The political left needs to wake up now. Love him or loathe him, Bernie Sanders has succeeded in doing something the left itself has never in recent memory accomplished: he’s spearheading a potential political revolution.
“How so?” ask skeptical leftists. Because his recent breakthrough successes—his pivotal MoveOn endorsement swiftly followed by his seizing the lead in the Iowa and New Hampshire polls—have created an urgent crisis of legitimacy for today’s Democratic Party. As every student of revolution knows, creating such an acute legitimacy crisis is the first step toward toppling, or at least radically transforming, any political institution. And the Democratic Party is the first political institution budding U.S. revolutionaries need to topple or transform. For, as the left has always astutely griped, it is by far the chief diverter of revolutionary energy—the place where promising political revolutions go to die. But this political revolution, launched wittingly or unwittingly by comparatively tame “house socialist” Bernie, could be the death knell for the Democratic Party as we know it. And that’s a very good thing.
But the toppling or transformation of today’s Democratic Party won’t fall in leftists’ laps. Bernie has in effect accomplished Phase 1 of any political revolution: delegitimizing a lynchpin political institution—one that holds together the whole shaky edifice of a corrupt social order. I would argue that in siphoning off legitimate revolutionary energy—coddling hopes it means to kill, exactly as the left describes—the Democratic Party has played that counterrevolutionary role in our political system. But my chief bone to pick with fellow leftists is that they’ve hated Democrats “not wisely but too well”: in mustering all their surplus outrage for a richly deserving target, they’ve forgotten the useful mob cliché that revenge is a dish best served cold. Only by taking that cliché to heart can leftists even begin to accomplish Phase 2.
If leftists play it smart, Bernie could be our revolutionary “hitman.” Or even more precisely, he could be the picador who fatally weakens the Democrat bull so leftist matadors can move in for the kill. But before developing my follow-up bullfighting metaphor, let me first explain my logically preliminary mafia one.
Consider the mob-movie cliché of revenge as a dish best served cold, and the closely associated concept of Bernie as leftists’ “hitman.” We leftists have been too standoffish in our righteous hatred of Democrats—and too obsessed with Bernie’s unworthiness to play leftist trigger—to grasp how his Democratic presidential makes him almost the divinely ordained “button” to deliver the needed hit. For in leftists’ priggish standoffishness from Democrats, we’ve ignored another essential piece of mob-movie wisdom: “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.” Intentionally or not, Bernie is today’s Democratic Party’s worst enemy—at least if the party intends to survive in its current corporatist form; from another perspective, he’s perhaps its only potential savior. But witting or unwitting, whether hitman or savior, Bernie is currently the political left’s best imaginable friend—precisely because he’s our enemy’s most dangerous enemy. But it takes a glacially cold calculating eye (one rarely associated with blood-boiling revenge) to see him that way.
And Bernie’s danger consists precisely in has having gotten so close to Democrats—almost literally under their skin. And when the skin in question is the microfilm-thin epidermis of Debbie Wasserman-Schultz or Hillary Clinton, Bernie’s potential for lethal damage in almost endless. For their ham-handed overreaches in attempting to contain the “Sanders menace” have contributed—as virtually nothing else could—to delegitimizing today’s decidedly un-Democratic Party. And everything suggests that ham-handedness will only continue and worsen.
But if Bernie’s fatally penetrated the epidermal layer of the thin-skinned Clinton and Wasserman-Schultz, that’s only because he has—in a very different sense—“gotten under the skin” of Democrats’ progressive (and latently progressive) base. For Democrats’ base manifestly loves Bernie: with almost the intensity of love memorialized in Frank Sinatra’s classic “I’ve Got You under My Skin.” Just consider how Bernie has “rocked the vote” in three crucial polls where the democratic will of Democrats’ progressive base has had a fair public chance to express itself. Whatever leftists may think of the Working Families Party, Democracy for America, or MoveOn, the simple fact is that they have democratically polled their voters on the relative merits of Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, and Martin O’Malley—and Bernie has overwhelmingly prevailed. In an age where democracy is the polar opposite of the norm, I as a leftist profess myself both deeply surprised and eternally grateful. Indeed, enough so as to say that without the likes of WFP, DFA, and MoveOn (whatever their leftist failings), the prospects for democracy—and political revolution—would now be hopeless.
The telltale fault of the political left has been to run too far ahead of the American people. Not, of course, that one shouldn’t run far ahead in knowledge; to strive to know the simple truth is an effort never wasted. As a writer-activist, I must confess my eternal debt to the likes of Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn, who were light-years ahead of me in political consciousness—until I discovered them. But if I have anything personally to offer as a political analyst, it’s precisely the insight of one belatedly awakened, who grasps that it’s possible, in our context of near-universal media propaganda and boringly irrelevant politics, for even quite intelligent people to remain political ignoramuses. In being so comparatively smart, the left can be really stupid, in failing to grasp the standpoint of comparatively normal people. The sort of people Bernie Sanders, in addressing their most pressing concerns, is now mobilizing for political revolution.
In this regard, the political left, who’ve been gifted with the Chomsky-Herman propaganda model of U.S. politics, have lagged so inexcusably behind Noam Chomsky himself. Chomsky, as a nuanced, critical supporter of Bernie Sanders’ presidential run, has consistently applied his own propaganda model in understanding how Bernie, whatever his limitations as a textbook leftist, is effectively addressing the long-suppressed legitimate aspirations of the U.S. people, operating according to their own propaganda-limited lights. If I have one advantage over even “wise man” Chomsky as a political analyst, it’s by virtue of remembering (as Chomsky, by family upbringing, never had occasion to)—in the immortal words of Jethro Tull—“how it feels to be thick as a brick.” An advantage (if it can be called such) I express—in a skepticism-inducing political atmosphere—by vastly more overt political activism.
What I sense, by being mentally closer to the “unwashed masses” (to whom Chomsky gives his indispensable, intellectually distinguished best) is precisely how ready those masses are for political revolution. And like my co-founder and colleagues at Revolt Against Plutocracy—recently glowingly cited as “acterpreneurs” (activist entrepreneurs) at Huffington Post—I intend to exploit Bernie Sanders’ historic candidacy as the “perfect storm” for political revolution. Not only does Bernie himself frequently cite the need for political revolution, but in Hillary Clinton and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz he has encountered such uncomprehending tools of the corporatist political establishment that a strong movement for revolution seems guaranteed. Revolt Against Plutocracy (RAP) has consistently sought to organize that revolutionary movement, initially by organizing our voter pledge to write in Bernie Sanders in case corporate tool Clinton was nominated.
But now, seeing how stone-heartedly and narrow-mindedly Democratic politicians—even the supposedly most progressive—have lined up behind Clinton, Wasserman-Schultz, and corporatism despite the express will of Democrats’ base, RAP has radicalized its Bernie or Bust pledge, now including either writing in Bernie or voting Green in the 2016 general election as fulfilling the pledge if Clinton’s nominated. When even Democrats’ most renowned progressives—like Alan Grayson and Sherrod Brown—can reject the overwhelming WFP, DFA, and MoveOn votes of the base by endorsing Clinton, RAP figures we must adjust our pledge to Democrats’ rejection of their progressive base. When even Democrats’ progressive “poster girl” Elizabeth Warren shamelessly sits on the fence about endorsing Bernie (whom no Democratic Senators have endorsed), we figure RAP too must “MoveOn.”
By uniting Bernie supporters and the skeptical left in rejection of Hillary Clinton and Democrats’ hard-hearted corporatism, we can kill off the Democratic bull—in reality, bullshit—Bernie has fatally weakened.