Two things struck me while reading this article (“Bernie Sanders just Gave an Amazingly Condescending Interview About Hillary Clinton” Washington Post, June 28, 2016):
1) I think what we are seeing from Bernie here is something we should have recognized at the beginning. He is not a practical politician. In his role as a senator who stirs the pot that is a very good thing. But now imagine this conversation with the Ms. Clinton replaced by Congress and see if it does not raise for you a picture of continued deadlock. On most positions, Sanders is not a progressive, but a realistic moderate — even his democratic socialism is really a reasonably moderate position. But moderates function well when they adopt reasonable positions and the capacity to compromise within those positions in order to be able to effectively put good legislation in place that helps us to progress over some difficult and complex ground. Despite some harsh criticism of Obama in his early years, he was just such a president. Through him we got the ACA — a flawed bit of legislation, but an astonishingly large leap forward for our country. The lack of moderation on the conservative side prevented further progress. Sanders is now doing what he does so well in the senate. But this is not the right activity at the right time. It is all he knows; he does it well; the sooner he is back in the senate, the better.
2) Platform politics is one of the most ineffective aspects of our modern democracies. When a party picks a platform they have to be careful not to over reach. If they do, and the necessities of compromise produce legislation that falls short of these objectives, the party looks as if it has failed when, in fact, it may have made significant progress. Platforms should not be so specific that the politicians find themselves hand-tied in the important give and take of political discourse, and the equally important realizations that implementation can produce in solutions that otherwise seemed sound. If the platform is a list of highly specific and particular solutions, the politicians and the political process are more likely to fail. This is a major problem for progressive parties who always want to see past the present to some sort of visionary future, telescoping the long and difficult into the short and easy — notice Sanders’ constant appeals to radical change in his comments here. We need to help voters understand that solutions come out of a process, not out of preconceived platform-based ideals that too often ignore practical realities and the real concerns of those within society who hold differing opinions. When a solution entails changes in the culture and mindset of a country, the implementation cannot be directed through legislative action alone — and legislation is not victory, but a stepping stone in a long and difficult process. Many ideas have to be given time to grow in the thoughts of the populace — and language that reaches out to a larger population is far more important than language that appeals to the furthest extreme of the party — be the party progressive, conservative, libertarian, green, or what.
With Sanders I keep thinking of Woodrow Wilson after the first world war. Wilson himself helped to forge the peace treaty going in person to Paris. He was handicapped in the talks themselves because he could not defer to anyone else — he was after all the president. When he brought the treaty back to the US, congress had a field day, because Wilson had left himself no wiggle room.
I know we hate politics today — but the business of politics is not going to go away — and Sanders’ political savvy is that of one who works in the trenches. He was never prepared for the presidency, and, unfortunately, we are seeing now just why that is.