Realism, Idealism, and Perception

So, the Iowa caucus is just over a week away, Bernie Sanders has steadily improved in most polls, and the media has finally recognized that he is a force to be reckoned with.  Chuck Todd was caught looking like a deer in headlights when a recent poll was announced that showed Bernie up in Iowa by eight points.    The Clinton campaign, panicked by new numbers, is now attacking Sanders like a wounded badger, striking out at anything and everything they think might help save Hillary from a repeat of ’08.

Over in WTFville, Trump is releasing his last grip on conservative credentials and realistic campaigning by turning to Sarah, “you betcha” Palin for support.  In her endorsement babble she once again proved to the country that she is the complete master of unintelligible speech, providing a month’s worth of material for comedians in ten minutes while at the same time her son was being arrested in her own home on weapons-related charges.

It’s just a great time to be in the Bernosphere, isn’t it?

It is.  But now things are about to get tougher.

Now that Sanders has been “discovered” by the media, we can expect him to be put under a microscope like never before.  We can expect even more “experts” to tell us why he is unelectable and why even if he is elected, he can accomplish nothing he has campaigned on.  That has already started.

Paul Krugman recently wrote a piece (1) in which he made the distinction between “idealism” and “hardheaded realism.”  Essentially, he is saying that Sanders cannot achieve the change that he talks about because, in the end, idealism has never worked.  “And the question Sanders supporters should ask is, ‘When has their theory of change ever worked? Even F.D.R., who rode the depths of the Great Depression to a huge majority, had to be politically pragmatic, working not just with special interest groups but also with Southern racists.’”

And that’s the argument which the Clinton campaign has latched onto.  She’s a progressive, but she’s a progressive that “likes to get things done.”  And Sanders won’t be able to because he wants to change things too much, too fast.

During the last Democratic debate Hillary Clinton made very clear the distinction between her approach to the presidency and the one she claims Sanders has.  In her comments on health care she made it apparent that she is on the side of the status quo.  President Obama has done a wonderful job, she claims, and we need to protect that.  We had to fight like hell for the Affordable Care Act.  We can’t just throw that out and put in something better.  We can’t have that fight again.  Protect the status quo at all costs.

And that’s what Hillary Clinton stands for today.  Things as they are.  Oh, we can tweak some things here or there, but no fundamental changes.  That will never work.  She’s the realist.  Sanders is the idealist.  And reality, as Krugman reminds us, always wins.

Of course it does.  When something or someone wins, that’s the reality.  It’s a tautology!

But what this adage ignores is that our perceptions of reality change, particularly our perceptions of political reality.

A year ago the political reality was that Hillary Clinton was a shoo-in for the Democratic Party nomination.  She was “inevitable.”  Today?  Not so much.

How many times did we sit and listen to pundits tell us that Bernie Sanders was only there to push herself to the left?  How many times did they tell us there was no possible way he could win the nomination?

But that is not the perceived reality today.  And the reason for that is that the grassroots movement which rose up around Bernie Sanders changed the perception.  And that’s because people – people across the political spectrum – are waking up to the awful fact that things cannot continue the way they are going.  The pundits have been slow to catch on.  Their political reality no longer exists.

In fact, Hillary Clinton, today, is not the best candidate the Democrats could field against the Republicans in the general election.  Her favorability is too low, she has an FBI investigation hanging over her head, all that screaming about Benghazi is not going to go away, her ties to Wall Street are too strong, and she is hard to distinguish from the Republicans themselves on many economic issues, and none of that will go away if she becomes the Democratic candidate.  Republicans hate her almost as much as they hate Obama.  And none of that will go away if she becomes president.

But, most importantly, Hillary Clinton stands for the status quo in politics today.  More than any other candidate – on either side – Hillary Clinton stands for “more of the same.”

And the argument that we have to settle for “more of the same” because the perceived reality is that Sanders can never get his ideas off the ground, smacks of the same entrenched, establishment thinking that had everyone dismissing Bernie a few months ago.  It is only true if we allow it to be.

What Sanders has done is to inspire a political movement on the grassroots level that may be larger than anything seen in American history.  Hillary Clinton cannot begin to do that.  A Clinton presidency will inspire few.  Once a Clinton presidency is achieved, everything will go back to where it was; everyone will go back to business as usual.   There will not be millions waiting in the wings for their call to action in the political revolution they helped bring about.  There will only be the maddening continuation of the corporate takeover of the country.

That’s why a Sanders’ presidency can continue to change the political reality.

Not because we can elect Bernie Sanders as president.  Bernie himself has stated over and over that it is not enough to elect a president.  One man cannot, alone, bring about a political reality where truly progressive ideas can thrive.  But a political movement that is large enough to extend to the down-ballot races can change the political landscape.  Electing Bernie Sanders is not enough.  We need to elect a Democratic Senate.  We need to cut the Republican majority in the House, and we need to replace Republican governors with Democratic governors.

And that’s a tall order.

We can expect little help from the DNC.  There is no 50 state strategy there.   The committee is in disarray; the chair under fire.   The DNC is in debt and taking funds from the Clinton campaign.  There is a real question as to whether the DNC will be of any help at all in a national campaign if Sanders is the candidate.

It appears that this too will be left up to the grassroots movement.

If Bernie wins in Iowa and New Hampshire, the perception of political reality is going to change for more than just the pundits.  More people across the country are going to realize that we don’t have to settle for more of the same.  More people will join the Sanders’ movement.  And we need to direct more energy toward the down-ballot races that are as essential to Sanders’ success as presidential race itself.

It’s time to start thinking not just about what it takes to win, but also about what it will take to govern.


Roger A. Shipley - The Willowbrook Curmudgeon

Roger Shipley, AKA The Willowbrook Curmudgeon, spent forty years teaching in the American educational system and emerged a grumpy old man. Ensconced in the Pacific Northwest, he writes, carves, and chides people for bad grammar. You can also find his grumblings at The Curmudgeon's Lair or follow his nonsense on Twitter or Face Book

2 thoughts on “Realism, Idealism, and Perception

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    January 24, 2016 at 3:54 pm

    I am so glad you said this. I am 66 years old and I still believe change can happen. Bernie is my hero. He will lead the youth of America to take it all back. We can’t wait to get him out here in California. I am blown away by the love I feel coming from all sides. yes, I said love. He is not just a political figure, he has become a father to this revolution and he is loved by the underdog. Go Bernie!

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