"You can't have a populist revolution without people" (Dana Milbank)
"You’re looking at the undermining of American democracy, okay?" said Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders to a group of writers and editors at the Washington Post.
"Bernie Sanders is in his natural state -- of agitation." And at 9am. The scene described by Dana Milbank in a swell column yesterday, "Bernie Sanders is right to be outraged," is a conference room at the Washington Post, where the Vermont senator is "raising his voice, thumping his index finger on the table and gesturing so wildly that his hand comes within inches of political reporter Karen Tumulty’s face."
As you might guess, what's got our Bernie in this state is the subject of willful economic inequality in America. ("We are living in the United States right now at a time when the top one-tenth of 1 percent own more wealth than the bottom 90 percent.") The "willful" is my editorial insertion, because I'm thinking that underlying the senator's point is that the situation wouldn't have reached the point it has reached if we as a country hadn't chosen for it to do so, even if the choice was made in many cases by default -- effectively turning the choice over to the economic predators who had such a powerful interest in making it so.
"You're looking at the undermining of American democracy, okay?"
Well, not okay okay, of course. For more of the specifics of Bernie's outrage that morning at the Post, read for yourself onsite. We're going to jump ahead to this from Dana:
"The real outrage, though, is that so few people share his fury."
There’s widespread agreement about the problem – that inequality is as bad as it has been in America since the crash of ’29. Even Republican leaders are talking about it. (Their solution, alas, is a tax system with even more breaks for the wealthy.) But there’s no sign yet of the mass anger that could turn into a political movement.And Dana points out that "this is the week we would have seen it," with news of the Koch Bros. political spending network to dump $889 million into the 2016 election (which I wrote about Wednesday in the post "Why shouldn't America have the best danged gov't the Koch Bros. and their billionaire buds can buy us?").
That sort of brazen bid to buy an election should come with naming rights – perhaps the Charles G. and David H. Koch White House, to match the Charles G. and David H. Koch United States Senate they financed in 2014. A half-dozen of those whose new Senate seats were acquired with Koch money attended a Koch confab in Palm Springs over the weekend to thank their patrons.So where was the outrage?
“The anger is there,” Sanders says, but “it’s an anger that turns into saying, ‘Go to hell, I’m not going to participate in your charade. I’m not voting.’ So it’s a weird kind of anger. It’s not people getting out in the streets . . . We’re at the stage of demoralization.”Which, says, Dana, "leaves Sanders’s populist candidacy in an awkward place."
He can mount a symbolic primary campaign against Hillary Clinton that goes nowhere. “Can you mobilize people? Can you tap the anger that’s out there?” Sanders asks rhetorically. “The answer is — you know what? — I don’t exactly know that we can.”Clinton, Dana notes, "comes from the corporate wing of the party."
Or he can run as an independent and perhaps take enough votes in a general election to be a spoiler. But he doesn’t seem inclined to be a Ralph Nader, who doomed Al Gore in 2000 and saw no difference between the two parties. “There is a difference,” says Sanders, who caucuses with Senate Democrats.
Sanders faults President Obama for the current demoralization. “I think he had a moment in history to do what President Roosevelt did in 1932,” he says. “He had the opportunity to say to the American people, ‘Look, millions of people have lost jobs . . . [and] it’s because of what JP Morgan did, it’s because of what Morgan Stanley did, what Goldman Sachs did.”
“Is that moment today?” Sanders continues. “No. . . . I think he lost that extraordinary opportunity.” Democrats remain “too tepid” in taking on big money, and Clinton won’t be “as bold as she needs to be.”
Though there are nascent signs of a tea party of the left emerging, no candidate represents it. Sanders, 73, is charismatically challenged, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who has more flair, doesn’t appear to be contemplating a run. Even if she did, the primaries are so dominated by big money that it’s not clear Warren could pose a viable challenge to Clinton.Does anyone see any signs of such a revolution coming? Or have any ideas how one might be fomented. The Teabaggers seem to me an interesting reference point. I think you could argue that, on a relatively small scale, they did in fact produce a revolution of sorts. But it was so uniformly (and perhaps cunningly?) misdirected at willfully wrong targets, building so insistently on primitive ignorance and rage (that's one problem with rage -- it's so rarely focusable on informed targets), that its only has been to destroy, to make the country more dysfunctional, and ironically to make it possible for the Kochs and their kind to strengthen their grip.
No wonder Sanders is so agitated. “You have to take on the Koch brothers and you have to take on Wall Street and you have to take on the billionaires,” he says, gesticulating madly and fuming about the “oligarchy” running government. “Not to get you too nervous,” he says, but “I think you need a political revolution.”
"As Sanders is learning," Dana concludes, "you can’t have a populist revolution without people."