As Presidential Primary Season looms, sides are once more being defined in the United States and in an uncharacteristic move, I have decided to use my little blog - which occasionally is devoted to political posts - to write about the current Presidential race and what it means for the United States. For the current generation, the two most important Presidential races have already been run and resolved; 2000 and 2004. The current election cycle is more about redirecting the United States from those disastrous contests or continuing the United States in a direction the increases the disparities between the government as a force that empowers business institutions and diminishes the powers of its citizens and the citizens and organizations who want to counter that trend.
The path the United States has been on for the last decade and a half is one that has benefited very few citizens. While there have been minimal gains in Civil Rights, the most significant conflict in the United States is one of economic disparity and over the last sixteen years, those disparities have only grown. Tax cuts to the highest-earning individuals and corporations have undermined social programs that used to benefit those at the bottom of the economic spectrum (or society at large in the case of underfunding public education). The Affordable Care Act has benefited big insurance companies more than private citizens (ask a poor person - heath insurance does not equal health care!) and while private citizens who were taken advantage of during the housing funding crisis during the Bush Administration now have foreclosures on their credit reports that make it prohibitive, if not absolutely impossible, to get a mortgage, the banking institutions that bamboozled and profited off them are still in business. The delineation between those who have and control the resources for survival and success have never been clearer and the populations who have resources and lack them have never been farther apart.
The 2016 Presidential election cycle represents the best hope the citizens of the United States have to stop the backslide and right the wrongs of the last twenty years. The candidate that would become President and make those changes is Bernie Sanders.
Why Bernie Sanders Is The Right Candidate For The United States
Bernie Sanders has a philosophy and values. At the core of all of Sanders's values is a sense of social responsibility and the idea that all people are entitled to equal rights and equal opportunities under the law. But more than that, Sanders pursues a public agenda that indicates that survival - the most basic functions of life - should not be dictated by those who control the means of production. In other words, in the richest country in the world, no one should go hungry, homeless or be without adequate health care. Bernie Sanders is the true pro-life candidate; he is fighting for the living to live their lives, regardless of what businesses choose to establish themselves in any given area.
And, it's a good philosophy. If you go to school, pay your taxes, and get a mortgage, why should your entire life be turned upside down when the local Wal-Mart decides to close the supercenter at which you work in order to protect their bottom line? Bernie Sanders stands by a philosophy that states that if you are socially responsible and try to be a constructive citizen, your government will protect your right to exist and prioritize it over the fiduciary duties a CEO has to their stockholders.
One need not be an aficionado of The West Wing (reviewed here!) to appreciate that government may be a force for good in people's lives. While the conservatives rail against "big government" - an irony given that Alabama and Mississippi would have long ago been abandoned by citizens and business alike were it not for Federal financial intervention whereby they benefited from California and New York dollars - Bernie Sanders has a sense of true social responsibility. It does not matter how big the government is, so long as it protects its citizens and uses its power and authority to benefit the majority of its people. That is the public agenda Sanders has pursued his entire political life and one that he would bring to the Presidency.
How The Tea Party Gave The 2016 Presidential Election To The Democrats
One need not be a Washington insider to look at the electoral map of the United States and think tactically. The Republicans have lost the 2016 Presidential Election.
Seriously. It's over for them.
Looking at the field of Republican Presidential candidates must give the supporters of the Republican Party a real sense of dismay. The reason for this is simple: not one of the candidates behaves in a Presidential fashion or is electable as President. The only hope the Republicans had going into the 2016 election cycle was that they would be running against a candidate that was disorganizes, under-funded, and stupid. Lacking that, the Republicans could not field an effective candidate for President.
Before any conservatives reading this "shoot the messenger," it is Republicans themselves who are to blame for their lack of a viable candidate for the 2016 Presidential election. Over the last forty years, the Reactionary elements within the Republican Party have come to power. After the defeat of the first President Bush, the party allied itself with groups that had the ability to raise money for its candidates. Those groups were made up of extremists who eliminated the centerists from their party. The Republican Party of 2016 would be unrecognizable to Republicans even of the Nixon Era.
