The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Does Bernie Sanders Know What He’s Doing?

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This post by Pachacutec seems worth revisiting (originally published Feb 16, 2016)– Ian

Bernie Sanders is taking a lot of heat for making promises everyone agrees can’t be achieved in today’s Washington. However, Sanders is not just smoking free-love-sixties-dope when he talks about universal health care, free college tuition, stopping deportations, and drastically cutting the prison population.

I used to teach negotiation to MBA students and lawyers seeking CLE credit, and have included negotiation content in executive coaching and other consulting work I do. One of the things I’ve sometimes taught was how to use audience effects to gain leverage in negotiations. The best story I know to illustrate this comes from Gandhi, from his autobiography.

Gandhi Rides First Class

Gandhi’s early years as an activist led him to South Africa, where he advocated as a lawyer for the rights of Indians there. One discriminatory law required “coolie” Indians to ride third class on trains. Soon after arriving in South Africa, Gandhi himself had been thrown off a train for seating himself in first class.

Looking for a way to challenge the law, he dressed flawlessly and purchased a first class ticket face to face from an agent who turned out to be a sympathetic Hollander, not a Transvaaler. Boarding the train, Gandhi knew the conductor would try to throw him off, so he very consciously looked for and found a compartment where an English, upper class gentleman was seated, with no white South Africans around. He politely greeted his compartment mate and settled into his seat for the trip.

Sure enough, when the conductor came, he immediately told Gandhi to leave. Gandhi presented his ticket, and the conductor told him it didn’t matter, no coolies in first class. The law was on his side. But the English passenger intervened, “What do you mean troubling this gentleman? Don’t you see he has a first class ticket? I don’t mind in the least his traveling with me.” He turned to Gandhi and said, “You should make yourself comfortable where you are.”

The conductor backed down. “If you want to ride with a coolie, what do I care?”

And that, my friends, illustrates the strategic use of creating an audience effect to gain leverage in a negotiated conflict. The tactic can be applied in any negotiated conflict where an outside stakeholder party can be made aware of the conflict and subsequently influence its outcome.

(I am fundraising to determine how much I’ll write this year.  If you value my writing, and want more of it, please consider donating.)

It’s the Conflict, Stupid

A couple of weeks ago, members of the neoliberal wonkosphere and others in the pundit class tut-tutted, fretted, and wearily explained to Sanders’ band of childish fools and hippies that his “theory of change” was wrong. Well, not merely wrong, but deceptive, deceitful, maybe even dangerous. False hopes, stakes are too high, and all that. This was Clinton campaign, and, more to the point, political establishment ideology pushback. When Ezra Klein starts voxsplaining how to catalyze a genuine social, cultural, and political movement, you know you’ve entered the land of unfettered bullshit.

Bernie Sanders, like Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Occupy Wall Street, and Black Lives Matter before him, wants to use mass appeal audience effects to renegotiate the country’s political and economic contract. The strategy, writ small in Gandhi’s train ride tale, is perfectly applicable–and has proven successful through history–in bringing about successful, peaceful, radical change.

These movements operate by forcing conflict out into the open, on favorable terms and on favorable ground. Make the malignancy of power show its face in daylight. Gandhi and the salt march. MLK and the Selma to Montgomery marches. FDR picking fights and catalyzing popular support throughout the New Deal era, starting with the first 100 days. OWS changed American language and political consciousness by cementing the frame of the 1% into the lexicon. BLM reminded America who it has been and still is on the streets of Ferguson.

One FDR snippet is instructive to consider in light all these discussions–and dismissals–of Sanders’ “theory of change.” As FDR watched progressive legislation be struck down by a majority conservative court, he famously proposed legislation that would have allowed him to add another justice. He failed, but:

In one sense, however, he succeeded: Justice Owen Roberts switched positions and began voting to uphold New Deal measures, effectively creating a liberal majority in West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish and National Labor Relations Board v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation, thus departing from the Lochner v. New York era and giving the government more power in questions of economic policies. Journalists called this change “the switch in time that saved nine.”

This was a constitutional overreach by FDR, and it caused him political damage, but forcing the conflict created pressure on the Court, making its actions highly visible to the mass of people who wanted change, who voted for change, but did not always see or understand how the elite establishment acts to thwart change.

Your Mistakes are My Ladder

The paths to change for all of these movements are neither linear nor predictable. By nature, they act like guerilla movements. They force conflict and force an entrenched enemy into the open. Then, once exposed and vulnerable, the guerilla tactic is to attack opportunistically on strategically favorable ground. In peaceful social movements, “winning” means winning the hearts and minds of the majority of the society’s stakeholders to the point where they actively choose sides. First make them witnesses, then convert them into participants in the conflict. That’s exactly what Gandhi did with the Englishman in the first class compartment.

