The 2016 Presidential campaign has ended and “campaign books” such as Bernie Sanders’s Our Revolution are, the common assumption goes, Old News. Instantly out of date. Let’s move on. Time to face new challenges.
Our Revolution, if entirely reluctantly, is a considerable exception. Its 447 pages comprise a treasured large and detailed but far too diffuse and impersonal picture–yet there are, I am sure, now no other compendiums even approaching it–of the damning political situation in which we find ourselves, an invaluable half-buried compilation both thematic and statistical. It has the barest of chances of becoming a platform of National Reality from which a General Edifice of crucial public knowledge and understanding might be built. The odds seem almost insuperable. But even those odds are important these days.
Our Revolution, if latently, is more valuable than ever. (We’ll call this a “latency” book review.)
In essence, the “radical” Sanders is an enormously knowledgeable maverick and, viola!, an honest one, i.e., he is not the new Mr/Ms Smith who goes to Washington not to dramatize at the local level of Democracy-in-action Frank Capra’s sense of the importance of the Enlightenment but to reveal how Mr/Ms Smith III now go to Washington to get rich in a world of Wall Street “financialization” of America, Citizens United, PACS, the Koch Brothers, and all that is conveyed by the geographic Home of the Crave, K Street. These days especially, and pushed to the wall, you are tempted strongly to declare that a seat on Capitol Hill is simply a way to get rich and, if you are so inclined, practice grandstanding while you are there: not so much a revolving door as an evolving career, the Upward Reward Over The Legislative Hill at the end of the Term(s). For example, Sanders tells us (this is a typical numerical stunner in his book) that there are over 1,300 Pharma lobbyists alone in DC; Pharma, he notes drily, is Undefeated on Capitol Hill; one can imagine how Pharma has become a Home for retired legislators. And one can develop that scenario much further through the geography of “special interests.” Money Politics. Big Money. Our Predatory Oligarchy.
And behind that, the “financialization” of America (with thanks to Kevin Philips for that utterly precise term). That’s the main deal, the headwaters. And despite all the froth about it in the media, it’s a huge public secret. But Sanders’s book whispers it. Alas, his is a garbled transmission.
Yet Sanders has advantages. Unlike the “mainstream” candidates, the “radical” Sanders does not have to be especially Politically Careful. And he tries hard to bring the awful truth. Wow, has he ever rounded up all the damning numbers! He’s incredibly precise: The exact income gap; who in particular owns what; who makes exactly what; which specific legislators have been bought and sold on what policies and when; and on and on. He cross references accurately from afflictions such as unaffordable college tuition and subpar minimum wages back to “financialization.”
In short, a great deal of what Churchill’s “average voter” needs to know is in Sanders’s stew of a book and in no other single source. We have to believe that Chuchill’s average voter might pleasantly surprise the morose democratic Winston if that voter knew half of the facts in Our Revolution.
The problem for us average voters stumbling about and needing a summoning: there is little sense of a coherent narrative about the rampant Decline, the National Peril, the slide in our Republic down a slope into the Slough of Greed. Let alone a narrative that makes the Decline understandable from the personal viewpoint of “the average voter.” Such an insight is merely implicit. You need to be one of Melville’s gray grammarians to attack Our Revolution, let alone be swept up in it. The Shock of Recognition languishes hidden in the typical and unimaginative organization of Sanders’s book, a style all too characteristic of such books and one that succeeds wildly in preventing much stirring excitement to bring clarity and effective resolve.
We have Part One and Part Two. Part One is a brief history of the campaigning itself. For example, there is “Thinking about Running” and “On the Campaign Trail.” Nice people invited Sanders and aides over to the house for snacks and talk. He met plain folk who are inspiring. The staff at the local hospital were full of compassion in their work. And so on. And on. And yet further on.
Part Two is where the crucial stuff–the massive hard evidence, the themes and the statistics–is almost entirely hidden: “An Agenda for a New America: How We Transform Our Country.” Now imagine that beneath that sign you have just entered Ace Hardware. Signs above the aisles: “Defeating Oligarchy”; “The Decline of the American Middle Class”; “Health Care for All”; “Making Higher Education Affordable”; “Combating Climate Change”; “Immigration Reform Now”; “Corporate Media and the Threat to Our Democracy.”
What the hell! You had no intention of searching every aisle, did you? Of course not!
Meanwhile: Husband leaves for work full of anxiety: hints over the past month of a plant closure and movement of operations to Thailand. No time to demand that long-overdue raise. (Melanie is disappointed in me, I know.) Grandfather’s insurance won’t cover his “precondition” and he’s begun to sigh in pain up in his bedroom at night. Sally was been accepted at Ivy U but sadly did not qualify for enough aid and can’t go, yet how to cover the stiff tuition at State without burying her in debt for years? As it is, will taking out a Second be enough to consolidate the growing debt mess every month? And (very much) so on.
A set of story frames, flexibly able to be assembled variously for the proper framing for the moment–preferably told by a Progressive candidate with a knack and plenty of campaign financing and supported by young people–and with pointed musings about the seminal “financialization”–and supported by scenaric political ads (see above, Plant Worker)–the substance for such is amply there in Our Revolution–might just provide a winning focus for enough of us “average voters” to swing the deal.
Followed then by Up-or-Down votes on the new cabinet–Eric Schneiderman, Elizabeth Warren, Eliot Spitzer (that’s right!), and someone from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Followed by a casting out from the temple.