The Tea Party, which has had a tendency to eviscerate centrist Republican candidates by running candidates in primary elections that toe their more extreme party line, has effectively hijacked the Republican Party by claiming to appeal to "values voters." "Values" in their mind are a narrow, Evangelical Christian, pro-business, anti-government agenda which allows fear and false promises to fool the poor into voting against their own interests under the banner of "wholesome American values."
Such fear-mongering and values pitches were ideal for winning Congressional elections, but the 2016 election is proving how flawed that strategy is on a national scale. Congressional districts in the United States are based on population: the average district has a population of 710,767, as opposed to a population of approximately 319 million in the United States. Congressional elections that have had greatest Tea Party advances have been in off-year (non-Presidential) election years. With enough money, low voter turnout and a highly mobilized network that gets out the vote on the Tea Party side on "values" issues, the Tea Party has made impressive advances in taking power within the United States House Of Representatives.
But those tactics do not work at the national level. Consider how the Tea Party has used its influence to buy media outlets and advertising time; opposition candidates could not compete. But, no Tea Party candidate or affiliated business could buy The New York Times or Time-Warner. So, while in a comparatively minor Congressional race, a candidate running against a Tea Party candidate could not expose the Koch Brothers and their ties to the Tea Party, at the national level such ties and funding have become commonly known. That level of hypocrisy cannot stand up in a Presidential election.
But beyond that, Tea Party candidates tended to win on surprisingly local issues for candidates for the House Of Representatives. Voters do not understand the relationship between their Representative in the House and their Federal government. So, candidates that promise things like a wall to keep immigrants out of the United States could win election to the House on such ridiculous promises; which they could not do when running for President. In short, fooling some 356,000 people into voting for a candidate whose deepest ideas can be put on a bumper sticker is an entirely different thing than convincing 160 million people of the same thing. Serious Presidential candidates need to be able to spout more than catchphrases; they need ideas and plans. The Tea Party has robbed the Republican Party of such minds in favor of candidates who smile, repeat sound bytes that were pre-approved by the extremists running the Tea Party and are voted into office by followers who overlook the institutional and personal flaws of the party and the candidates.
So long as the Republican Party continues to pay fealty to the Tea Party fringe of the party, they will be unable to win another Presidential election.
The choice for President of the United States, then, comes down to the Democratic primary contest. In that contest, the two dominant candidates are Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton was the presumed Democratic nominee until Bernie Sanders entered the Presidential race and he began to build grassroots support to combat her entrenched institutional support and funding.
Hillary Clinton is a Democrat, but - like Barack Obama - is not a liberal. Clinton's support comes from big business and financial institutions that see a Clinton Presidency as a good way for them to continue making money and continue the disparities between those who run big business institutions and those who toil for them (or under their yoke). Hillary Clinton is exceptional at raising money and she has, in her past, had some good ideas. Perhaps the most impressive ability Hillary Clinton possesses, though, is the ability to redefine herself and continue to remain relevant. Hillary Clinton is the Madonna of U.S. politics; she illustrates a fluidity to change with the times and keep her name in the public consciousness.
Unfortunately, having such a public history, Hillary Clinton has illustrated that the thing she believes in most is her own resiliency and electability. In short, Hillary Clinton does not stand for anything. Her changes of public positions do not come from receiving new information about an issue; they come from her evaluating the issue for a stance that would allow her to be elected and raise money to remain in a political race. Hillary Clinton is not at all the first politician to do this, but in a Presidential race between a candidate who is highly principled with a populist argument, a candidate who has no hard-and-fast ideals and candidates who are zealots whose strongest positions are local issues, the least-viable candidate is the one who has no clearly-defined stances.
But moving on to the big picture, Democrats who have to choose between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton need to consider how their candidate would govern. Bernie Sanders is a left-wing politician with clearly-defined ideas; Hillary Clinton is a pro-business Centerist whose positions change with the political wind. After winning the Democratic primary, most candidates swing toward the center to try to appeal to more Americans. While Bernie Sanders seems to be the type candidate who would patiently explain to the electorate why his ideas are worth coming to the left for, the only direction Clinton could go is further to the right than the center from which she started.