This is why calls from pundits and Camp Clinton for Bernie to lay out the fifteen point plan of how he gets from here to there are, at best, naïve. The social revolution playbook requires creating cycles of conflict and contrast, taking opportunistic advantage of your opponent’s mistakes. No one can predict with certainty where and how those opportunities will arise, though you can choose where to poke. If the Clinton campaign wants to know how Bernie can run that playbook in action, it need only review its own performance campaigning against him.

Does Sanders Have a Plan?

So, is Bernie Sanders the underpants gnome of political change? Is his theory: “1) Call for revolution; 2) ?????; 3) Profit!”? Or does he have something else–some other historical precedents–in mind? Everything I hear and see from the Sanders campaign suggests the latter.

Take a look at this ad from Sanders:

To me, this ad says that Sanders understands very clearly what kind of coalition and movement he needs to ignite to accomplish the vision he’s putting out in his campaign. It’s an aspirational vision, sure. And neither he nor any movement he helps create can or will accomplish all of it, just as FDR was unable to accomplish all he set out to achieve. Still, accomplishing as much as FDR did, relatively speaking, would be pretty damn good. Democrats used to say they liked that sort of thing.

Or how about this ad, where Sanders is introduced by Erica Garner explicitly as a “protestor,” invoking the lineage of MLK:

Yes, I’d say Sanders has a very clear, and historically grounded “theory of change.” What those who question it’s validity are really saying is either: 1) they lack imagination and can’t’ see beyond the status quo; 2) they lack knowledge of history, including American history, or; 3) they understand Sanders’ “theory of change” very well and want to choke it in the crib as quickly as they can.

They may succeed. Elites may beat Sanders himself but they will not beat the movement he’s invigorating but did not create. However, saying Sanders may fail is not the same as saying he doesn’t know what he’s doing, or that what he’s setting out to accomplish is impossible.

Because, if history shows us anything, it is, indeed, possible.


Identity, Politics


Sanders vs. Warren Supporters


  1. V. Arnold

    @ Pachacutec

    Great read! It may in fact still be possible; I have my doubts based on a long history of gullible, uninformed, and lazy voting age public. Not to mention, democracy is nowhere to be found.
    With the corrupt DNC and its super delegates, it can ignore (and has) the public’s vote, to insert their chosen candidate. NH is an example of that very fact. Bernie got the largest vote in history, but Clinton got the same number of delegates. The game is rigged against independence.
    In the end; we’ll see…

  2. Ivory Bill Woodpecker

    I need to see Sanders win a state which is not a low-population Paleface Bantustan before I start taking the possibility of his nomination seriously.

  3. That bullshit about how change was achieved was amazing.

    Remember how we got labor unions, via years of cautious negotiations and triangulation?

  4. Escher

    What those who question its validity are really saying is either 1) they lack imagination and can’t see beyond the status quo, 2) they lack knowledge of history, including American history, and 3) they understand Sanders’ “theory of change” very well instinctively sense a threat to their privilege and want to choke it in the crib as quickly as they can.

    Emphasis on the third.

  5. Daize

    Very good piece Ian; I am totally behind you on this one, and have believed some form of the argument you just made since Bernie announced.

  6. Daize

    oops, I mean good piece Pachacutec.

  7. Jeff Wegerson

    Thanks. Enjoyable and thought provoking read. Using potential Gandhian audience effects is what we all do on a transit line in dangerous other populated neighborhood by scanning for friendly faces and sitting close.

  8. If Sanders can get people to realize that they must assume responsibility for their own situation and not indolently give away their power to a leader, he will have achieved a revolution after all. Most people, even liberals, are too authoritarian to realize that our leader should obey us, we should not obey our leader.

  9. Mel

    It was an interesting attack from Clinton. She was effectively accusing Sanders of running an Obama-style campaign — “Yes, we can!”, and accusing herself of planning an Obama-style administration — “No, actually, you can’t.” [not his exact words.] Speaking of which, any word on what Trudeau has brought back from the European trade talks?

  10. Peter*

    The only thing about Sanders that seems very positive to me is that he may have moved beyond his Democrat Party sheepdog assignment, because he has gotten a taste of power, and that his followers may, and it’s a big may, eliminate the slippery slimy Clintons from the competition.

    The comparison of Sanders with FDR is weak except where they both desired to save Capitalism and insure no real Socialism could be achieved.

    Comparing Sanders’ attempt to lead a White Middle Class political movement to MLK or Gandhi and their achievements is ludicrous, the Democrat Party he is trying to lead is a deeply racist institution and even some of his Liberal followers displayed their racist, sexist and reactionary attitudes when he was confronted by BLM.

    This political circus will be entertaining and watching the Clintons implode or expose the total corruption of the Party Bernie wants to lead will be educational.

  11. Dan Lynch

    Just noticed this was written by Parachutec, not Ian. That explains the optimism.

