Let’s call this fight over now, before we go any farther than we already have. Being a liberal progressive and being an establishment candidate or cause are not mutually exclusive.
There is little doubt that groups like Planned Parenthood and the Human Rights Campaign are on the front lines, fighting for progressive causes everyday. There’s little doubt that the Congressional Black Caucus PAC is committed to fighting the Right Wing for basic civil rights, voting rights and giving those in need a hand up.
But, inasmuch as they are all successful institutions, they rely on the Democratic establishment to preserve the gains they’ve already made and be ready for fights to come. Any disruption to the power of the establishment, they feel, risks it all.
So when an icon like Rep. John Lewis comes out and speaks on behalf of Hillary, as he did during the CBC PAC’s announcement, he’s not turning his back on liberals and progressives. I know him. It takes more than an intra-party skirmish to shake his idealism. It’s not in his nature.
In the Democratic race for President of the United States, Hillary is the pragmatists’ choice and Bernie is the idealists’ choice.
What John Lewis and Planned Parenthood head Cecile Richards and others are doing is being politically pragmatic. Call it “pragmatic idealism,” if you will. They will not make what they perceive to be a risky move with an unknown quantity like Bernie, when they know Hillary, and they’re much more certain that she will win than they are of Sanders success in November.
They likely all believe in what Bernie Sanders is talking about – single payer healthcare, free college tuition, raising the minimum wage, expanding Social Security and fighting income inequality – but they are using their heads, not their hearts, because they feel they have to be pragmatic.
More than once I heard the term “politically naive,” in the early days of this election year, regarding Sen. Bernie Sanders and his motivated supporters. The first one came from a conservative friend on my Facebook feed, who was reacting to a post about Bernie’s viability and his principled stand.
In that context, he was saying that Sandernistas are mistaken because, he believes, all they want is free stuff, and they’re too naive to realize there’s no such thing as a free lunch.
The second was from a Hillary Clinton surrogate on TV, who said that it was politically naive to think a self described Socialist could win a general election.
In a January New York Times op-ed, economist Paul Krugman insisted that Bernie’s supporters “preferred happy dreams to hard thinking,” and warned about allowing “idealism [to] veer into destructive self-indulgence.”
But Bernie’s “political revolution” is born of idealism. The heart wants what the heart wants, and the heart wants Bernie Sanders. To call his millions of younger supporters politically naive is to ignore the energy required for social change and how it is shaped by the young.
Martin Luther King, Jr., was in his twenties and thirties when he took on the establishment, and there were plenty, including President Kennedy, who said he was asking for too much at once.
From the anti-war movements of the 1960s to Occupy Wall Street, those to whom the future belongs are the ones fighting to save it. There’s a reason the Baby Boomers’ anti-establishment battle cry was, “Don’t trust anyone over 30.” [See Jack Weinberg.] It’s because their elders were already part of a broken system that did not work for everybody.
Breaking news: it still doesn’t.
The revolution never ends. There can be no resolution to end the revolution without a concerted effort at evolution; we cannot revolve until we are resolved to evolve. That takes all of us – the pragmatist and the idealist, the prosaic and the poet – working together. And while we appreciate that sometimes it requires electing an older leader to get these things done, neither Bernie nor Hillary (nor President Obama, for that matter) can move the needle in any significant way unless they know we all have their back.
So don’t give up if the choice is Hillary. Act up. Don’t lay up if the choice is Bernie. Act up. With that much energy we can restart the revolution now and make it last forever.