Let me state right out that Clinton would be a better president than any of the Republicans on offer (though that could be construed as damning with faint praise). But what has frustrated me about being a Democrat since Bill Clinton’s presidency is that rank-and-file Democrats have had to fight like hell against the putative leaders of our party just to prevent things from getting worse.
Let’s look at what Sanders could accomplish without Congress. I want to divide these accomplishments into two groups — “What I will never do” and “What I will absolutely do, starting day one.” This piece is about the first list, some of the “actions” you will never see from a successful Bernie Sanders….
Consider how much time and energy was drained from the progressive community in fighting against Barack Obama’s wrong-headed neo-liberal initiatives. Think of the enormous effort to stop Fast Track (which failed). The long effort to stop the Keystone Pipeline (which may succeed, but with a huge expenditure of energy). The effort to constantly, year after year after year, block cuts to Social Security and Medicare (which have so far succeeded, but the fight is far from over).
And on and on, going all the way back to the beginning, 2009, when the progressive community (and progressives in Congress) got stiffed by the Affordable Care Act and its lack of a public option, which our community fought and fought to retain (a fight that failed).
In fact, the progressive community has been in constant battle with “our” Executive Branch on what I’ve called Obama’s four big “legacy” items, his want-list:
- Health care “reform” — a privatized alternative to Medicare expansion
- A “grand bargain” in which social insurance benefits are rolled back
- Plentiful oil and gas (burnable carbon), and passage of the Keystone Pipeline
- Passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement
Obama has been very good on many things, including peace with Iran, but not on these. Thousands of capable progressives have used hundreds of thousands of uphill hours resisting Obama’s constant attempts to roll neo-liberal boulders down the hill at them.
What could be done if we could have those hours back, hours we could use in a different way, use on proactive goals, instead of constantly playing defense against “our” president? This is not a trivial problem. Under a real progressive president — a President Sanders who kept his word, for example — you would never have to fight those things. Would that please you? Would it feel like a gift to be handed that freed-up time? Would if feel like a Sanders accomplishment if he gave it to you?
Here’s the first part of my imagined, Sanders-like “what I will accomplish” speech. It’s entitled “What I Will Never Do.” Keep in mind, this is me and my imagined progressive talking. But also keep in mind how relieved you would feel to hear these words from someone who meant them.
If you elect me president, here’s what I will never do —
You can count on me never to push a plan to cut Social Security and Medicare. Not one person outside of government will have to spend one minute trying to prevent me from privatizing — or cutting in any way — these vital programs. Not one minute. And if Congress proposes these cuts and it reaches my desk, you won’t have to spend one minute asking me to veto that proposal. It’s vetoed the minute it arrives.
I will never negotiate a so-called “trade” deal that sends American jobs across our borders. No one will have to spend one minute asking me to stop a deal that hurts American workers. I will support only trade deals that increase American jobs, that create new workers in this country, that increase our balance of payments, and nothing less.
No one will have to spend one minute stopping me from granting coal, oil and gas leases on lands or in waters controlled by the Department of the Interior. Not one minute. Drilling in the Arctic? You won’t even have to ask. The answer is already No. New coal leases? Not one. Dangerous and deadly-to-the-climate offshore drilling leases? Those days are over.
Soon I will tell you what I will do to aggressively bring down carbon emissions. But if I don’t start here, with what I won’t do, how will you know I’m serious?
You will never see me even contemplate extending tax breaks for the very rich, as we saw all too often in our recent past — for example, during the negotiations to extend the Bush tax cuts, or negotiations at the end of the last fiscal year. Any such deal that reaches my desk will go straight back to Congress for renegotiation.
If Congress wants a bill, they can give me one I can sign. If they want to shut down the government over tax breaks for the very very wealthy, they will shut it down, and I will explain it that way to the American people. If they want me to sign a bill, any bill, they need to understand — tax breaks for the rich can never be a part of it.
In other words, you’ll never have to lobby me to not do what I said I would never do. You can spend your precious time, your precious energy, in other ways. There are many things I will do as well. Some I will do alone, using the power of the Executive Branch. And some I will ask your help to do because we need help from others. But the things I listed above, and many more besides, will never be contemplated.
I hope you agree that sparing you the constant effort to stop these wrong acts is indeed an accomplishment, and one you’ll be glad, even eager, to have. It’s one I’ll certainly be glad and eager to give you.
I doubt Sanders will be the nominee, but a strong Sanders candidacy forces Clinton to lay down some real markers–and given her long history with ‘New Democrats’, I don’t trust her to not sell out the rank-and-file Democrats (just this week, we learned about Clinton’s successful effort to change forms at the State Department from “parent 1 and 2” to “mother” and father” because she was afraid of receiving criticism from Sarah Palin).
If Sanders were the nominee, given Clinton’s lack of persona on the stump, it’s not clear he would be any worse as a campaigner. And if he did win, we wouldn’t have to defend the core programs of the Democratic Party from its supposed leadership.