    Well I both agree and disagree with Parachutec’s point. Agree that it is worth trying to change the system even if chances are high that we will fail. Disagree that Bernie has any realistic plan to fix things.

    The New Deal was complicated. There was a lot more to it than just electing FDR, who by the way campaigned to the right of Hoover, promising to balance the budget and slash Hoover’s wasteful spending on infrastructure projects.

    FDR was PUSHED to the left by people’s movements and by the political rivalry of populist Huey Long. And then there was the “Business Plot” to overthrow FDR and replace him with a military dictatorship controlled by the 1%. After Smedley Butler blew the whistle on the Business Plot, FDR cut a backroom deal with the coup leaders — he wouldn’t prosecute them for treason if they agreed to let his New Deal programs pass (they had the power to do that because they owned Congressmen). And that’s the real story of how FDR finally broke the log jam.

    Both Gandhi’s movement and the New Deal took place against the backdrop of the “red menace.” The business class had a morbid fear of a communist uprising. To head off such an uprising, they tolerated some social and economic reforms.

    After the Berlin wall fell, communism was discredited and the red menace ceased to exist. Ever since then our “owners” have been rolling back the post-WWII welfare state.

    It remains to be seen if the Sanders and the Corbyns can turn things around. As Syriza demonstrated, it’s not enough to have good intentions and talk a good talk. You have to have a realistic plan to fix things, and be willing to take a stand and fight once in office, not just when you are campaigning.

    The most serious strike against Bernie is that, even if elected, he probably won’t live very long. What will happen to Bernie’s “movement” when he dies? Who will his successor be? Do you really think the Democratic party will embrace Bernie-ism? I don’t. No, when Bernie drops out or dies, that’s the end of it.

  12. nihil obstet

    Nice exposition of how serious change occurs.

    With my usual penchant for chasing any tangent that I can find, I would disagree with you that FDR’s court-packing scheme was unconstitutional. The constitution nowhere specifies the number of justices nor restricts the president, except that the Senate has to advise and consent to appointments. We’ve fetishized the Supreme Court in exactly the form that makes it a bulwark of corporate privilege. That was what FDR had to strike at. In the subsequent generation, we got a Court that ruled for individual rights and actual democratic procedures in elections, but that Court is gone now. The last time the Senate actually performed its role in providing advice and consent was its rejection of Bork, and the Washington establishment now speaks of “Borking” as something bad. The president, they affirm, has the right to confirmation of his appointees. This is wrong.

  13. tatere

    The question I keep asking is, can’t he and/or his supporters keep doing all of this anyway, win or lose?

    Sure it’d be great to be in the White House but even that isn’t sufficient. You still need the outside pressure, you need the insurgents to show up at local Party meetings, take over chapters, find candidates, run in primaries, run in purple districts, run in red districts, all of the people vs money work that’s necessary. Plus extra-political action, in whatever form, in all the forms.

    That’s the truly hard part, seems to me. No Great Leader can do it for us.

  14. TW Andrews

    @tatere–in some ways I’d prefer that his coalition do well enough to force Clinton to adopt it as a major part of her own, but let him (and Warren as well) to continue leading this movement from the Senate. As POTUS, there will inevitably be compromises that disappoint progressives, and sap energy from the movement. I think greater change will come about with a left-wing movement to continue expanding the overton window and applying pressure to the left.

    The real game for change in the US is the 2020 election in state legislatures. The census will lead to redistricting, and whoever controls the majority of statehouses, will be able to engineer a decade-long House majority. 2016 needs to be the beginning of a Progressive wave that crests in 2020.

  15. dcs

    This is what happens when you start to take Kabuki seriously. Sanders is running Obama’s old “Believe” campaign and all the usual fauxgressive do-nothings are twittering with delight. Again.

    Shun-n-n-n-n the nonbeliever! Shun-n-n-n-n!

    Yeah. It’s disappointing to see this post on Ian’s blog, to say the least.

    There seems to be a rule in American discourse that you can never quite go all the way to a discussion of reality, just sort of tacitly haggle about which level of conceit to stop short of it at.

    Mencken and Twain both quipped about the unacceptability of truth in public life, so it’s evidently not a new rule. (Creationism seems less of an anomaly in that light–Creationists just have a peculiarly unambitious notion of how close to reality one should be allowed to get.)

  16. dcs

    On further thought “disappointing” doesn’t really express the sentiment I was trying to convey terribly well. “Ominous” would be much closer to the mark.

  17. ekstase

    Really interesting article. It’s almost as though we’ve been taught to think that you have to make a choice between being a “grown-up,” and being a decent human being. And what a horrible choice to make. It seems pretty clear that Sanders is tapping into something very “idealistic,” that people wanted eight years ago. And surprisingly, now they want it more. We’re not meant to be little automatons killing each other and stealing each other’s water and claiming this is okay because of our inborn superiority. That stuff is for sick people. We have a candidate who is talking critically about “income inequality,” and “regime change.” Amazing. And amazing that it took this long.