And then there is governing. A candidate who wins as a Centrist, still has to work with Congress to govern. At the moment, Congress is dominated by Tea Party Republicans. A Centrist being handed bills from the far-Right has very little room to move and the middle ground they might find would still be far to the political right of a legislator who starts to the left. A vote for Hillary Clinton for President is, essentially, a vote for a candidate who would likely govern as a moderate Republican.
Why Supporters Of Bernie Sanders Need To Run For Congress (And Win!)
Which leads me back to Bernie Sanders. Bernie Sanders is the most electable and principled candidate in the field at the moment. He is the best choice for U.S. President of all the people running and of politicians working in the U.S. today. But, just as a Clinton Presidency would be detrimental to the Democratic ideals that might be invoked to elect her, with today's political landscape, a Bernie Sanders Presidency would take on one of two forms: political impotence or political obstruction. The best case scenario that Bernie Sanders faces as President would be vetoing every destructive bill the Tea Party Congress sends him to sign. Sanders could be the voice of the people, continuing his principled stand against the institutions that keep most citizens from ever being successful or happy, by vetoing every bill he is sent that he believes would be destructive to the United States. Under that scenario, Bernie Sanders as President would be a mere stopgap.
What is far more likely is that the Tea Party pressure and the inability to control the dialogue would make Sanders a completely impotent President. The Tea Party sends him bills, he vetoes and slowly the Democratic Party starts to side with the Republicans over the President to override vetoes and be seen as being productive and in power as opposed to mere obstructionists. That tactic has worked well for the Republicans in the past; post-9/11, Congress passed a number of laws that eroded the civil liberties and Constitutional rights of the citizens that they were unable to get passed before the September 11, 2001 attacks. The Tea Party framed the terms of the debate and the Democrats folded rather than retake the language of the conflicts.
But the 2016 election cycle offers the most real opportunity to make change on a grand scale. The key to this is Bernie Sanders and his supporters. The supporters of Bernie Sanders have been incredibly engaged, but they have failed to make a critical conceptual leap between their support for Bernie Sanders as a grassroots candidate and making Sanders an effective U.S. President: supporters of Bernie Sanders need to run for the United States House Of Representatives and win seats.
It's that simple.
And it is that simple: in under six months, Bernie Sanders went from being a fringe candidate to being neck and neck for frontrunner for the Democratic Presidential nomination. That happened because a group of engaged, concerned individuals banded together and raised money, awareness and showed up to hear Sanders's ideas. Now, Sanders's supporters need to redirect some of their momentum to win Congressional seats. The same infrastructure, the same donor base concept, they could easily put Sanders supporters in the United States House Of Representatives where they could be the force that writes laws that President Sanders would sign. The only way Sanders's agenda moves is if the legislative branch is giving him laws to sign.
The benefit to the House, the United States and the Sanders campaign is incredible. While Sanders supporters might fear moving some momentum and resources to congressional candidates, forming grass-roots pro-Sanders election runs would benefit the Bernie Sanders campaign by getting the Presidential candidate to visit districts that might otherwise be overlooked by a Democratic Presidential candidate. The net result is that while the pro-Sanders candidates become inextricably tied to his agenda, they create an agenda that is solid and electable. More importantly, it is the only viable framework for a Presidency that can actually govern when Bernie Sanders and the freshman class of Representative elected on his platform win.
The United States is at a critical juncture and only one Presidential candidate is standing up with realistic, idealistic, proposals that would benefit the majority of U.S. citizens. That candidate is Bernie Sanders and while supporters of Bernie Sanders see his election as the way to save the U.S., their vision can only be realized by the same supporters getting involved and elected to the U.S. House Of Representatives to make for an effective Sanders Presidency.
For other political articles, be sure to check out:
Why Modern Libertarianism Is Terrible For The U.S.
An Open Letter To Senator Elizabeth Warren
The Corporate Powers Limitation Amendment (A Proposed Constitutional Amendment)
© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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