What Must Bernie Do To Break Out?


By forging a chain of powerful indictments, linking the predatory billionaire class with willful blindness on energy, resources, and climate, middle-class stagnation, and regressive taxation and trade policies, the Sanders’ campaign is an unqualified success. Hats off: not in five decades has any progressive voice corralled such a chunk of the Democratic electorate. Yet, with “easy” leftwing forces in tow, must we not now ask: what next? What Sanders firepower must grow his minority movement?

Sanders and the left still face the increasingly crude soundbite/media atmosphere of low-brow elections. Absence charisma, racial novelty, and the Dubya hangover that lifted Obama, the task for Bernie demands more dramatic rockets, in substance and PR outreach, than visible across the last two months. Bernie still faces structural issues, not just as “democratic socialist” or crusader against oligarchy, but as party outsider struggling against Hillary’s rooted leverage.

Even was the senator to win New Hampshire, this nemesis remains: how does a life-long non-Democrat win over big party donors, officials and operatives, plus grassroots millions? Sanders’ challenge surpasses Obama, the era’s best campaigner — though refreshingly without his slickness. Yet like Obama, Sanders must prove not only is he electable, but Hillary is less so. Otherwise, Sanders won’t achieve his “revolution” — nor trigger the desperately-needed second Progressive Era.

Bern Needs More Firepower

Jim Hightower asks, “Why Isn’t the Media Feeling the Bern?” and blames the Trump flamethrower that won over “big networks’ devotion of 234 minutes” balanced “by less than 10 minutes for Sanders.” No doubt oligarchic bias matters, but shameless mass media will rush to high drama, sensation and eyeballs, whether it’s a livelier anti-billionaire brigade or Trump’s asinine flummery. Sanders must make his own destiny and systemically rattle how elections are done, just as he wants to rattle Wall Street.

In dumbed-down times, all wonder whether honesty and truth-telling can ever compete with fraudulent three ring circuses, in Trump’s case not just devoid but contemptuous of truth? What if success depends on radical attention-grabbing — and what if that’s more daunting for candidates like Sanders who don’t display obvious (and logically disqualifying) personality disorders (pathological lying, bigotry, narcissism and megalomania)?

What a mess if NOT being unstable disqualifies courageous leaders from splashing across the craven media. The longer Trump lasts, must we not brace for an electioneering descent into calculated buffoonery (devoid of policy or realism) vs. looking reality in the eye and offering adult options that favor the majority?

Call me an optimist, but Sanders need not leap into the pigpen to embolden his statements with more urgency. His opening success proves an adult will prosper when confronting economic injustice with reason, compassion and revived American values. Sanders tests many thresholds, right now whether elections (especially rightwing primaries) are no more than farce, bluster and theatrics.

So, as supporters, let us press Sanders to truly rock the boat, taking even sharper aim at sacred cows, like who owns America, blinkered exceptionalism, where money and wealth come from, America as a Christian nation, or the enduring folly of the criminal Bush Doctrine. These examples are offered to stimulate thinking, with ripples that could reach Sanders and staff. Nothing sacrosanct here for me, no hills to die on.

  • Less focus just on nefarious billionaires because that turns voters into passive victims, not empowered activists. More on what people can do, including learning new skill-sets, direct political action, and the realization politics affects everyone everywhere. “It’s the movement, stupid.” Either we resurrect the spirit of the New Deal or the system implodes. To compete with Germany or China demands a coherent jobs and education push (think veterans after WWII). Sanders has started this conversation, showing how racism and blaming minorities (for “taking my children’s or my job”) divide us into squabbling tribes.
  • Establish not Sanders’ quasi-socialistic credentials, but how the Progressive Era saved America from itself. Parallel how facing climate change (with collective action) invokes how the world overcame the global 1930’s Depression. Concretize talk of “revolution” with understandable and doable stages, invoking the march of women’s suffrage, collective bargaining, laws against child labor and the eight-hour day. Emphasize big change is possible because it did happen, leveraging the need for more consensus among religions, regions, ethnicity and class.
  • Enough Mr. Nicey-Nice. Sanders’ poise and discretion are not permanent electoral virtues. You don’t have impugn character or heave mud if you layer in humor, even ridicule. Even entertainment, alas. Just calling Trump “a pathological liar” won’t wash. Winning politicians must be feared by enemies and revered by fans. Do you think the Koch Bros. clubhouse loses sleep when the avuncular Bernie practices politeness?
  • Find graphic, dramatic ways to castigate Citizens United: make campaign events network-unifying crusades for Move to Amend. Leverage how rigid European hierarchies of power, class and money drove America’s founding and strength. Make clear not only must church be separate from polluting state but politics for sale cannot co-exist with genuine majority rule.
  • Scrutinize corrosive (modern) notions of race, assumptions about citizenship and nationality, especially that “chosen people” can declare themselves favored by metaphysical entities. Educate how much of our political mindsets answer to instinctive, early human (animal) brain development (for order, security, tribal loyalty, need to believe), not overtly logical arguments, verbal constructs or appeals to reason. That aspects of primitive brains cling to propaganda, even willful deception, does not invalidate the better (more rational) angels of our nature.
  • Challenge even more strongly the absurd assumption today’s misguided, trillion dollar defense budget makes us safe. Address war as a disruptive, deviant action with inevitable, wide-ranging costs; challenge propaganda about evil-doers whom “we must fight them over there” as the default military option, vs an adult foreign policy. Contextualize terrorism so violent backlashes aren’t demonized as insane fanaticism devoid of real-world causes or US actions.
  • Hire the best activist film-makers to dramatize the tax-payer trillions spent to clean up endless environmental, human, and health “externalities” — results unpaid by the wealthy who profit from criminal damage. Show furry animals going extinct, making climate change less abstract or remote. Take live endangered species to campaign events and declare: “This evolutionary wonder ends up in a zoo, or worse stuffed in a museum, when the earth overheats. Broadcast “endangered species” as metaphors for humanity if we don’t change course.
  • Name the talent Sanders imagines for VP and cabinet, then have them join him on the campaign trail. Right now, he’s too much a one-horse show, without the ballast of multiple voices. Since he must draw younger, less white audience, celebrities wouldn’t hurt, especially live-wires of social networking. Make change the theme by changing election energy levels.
  • Energize campaign events even more, with uplifting, celebratory contributions from all sorts of national leaders. Use splashy venues that get beyond just speeches or press release. Obama made his appearances into sizzling events, as does Trump, both savvy about engaging the less engaged voters. Especially younger, would-be progressives must see politics not with cynical narrowness but as lively fun, opportunities to grow and do good. What better training in cynical times for the rest of their lives?


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For over a decade, Robert S. Becker's independent, rebel-rousing essays on politics and culture analyze overall trends, history, implications, messaging and frameworks. He has been published widely, aside from Nation of Change and RSN, with extensive credits from OpEdNews (as senior editor), Alternet, Salon, Truthdig, Smirking Chimp, Dandelion Salad, Beyond Chron, and the SF Chronicle. Educated at Rutgers College, N.J. (B.A. English) and U.C. Berkeley (Ph.D. English), Becker left university teaching (Northwestern, then U. Chicago) for business, founding SOTA Industries, a top American high end audio company he ran from '80 to '92. From '92-02, he was an anti-gravel mining activist while doing marketing, business and writing consulting. Since then, he seeks out insight, even wit in the shadows, without ideology or righteousness across the current mayhem of American politics.