  18. Steeleweed

    Labor rights did involve a lot of blood and busted heads, but what made the difference was rubbing the public’s nose in the gore and violence to the point the majority could not longer hide their heads in the sand. The anti-union corporate bosses, the Pinkertons, the corrupt county sheriffs and bought governors were not defeated directly. Their public support was pulled out from under them. The [mostly] freeing of Ireland from British control was the same – once the brutality of the Black-and-Tans was recognized and admitted, the public would no longer support keeping Ireland suppressed.
    I don’t know if Bernie will win the nomination or the general election and I question his ability to solve the nation’s (and world’s) problems. I’m not particularly optimistic on that score. On the other hand, is anyone naive enough to think Clinton or any other candidate could do so? At least Bernie has the right message. The rest of the crowd is just an echo of post-Reagan politics.

  19. jawbone

    ‘First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they attack you. Then you win.’ – Mohandas Gandhi

    This line is probably the best summary of Gandhi’s philosophy of satyagraha as you can get in 16 words. But there’s no evidence that the Great Soul ever said this.

    We don’t know where this quote came from, but it is strikingly similar to something that the trade unionist Nicholas Klein gave in a 1918 address to the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America in Baltimore:

    “First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you. And that, is what is going to happen to the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America.”


  20. AlanSmithee and dcs, Wall Street financed Obama’s campaign in 2008.

    They sure as hell aren’t doing the same for Bernie Sanders.

    There’s a point where, “we’re smart because we’re cynics” becomes “we’re just sour d-bags.”

  21. Hugh

    You can not reform a system from within the system when the problem is the system. Sanders is raising awareness on some issues, and that’s good. And with Trump, he is showing just how corrupt and out of touch the two parties are.

    I think Hillary Clinton made a valid point of Sanders when she said he would not be able to enact many if any of his proposals. And of course, she is right. Sanders would be facing 535 members of Congress aligned against him plus 8-9 Supreme Court justices, and Establishment figures like Hillary Clinton herself.

    At most, Sanders could help prepare the ground for future struggle. But it will take a broad social movement to effect change, and organization, organization, organization to create that movement. Sanders has really done none of this.

  22. Hugh

    BTW FDR’s Court packing scheme was to add a justice for every justice over 70 who refused to retire up to a total of 6 extra justices or a Court with 15 justices total. The political twist behind this plan was that it had been proposed by James McReynolds, one of the Court’s then most conservative justices back in 1913 when he was Wilson’s Attorney General. FDR’s plan failed because of opposition from conservative Democrats in Congress.

  23. EmilianoZ


    why did you stop commenting at Naked Capitalism?

  24. To those likening Bernie to Obama, please don’t. Obama campaigned on smoke and mirrors; he had no real track record and proved to be anything but progressive. Look at him trying to cede our national sovereignty to corporate kangaroo courts via the horrific TPP. Bernie, by contrast, has demonstrably been on the laudable side of issues for decades — and was pretty much the only uncorrupted person in Washington, until Elizabeth Warren turned up.

  25. Michele Kelly

    Excellent rebuttal to the Clinton Dems argument against voting for Bernie. Enjoyed reading it too.

  26. I wonder, though, if Sanders supporters are going to be disappointed when Sanders starts making compromises. Because his stated goals probably can’t be achieved in four years, or even eight.

    Peter, it’s not a white middle-class movement; it’s heavily supported by young people who have been getting the short end of the stick all their lives and who are sick of the corruption they are surrounded by. It surprises me, by the way, that the Clinton campaign is getting so much African-American support; who else remembers Sister Soulja?, Hillary Clinton’s crime bill, and welfare “reform?”

  27. Hugh

    EmilianoZ, I made fun of a post by Randy Wray for which Yves sent me an angry email threatening to throw all my comments into moderation. Subsequently, lambert banned me from his corrente blog. It seems they instituted new moderation policies since I left and now lots of comments face moderation there.

    I think Mosler, the godfather of MMT, did a useful service in reminding us about the nature of fiat money, but structurally as theory MMT is a mess and I don’t think people really understand just how close MMT remains to classical economics. I mean if you are an MMTer and come from a classical, or neoclassical, economics background, the differences between the two look really big, but if you come from outside the neoclassical mold (and have a background in the analysis of theory as I do), it all looks pretty parochial.

    To bring the discussion back around to the topic, for me, progressives tend to make the same mistake over and over. They take someone (Sanders) or something (MMT) that has some progressive elements and then proceed to read into these a wishlist of things that aren’t there. The result is almost always disappointment.

  28. cripes

    At least this post and discussion is about the relevant points.

    True, Bernie is not progressive on the MIC, war on terra, and so forth and is a huge problem with describing him as a leftist. It’s also a problem in any project to rebuild a social state with universal healthcare, tuition support, family leave etc., precisely because the MIC is sucking up all the money.

