It Takes More Than A President

Bernie Sanders at the 2014 Johnson County Democrats BBQ

Bernie Sanders at the 2014 Johnson County Democrats BBQ

It’s hard to disagree with Bernie Sanders (I-VT): a political revolution is needed to make sustained, progressive change in the U.S. political system.

It takes more than a president.

“No president, not the best intentioned in the world can implement the changes we need in this country without a political revolution,” Sanders said at the University of Chicago on Sept. 28. “I am talking about the need to transform the political system.”

Unless Sanders can inspire more Americans to participate in the political process, any top-down plan for revolution is set to fail. He knows this.

“There is nothing that I am telling you today that is pie in the sky, that is Utopian. Nothing,” Sanders said. “We can accomplish all of that and more, but we will not accomplish that if 80 percent of young people do not vote. We will not accomplish that if 63 percent of the American people do not vote.”

Let’s say Sanders overtakes Hillary Clinton’s double-digit lead for the Democratic nomination for president. There is time for him to do that, and key Clinton endorsers acknowledge privately it is possible.

Much of the Democratic establishment in Iowa, including former senator Tom Harkin, has endorsed Clinton. Journeyman blogger Pat Rynard details some of them here. If Clinton secures the endorsement of Democratic politicos and Sanders wins the Iowa caucuses, what then?

What we know, or should, is once the nomination is finalized the party needs a kumbaya moment to elect the nominee. Mine is a history of picking losers when I have caucused in Iowa. Ted Kennedy, George McGovern, John Kerry (won caucus, lost presidential election), and John Edwards. I’m well familiar with having to settle for someone who was not my first choice.

Some, like aficionado of the sport of kings Jerry Crawford, will pivot or lose what credibility they have left. The rest will go along with mixed levels of enthusiasm. That’s not the core issue.

Without legislative support any president’s agenda is reduced to a small number of victories combined with executive actions. The power of the presidency is not insignificant, however, implementing the proposals evident in almost every Sanders speech will prove impossible if the Congress continues to be dominated by money, corruption and the influence of corporations. To be effective, the new president will need congressional support in the form of an Iowa congressional delegation consisting of more than Dave Loebsack (IA-02).

We each have some take-away from Pope Francis’ visit to the United States last week. Mine was his pointing to the bas-relief portrait of Moses by Jean de Marco hanging in the House chamber. It may take a Moses figure to lead us out of the political quagmire where we find ourselves in exile from the democracy created by the founders.

“You are asked to protect, by means of the law, the image and likeness fashioned by God on every human face,” Pope Francis said on role of Congress. We are a long way from that, and both Sanders and Clinton know it.

My bet is on Clinton winning the nomination, but a focus solely on the presidential horse race misses Sanders’ point. Winning the general election is by no means a slam dunk for Democrats. Key to Democratic success in 2016 is organizing now to bring more people into the process. This is where the use of corporate money, control of the media, and emphasis on religion is serving Republicans.

While voter registration matters to the party, its importance is eroded by the clear expression of more than a third of the electorate that “No Party” is better than any party. The focus on the Iowa caucuses and the presidential pick is a distraction from what we need to do to accomplish Sanders’ revolution.

There are no easy answers to Sanders’ call for a revolution. As long as Democrats focus on the horse race, revolutions will remain a part of history — something to distract us from today’s problems, the ones many avoid confronting.

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