernie. To return to the previous analogy, Bernie might hit the panic button. He might really rile some nerves on Wall Street and in some of the halls of power in Washington. But the corporate infrastructure and hierarchy would remain intact; the central banks greasing the wheels of the great international heist would continue to flourish, and the military-industrial complex would continue shaping world history.
What’s really at the heart of the 2016 presidential election is that for the first time, the establishment knows that we know that the system is rigged, and we know that they know that we know. There is a standoff going on, but for the first time, most of us finally know who the enemy is — and the establishment, on both the left and the right, is shitting in their pants.
True momentum will not be sustained by sending a democratic socialist into the bank as a negotiator; he will just become a hostage. In fact, the Bernie movement is more powerful and verdant with Sanders not in the White House.
The Sanders movement is more about grassroots organizing than top-down governance.
Bernie Sanders has already accomplished the unthinkable. He has rivaled the financial power of SuperPacs with grassroots organizing. He has shown that when enough individual contributors rise up, they can challenge the political influence of big money. There is simply no way to overstate how incredible this is. The Sanders campaign has generated 7.4 million contributions from 2.4 million donors, totalling $210 million. This makes even the groundbreaking Obama campaign pale in comparison. As much as we like to think of Obama has having risen to office on a grassroots populist wave, small contributors donating $200 or less only provided 32 percent of Obama’s war chest. The rest came from Wall Street, SuperPACS, and special interest money.
The Sanders campaign is single-handedly challenging the corrupt influence of Citizens United and the unchecked flow of corporate money into elections. This legacy would be greatly tarnished by the ugly realities of the top-down governance that would ensue once he was in the White House and forced to compromise with the same special interest forces that are antithetical to his entire movement.
His supporters should focus on the four years in between elections and how their enthusiasm for social change can be channeled into community-based solutions and diplomatically connecting different movements that share similar characteristics.
#FeeltheBern is transferable and fluid — but only if it remains decentralized.
The Bernie Sanders movement has already served its purpose in this election. It has announced to the Democratic establishment that a storm is brewing. The voter fraud anomalies will transform future elections, and the lack of transparency over Hillary’s Wall Street speeches will transform the political machinations of future politicians. While the Hillary machine may be too powerful to overcome this time around — considering it’s the culmination of three decades of carefully crafted corporate stewardship — future Democrat establishment figures will not be able to get away with coddling corrupt Wall Street entities behind closed doors.
The Sanders movement is now free to intermingle with elements from both Occupy and Black Lives Matter, shaping a powerful force that will change the American political system forever. If Sanders is elected, the movement will be co-opted, defused and reappropriated. All of the Bernie supporters who are currently full of revolutionary anger will be deceived into thinking the war is won, when in fact, it’s just begun. This is what happened when Obama was elected. The revolutionary fervor that heralded his election dissipated, and the movement stopped pushing for progressive reforms. In fact, they stopped pushing entirely, which is how Republicans swept through Congress in the 2010 mid-terms, rendering anything Obama wanted to do impossible (not that it would have mattered, anyway: Obama had two years of a Democratically-controlled Congress and he did nothing with it).
#FeeltheBern is transferable, meaning it can transmogrify into a larger movement with the passion of Occupy Wall Street — but with more cohesive goals. It’s broad enough to be inclusive to other anti-establishment groups and focused enough to filter out destructive elements.
Think five years, think ten years, think 50 years down the road. When people invoke the name Bernie Sanders, what will it mean? Will it be an asterisk in a footnote about failed populist social movements? Will #BernieorBust be blamed for a Trump presidency (while Berners blame the DNC for forcing a fatally flawed candidate into the general election)? Will #FeeltheBern be a darkly ironic euphemism for misplaced idealism, collecting dust on the shelf next to Obama’s “Change You Can Believe In?”
If elected President, Sanders’ agenda would turn into corporatocracy-lite.
As much as the criticisms of Sanders’ lack of specificity with regard to how he would break up the banks are overwrought, the reality is that the forces of Wall Street would unite like rabid demons against his plans for reform. The result would be not only a failure to achieve the objective — the failure would make the very idea of reform look anemic. In other words, we don’t have the right ideological infrastructure in place to combat corrupt financial institutions. They control too much of Washington. If Sanders were elected, he would expend all his political capital passing some kind of permutation of the Glass-Steagall Act, which would probably not have much of an effect on the kind of corruption taking place in our financial sector. It would be the Too Big To Fail version of Obamacare, legislation so compromised it’s unclear if the long-term impact would actually help the working class.
Another point to consider is how tenaciously the tenets of democratic socialism would be fused with the reality of our current corporatocracy. We already have a perverted socialism at work; when it comes to funding war and the police state, the public all chips in and pays, but when it comes to basic human rights — life, shelter, education, healthcare — the public is ensnared in a privatized system that is rigged to benefit a corporate feudal order. The result is socialized war and privatized life. Ever wonder why the defense contractors who profit from our military interventions don’t foot the bill?
Sanders’ prescription is for political revolution — not actual revolution, and there’s a big difference. His policies would, at best, be pushed toward progressive centrism. At worse, he wouldn’t get anything done, with even Democrats refusing to get on board with anything that even has a whiff of socialism.
President Sanders would be forced to push nationalist pro-military actions. This is what happened to Obama, and it emboldened the pro-war left like never before. If elected, Sanders revolutionary rhetoric would be co-opted, distorted, and destroyed.
The Democratic Party is like the Borg; they assimilate and destroy movements.