    Also true is that Bernie, unlike Barry, is not a Trojan Horse in the pocket of Wall Street money interests. This campaign scares the shit out of them. Hillary is unhinged and sending out Bill and Chelsea to make the most outrageous attacks out of desperation. She is destroying what remains of an illusion of competence, integrity or honesty in her operation. She’s a power-crazed, incompetent bullshit artist. Basically, it’s a stop Bernie campaign.

    While a Bernie Sanders presidency has all the hallmarks of an obstructed presidency, with the democratic party positioned firmly in opposition, it feels a little like the old, “let the contradictions intensify” party line in reverse. The contradictions will intensify with a Trump or a Cruz. They will also intensify with a Sanders presidency. And that likely means more citizen organizing.

    Anyway, either a Sanders win of the party nomination, or in the general election, will motivate whatever base is propelling him to see the entrenched powers are not omnipotent. Trump is doing this also, douchebag that he is.

    The complaints from Black Agenda Report and other quarters that Sanders candidacy is sheepdogging for the eventual party nominee are fair warnings.

    I just think it all depends how this plays out. But, Obama he is not.
    Forget a moment about the faces and look at the forces operating behind the screen.

  29. This post stacks the deck by declaring in advance that anyone who disagrees with this theory of change (and/or thinks that appealing to a supposed Gandhi/FDR/whatever-hero-you-pick method ignores the differences between then and now) is an idiot or a shill. It’s preaching to the choir and not a basis for intelligent discussion.

  30. scruff

    I’m pretty deeply cynical about hopes of changing the system for the better, but I recall seeing a lot more cynicism from others after the fall of Occupy Wall Street and other Occupy movements. Many people were brutally critical of OWS for a variety of reasons, including not having a central message of clear demands or any realistic hope of achieving them. I don’t think anyone thought that there would be a credible sequel to OWS any time soon. But here we are just a short time later, and in Sanders we basically have Occupy Wall Street 2: The Presidential Hopeful; bigger budgets, better publicity, and villains who have to follow subtler lines of attack. This is not the time to give up.

  31. dcs

    Mandos and myself taking the same tack…the end is nigh. Ah well, Earth had a good run.

  32. karenjj2

    Thank you, Pachacutec, especially

    “they act like guerilla movements. They force conflict and force an entrenched enemy into the open. Then, once exposed and vulnerable, the guerilla tactic is to attack opportunistically on strategically favorable ground”

    Unbeknowst to most people, there are millions of people that have heard Bernie and urged him to run for president: for 10+ years, almost every Friday, Bernie would take unfiltered calls nationwide for one hour on the program which, by the way, is still going strong noon-3p est weekdays. This was long term preparation by listening to national concerns.

    Despite the DNC limiting and burying 5 debates, the first “guerilla” moments were campaign contributions. Bernie’s one million plus “investors” are voters as well. No matter how the DNC’s inevitable candidate’s team slice up the banksters’ donations … remember the frantic emails “donate $1.00” to the campaign for inevitable? … they don’t average $27.

    Next, the first dramatic televised moment in addition to the above was wondering about impartiality while taking nearly half a million dollars from Gold Sacks. Fun to watch the DNC candidate defend what the viewers might find difficult to believe — “I know that I’d keep my benefactor in mind if they gave me $500,000 for 3 speeches . . .”

    Next, besides “I voted against war on Iraq, you voted for it,” making the unacknowledged million marchers against the Iraq invasion in New York alone, potential Bernie contributors, the DNC inevitable had to defend what the marchers know was indefensible.

    Then, the accurate description of the huge number of endorsements for the DNC’s inevitable candidate as “establishment” and the ensuing screams of outrage that drew attention to the fact.

    Lastly, in addition to the fact that the national media blackout is intensifying online traffic toward Bernie sites like the all volunteer, the DNC candidate’s lengthy response to Bernie’s “single-payer, Medicare for all plan” that vehemently ended with, “That’s NEVER, EVER going to happen!” left the unspoken words “if I’m elected” ringing in the viewers ears. Best guerilla moment so far, in my opinion, and it is worth noting that Bernie knows when to remain silent or make a mild statement if required by the DNC interviewers.

  33. dcs

    I wonder, though, if Sanders supporters are going to be disappointed when Sanders starts making compromises. Because his stated goals probably can’t be achieved in four years, or even eight.

    “In the long run, we are all dead.”

    Sanders supporters be advised–if you want to persuade someone that Sanders isn’t like Obama, writing 2009-style “long game” apologetics this early in the game isn’t likely to be terribly helpful to your case.

  34. dcs

    While a Bernie Sanders presidency has all the hallmarks of an obstructed presidency, with the democratic party positioned firmly in opposition,

    Way to motivate vote there sir.

    Couldn’t you at least try to look like you’re trying to win Congress? Are you afraid of repeating 2009-2010, when Democrats had to tie themselves in knots trying to explain why they still “couldn’t” get bills through despite having the Presidency and both Houses of Congress?

  35. S Brennan

    Thomas Piketty seems to agree with attempting to move the ball, from my FBook today:

    “I don’t know anybody who has waded all the way through Thomas Piketty voluminous tome, but if you call yourself educated you should know of him and his well documented economic history.

    I urge those few who read my posts to go through this article*, not for his take on Bernie Sanders, but for his accurate & succinct economic history of post-war USA. It’s good to remind ourselves of the days when we were hitting on all 8 cylinders…and under what conditions that came about.

    Two data points Piketty left out that I think are important to remind ourselves of:

    1] IKE never unraveled FDR’s New Deal policies, he actually defended them against Republican efforts, he thought them wise.

    2] It was Jimmy Carter who was the first President to start enacting NeoLiberal** policies in 1978.

    *And perhaps, share it.

    **Neither new, or liberal, they are Gilded Age policies redux, sans mercantilism.”

  36. karenjj2

    Another “guerrilla moment,” much to my delight and MSNBC’s Brian Williams vocal dismay, was Bernie’s use of the national media spotlight as winner of the New Hampshire primary to give his stump speech and solicit donations “average $27” to which generated enough traffic to crash the site.

  37. cripes

    Yeah, well I’m not on Sanders strategy team, I’m not a democrat, so don’t try to hang the DNC around my neck, buddy. I am commenting and observing what I see, just like you.
    You wanna take institutional responsibility for installing a democratic majority in congress, go right ahead.

  38. Jeff W


    This post stacks the deck by declaring in advance that anyone who disagrees with this theory of change…is an idiot or a shill. It’s preaching to the choir and not a basis for intelligent discussion.

    I’m not getting that. Here’s what I take to be the main point of the post:

    Bernie Sanders…wants to use mass appeal audience effects to renegotiate the country’s political and economic contract.

    Reasonable people can disagree with whether that strategy will work (Pachacutec is offering historical examples of where that strategy has worked in the past) but that’s not what I take to be the point of the post—it’s laying out what the theory of change is, at least in the writer’s view.

    (I think another, perhaps subtler part of the theory of change is establishing “common knowledge”—which is to say, not only does everyone (really, those who are inclined to act) know something but now everyone knows that everyone else knows it. That’s a predicate to coordination and group action.)


    I’ve been mentioning Sanders’ 10+-years weekly appearances on Thom Hartmann’s show to people also, just as a way of illustrating his overall consistency and his willingness to engage one-on-one with ordinary people.

  39. cripes

    Opps, my previous comment was in reply to dcs.
    P.S. – there’s no guarantee any random democrats swept in with a Sanders victory will be worth a crap.
    Remember 2008’s blue dogs.

  40. reslez

    OWS was 5 years ago. Things have only gotten worse for average people, and here we are at the cusp of another recession. If we deny oxygen to benign hope fairies like Sanders we’ll end up with creatures far worse than Trump. The Right wing has guns in the US. The more unhappy, desperate people the elites create the more dangerous the situation becomes. And a lot of desperation is baked in thanks to neoliberal trade deals that ignore climate change.

    Hugh, I would rather read your comments than half the stuff on NC. (Though I highly value NC.) It’s a delight to see you taking the time to comment here.

  41. Daize

    I’d like to make a quick generational comment regarding Sanders which is a propos (I believe) to the comments I am seeing here and of course Sander’s biggest constituency.

    I am getting the very strong impression, backed by statistics, that the biggest factor affecting anyone’s attitude towards Sanders is simply their age and therefore what their generation has experienced and nothing more. Judging the future from a very limited past in general works until it doesn’t (think of the turkey). Typical of my generation (X and older), is pure, and in the end rather simplistic, cynicism masquerading as wisdom and maturity.

    The millennials did not have to deal with the embarrassment of having voted for Obama. I would suggest the Gen X cynics are mostly protecting themselves through a mostly emotional reaction which is taking the form of cynicism and nihilism which they then justify with argument and analysis after the fact.

  42. cripes

    Which leads Gen X-ers to vote how?

  43. Pachacutec

    Just a quick note to thank everyone for the feedback.

    Agree with me or not, like the piece or not, I’ve read everything and really appreciate so many thoughtful comments.

    I also want to thank my old friend and blogging compatriot Ian for publishing the post. The views expressed in it are purely my own, not Ian’s. I don’t speak for him or for his site.

    Ian is more than capable (formidable!) when speaking for himself.

    Cheers all.

  44. philadelphialawyer

    Agree with the general thrust of the article. But, as per “nihil obstet,” above, there was no “constitutional” overreach by FDR. The number of SCOTUS justices is set by statute, not the Constitution, and has changed over the course of time. FDR’s plan was not in the least bit unconstitutional, it simply was not enacted. His attempt to to get it enacted, and, subsequently, to”primary” its opponents were complete failures politically. And, as per “Hugh,” above, the idea behind the “packing” plan was not even new.