The Bernie movement has created a major rift in the Democratic party, so much so that a strong third party run is viable as soon as the next election. If Sanders becomes president, the new left that is emerging will be suffocated under the weight of government malfeasance.
Incrementalism can work if it’s going in the right direction. Hillary’s idea of incrementalism makes one feel like they’re in Back to the Future 2 when Doc and Marty are stuck in a nightmarish alternate future (most people think of Trump in this context, as he was quite literally an inspiration for Bif’s rich incarnation).
Strong third and fourth parties are not only possible moving forward, they are likely in the next election cycle.
The Obama Syndrome — Sanders’ momentum would hit a buzzsaw.
Our obsessive love for a populist ‘reformer’ has a tendency to crash like a wave on the shores of Washington and recede back into the ocean.
One can see the change in Obama’s face directly before and after taking office. If you listen to some of his rambling post-election speeches, you can practically hear him wanting to tell us what it’s really like…how screwed we really are, how doomed the idea of change really is…this same thing would happen to Bernie Sanders, except Sanders would probably fight back…and who knows where this would lead. One thing it would definitely not lead to is the type of governance his supporters imagine. Look at the opposition Obama faced; by the end of his presidency, he was so desperate he was pitching GOP talking points — and they still wouldn’t cooperate with him.
Is there still a chance Sanders can win the nomination? Yes. But it’s a snowball’s chance in hell. He would have to win 3/4ths of California to pick up enough delegates to even make it mathematically possible. The idea of a superdelegate coup on the convention floor is exciting, but ridiculous. Short of a federal indictment of Clinton, nothing is going to convince the Shillary superdelegates to switch — not polls showing Sanders’ strength in the general election versus Trump, not overwhelming evidence that she has become the very evil that is the greater of two — nothing. The political calculus is too complex for most superdelegates to seriously weigh the risk/reward of betraying the Clinton machine. And the foot soldiers of the DNC gave up on their ideals a long time ago. They don’t even understand most of the points Sanders makes. They just nod their heads and say, “Yeah, yeah – sounds great, but it’ll never happen!”
The truth is they don’t want it to happen. They are okay with the Democratic Party having shifted dramatically to the right. The Corporate Pro-War Left runs the Democratic Party now, and it always will. Sanders would do better to run as an independent to keep the movement going.
This is just another phase in a multi-generational realization that our democracy has been completely taken over by a corporatist oligarchy, our economy looted by “free market” vultures and government coffers, and our future mortgaged with toxic assets from the top down. The grim reality is: we need more time. The country really doesn’t have the stomach for political revolution yet.
Why? To be blunt, the Baby Boomers who wield political power must first exit stage left. The old guard of neoliberal pseudo–free trade policies, deregulation, and military interventionism must be phased out by generations of ferocious young people demanding change and threatening economic kamikaze until there is. The unforgivable sellout of the 1960s must be fully acknowledged and understood before new visions of America’s role in the world can realistically have a voice in the halls of government.
The truth is we really don’t know what the hell is going on in Washington. But all signs point to a complete and total symbiosis of government and special interests. Washington insiders are rotten to the core — every single one of them. A few rebels with shreds of courage — Bernie Sanders, Jill Stein, Elizabeth Warren, Ron Paul, and Ralph Nader, for example — have been trying to tell us this for years. For the first time, varied faces of the movements that must unite can see each other across the gulfs of our ideological divides. We’re waving and shooting up flares, and messages are finally being transmitted. But we need more time, and we need people like Sanders and Warren organizing on the outside, not being assimilated by the Borg on the inside. The dead eyes of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton should serve as a warning to all true progressives.
The biggest question right now is, “What will happen to Berners once this election is over?” While he’s promising a contested election, which makes me giddy with excitement, it’s definitely time to start thinking of how his supporters will be deputized moving forward. An analogy I can’t shake is from none other than Star Wars. When Obi-Wan Kenobi fights his final battle with Darth Vader, he sees that his protégé, Luke Skywalker, is watching.
“You can’t win, Vader,” he says. “If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.”
This is true of Sanders. And while he will fight to the end to inspire his followers, in the end he will put down his lightsaber and allow Clinton to return him to the Force, because ultimately, that’s where he is more powerful: as a navigational beacon in the cultural zeitgeist. Sanders is more transformative as a control icon or, more accurately, as a counter-control icon — a symbol of resistance to the establishment and a voice for tactical reasoning.
The White House is where progressives go to die. We want our rebels on the outside, showing us the difference between corruption and virtuous governance (if such a thing can still be said to exist).
While we need a top-down system reform, this will only be possible with a bottom-up social revolution. Bernie says this explicitly when he talks about social movements. This sounds easy. It sounds like some natural human evolution that will lift us up like a historical tide.
In reality, it will require enormous personal sacrifices. This goes beyond living green, it goes beyond civic participation, agorism, volunteerism, and community-building. All those are necessary, of course, but they must be supported by a popular uprising of anti-establishment fervor as a force of creation, not destruction. When we tear down the infrastructure of the old world corruption, what will we erect in its place? Until we can answer this question, the political revolution will just be rhetoric. But when there is a coherent answer, dramatic change will be unstoppable.
This article (There’s One Way Bernie Sanders Can Still Win — but It’s Not How You’re Thinking) is an opinion editorial (OP-ED). The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of Anti-Media. You have permission to republish this article under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Jake Anderson and theAntiMedia.org. Anti-Media Radio airs weeknights at 11pm Eastern/8pm Pacific. Image credit: Gage Skidmore. If you spot a typo, email email@example.com.