    As for the “Switch in Time” theory, that has been pretty much debunked…the “switch,” if there even was one, occurred before either the court-packing plan was unveiled OR the 1936 landslide.

    See here, eg:

    Moreover, the first batch of New Deal legislation, which was mostly struck down, was quite different from the second and third tries. The NRA was a corporatist scheme that didn’t garner even one vote on SCOTUS. Some of the other early New Deal legislation also embodied ideas, such as bodies purportedly representing producers, consumers, owners and the government, and having virtually unlimited and unreviewable power over entire industries, completely foreign to the then-prevalent Anglo American tradition. The NLRA, by contrast, was much more narrowly tailored, did not establish an all encompassing and all powerful body, and the NLRB was hemmed in with procedural safeguards and judicial review. Social Security was enacted under the General Welfare clause, rather than the more contentious Commerce Clause, and so on.

  45. Daize

    A slight majority for Hillary, according to stats over the past few months. Xers are now probably the least convince-able of all potential constituents and will vote as they damn well please, and not have their minds changed much. Even the boomers and older seem more mentally flexible.

  46. cripes


    Thanks for your reply.

    What isn’t obvious to me is how we would know that X-ers are “probably the least convince-able.”
    Is that from a voter survey?
    Your personal experience?

  47. Daize

    I did say “probably” which I hope indicates at least somewhat that it is a matter of my opinion. It is based on observing my generation, speaking and discussing with them, and also knowing it rather well.

  48. Stirling S Newberry

    > Agree with the general thrust of the article. But, as per “nihil obstet,” above, there was no “constitutional” overreach by FDR.

    Insert Ackerman rebuttal here.

  49. different clue


    Are the Xers the most traumatized generation? In general? Trauma does tend to make people inflexible if the trauma has been either traumatic enough or grinding enough.

  50. edmondo

    I can’t wait until the Dems screw Bernie one more time and our progressive champion who is definitely, honest to god not a sheepdog ends up endorsing a billionaire at the convention.

    The irony is too delicious to contemplate

  51. Hugh

    For Sanders, the question may come down to where does his loyalty lie: with the Democratic Party or his supporters.

    But as in 2016, and something the Establishment Democrats continue to fail to grasp, Sanders doesn’t own his supporters. If Sanders gets screwed out of the nomination or marginalized, then a lot of them are going to walk.

  52. Mark Pontin

    What Hugh said, especially as regards Sanders’s supporters and his loyalties to them.

    But I suspect he’s thought about all this. He was criticized initially for calling himself a Democratic Socialist in the US, where that’s not supposed to politically practical. I think one reason he did it was for branding for a third party, if that becomes the route to go.


    I’ll say this, popcorn will not suffice this time around. No, we’re going to need a guru for this acid trip that is and will be the 2020 presidential election.

  54. Hugh

    OT As you know I have been pointing out for months that, based on jobs and wage data, the economy has sucked in 2019. The BEA’s estimate for US GDP growth for the year, which came out yesterday, is 2.3%. This is a mediocre number consistent with secular stagnation. It is a really sucky number when you consider Trump’s massive tax cuts for the rich and corporations.

    However, it is still better than the 1.2% growth rate posted by the EU.

    Two take homes: The booming Trump economy is a hoax. And the EU even as it lords it over Brexit continues to sink.

    Oh, I guess there’s a third: Neoliberalism has failed, but then most here knew that.

  55. Stirling S Newberry


    Big Ben bong Succession writ large
    Pride goeth before the fall from grace
    Under pressure
    referendum Brexiteers emancipatory nuggenda
    faithful farm moonlit insane peevish proper.
    impossibility theorem née Gödel without the Mathematics
    sovereignty conserved celebrated campaign
    positioned competitor mythical

  56. KT Chong

    Non-Americans: what do you think of Bernie Sanders? | /r/AskReddit


    Hugh, civilization has failed and we’re all dead men walking and just don’t know it unless civilization is viewed as a suicide cult and pact and I’m coming around to the notion that’s precisely what it is.


    Just as I’ve said, but of course, you know how I feel about polls, so there’s that. Once again, popcorn will not suffice.

    Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s million-dollar TV ad campaign for his 2020 presidential bid is working.

    While the media has been focused on Monday’s Iowa caucus pitting all the other top Democrats against each other, Bloomberg has emerged as the only one beating President Trump in a new national poll.

    Zogby Analytics told Secrets exclusively that in a national head-to-head battle, Bloomberg is leading Trump 45% to 43%.

    Only former Vice President Joe Biden comes closest, at 46%-46%. Sen. Bernie Sanders is next at 45% to Trump’s 47%.


    For those who have stated Bloomberg can’t court young voters, the Zogby Analytics poll says otherwise. I take this with a grain of salt because a grain of salt is all we have.

    Apparently, young folks adore short Jewish billionaires, or at least prefer one to the fat orange dildo in the oval office.

    “Bloomberg also blunts Trump’s gains with some younger voters: those aged 25-34 (Bloomberg leads 50% to 33%) and aged 30-49 (Bloomberg leads 46% to 41%),” he added.


    About Iowa.

    Sheekey criticized the current Democratic model of heavy campaigning in Iowa. “We, as Democrats, spend a year living in Iowa, raising money around the country, moving people to Iowa, knocking on doors, getting to know those voters, and investing every single dollar we can raise around the country in Iowa,” he said. “The one thing the Democrat and Republican pollsters agree on is that Donald Trump is going to win Iowa.”


    Whichever candidate beats Trump, be it Bernie or Bloomberg, we’ll have Trump and the Republican party to thank for making their job, once in office, that much easier. Because of Trump’s and the Republicans’ actions, Bernie and or Bloomberg will be able to govern by fiat and dictate now that Trump and the Republicans have eviscerated the Constitution and transformed America into an autocracy. Trump and the Republicans, should Bernie be elected for example, have paved the way for Bernie to confiscate Trump’s wealth and the wealth of all the oligarchy and redistribute it into productive programs for the masses. Thank you for that serendipitous silver lining Trump & Scum. We’re going to use it to suffocate you. Your doomsday clock is ticking. You have less than one year in which to live. Live it up while you can. Then it’s lights out. The farcical and failed impeachment of Trump has set the precedent that a sitting POTUS can do anything he/she damn well pleases short of breaking “the law.” What’s good for Trump’s soon-to-be cooked goose, is good for Bloomberg’s and/or Bernie’s up-and-coming gander.

  62. c1ue

    The article sounds good – the problem is that proof is in the pudding.
    Not so much the Presidency; Sanders has done a good job in continuing to build his Presidential base.
    The problem is that the Republican party control 30 of the 49 state legislatures. The Democratic party under the Clintons has failed miserably at the state level.
    This state legislature domination (and 18 Democrat controlled legislatures) means entrenched and fierce opposition to any Sanders’ policies – whether health care or student debt or whatever.
    The “sanctuary city” plan to fight Trump, which morphed into “sanctuary districts” in Virginia under the Northam gun ban, doesn’t help either.

  63. Ché Pasa

    It’s long past time to RICO the R party out of existence. But our feckless Dems wouldn’t hear of it, would they? Nor has much of the intertubes quite comprehended the depth of R criminality and contempt. Not even Bernie would go that far, and it’s really too late now.

    The God-Emperor theory of the presidency will shortly be institutionalized. Whoever beats Trump — assuming we continue to have elections for the presidency — had better be a Good Emperor, though, because time has run out on figuring out what to do on our own. We had the chance and our representatives in Congress assembled and the inertial weight of the permanent government have failed miserably.

    The Senate knows precisely what it’s doing in acquitting Trump of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. They are setting up the final phase of the American experiment in constitutional self government, a phase that may last until November and then be done. There is no going back.

    Bernie knows this perhaps better than most of his colleagues because he’s been around forever and a day, and the trend of power has long been toward this outcome. It’s just too bad that Trump became the public face of it. As the mechanisms of that constitutional self government shut down (as they’ve done before in times of crisis), we’ll have a bitter taste in our mouths about what’s lost, but oh well, water under the bridge.

    What now?

    A minority will embrace it as the way things are supposed to be, whether god-granted or simply accepting the inevitable. The majority, though, will notice little difference. Things that were bad before will get incrementally worse; things that were more or less OK will also get worse. Some of it will happen too fast to react to. Most will be gradual enough for the masses to adapt. The People which never had much say in their government will have essentially none at all, and most will consider it a relief.

    Think Rome between the end of the Republic and the full establishment of Empire. Yes there were civil wars and such, but by the end of them, the autocracy was a release and relief, no? You bet.

    Yes, Bernie knows what he’s doing, but sadly, it’s too late.

  64. Hugh

    Joe Scarborough for whom I generally have no use had a rather wonderful rant on the death of irony a few days back. It’s two minutes into a youtube called “Confederacy of Dunces.” I had that playing in my mind as I read this great article on Jay Sekulow, one of Trump’s lead attorneys in the impeachment trial.

    Trump is completely corrupt, so is his family, and the idea that he ever gave a rat’s ass about corruption in Ukraine is risible. Or that he would have cared a whit about Joe or Hunter Biden or any corruption they were involved in if Joe wasn’t running for President, again laughable. Trump’s corruption dwarfs anything the Bidens were up to. Well, turns out that Jay Sekulow (and family) is a big time grifter (tens of millions of dollars) as well. Irony must spinning in its grave like a high power centrifuge.

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