While endorsing Clinton, the NY Times said Sanders had “pushed Mrs. Clinton a bit more to the left.” Everybody says that, but nobody knows. He likes to sound very left and she doesn’t. Both have their reasons. Obama half explained these reasons when he endorsed Hillary. “Bernie came in with the luxury of being a complete long shot and just letting loose.” That was the smart thing for Bernie to do, and it’s good to see his views getting a lot of air play.
Hillary has also been playing it smart. But all politicians say and do things for strategic reasons. They have to, or they would not be politicians for long. For example, Bernie voted against the Brady (gun control) Bill several times (to the delight of conservatives), but he claims this was for strategic reasons. You just can’t be sure what’s talk and what’s strategy. But there are two things you can tell for sure.(1) Because Hillary had a big edge to start with, and Bernie was a long shot, different strategies made sense—just like in a football game. The team that’s behind and stuck on their own 10-yard line with 1 minute to go is the team that throws the hail-Mary pass. That’s what Obama was saying. “Letting loose” was a smart strategy for Bernie, but it would have been stupid for Hillary.
(2) Bernie thinks fiery rhetoric can bring about a revolution. Hillary thinks change takes hard work, expertise and politicking. So even if they have exactly the same goals, and are equally “socialist” in their intentions, they are going to sound very different.
So if you want to know who’s left or right, you can’t just look at what they say, you have to look at what they do, and look at that in terms of their political strategy, not your own.
Now, I’d like to point out two misconceptions. First, Bernie is not talking about democratic socialism. Not even close. Just Google “socialism” and it will tell you what it means and has meant for 100 years. (And Bernie knows this perfectly well.) Google’s right; it means “social ownership and democratic control of the means of production.” That means no more private steel mills, oil wells, banks, smart phone companies. All would be socially owned, which means not owned by capitalists. That’s democratic socialism, not this namby-pamby minimum wage stuff or breaking gigantic banks into huge banks. Bernie and Hillary are not socialists, they’re liberals. And that’s a good thing.
Second misconception: Bernie’s fiery rhetoric will work just like Franklin Roosevelt’s. Let’s take a look. By the time Roosevelt took office in March 1933, the US was in the midst of its fourth banking panic in as many years. And by then, the public had lost $140 billion and thousands had lost their homes. Until then the banks had no insurance.
Roosevelt immediately declared a bank “holiday,” and passed the Banking Act of 1933, which you know as the Glass-Steagall Act. It took only four days to fix the tragedy that the Republicans and bankers had let persist for four years. If ever there was a time for fiery rhetoric, this was it. And Roosevelt immediately took to the air waves with his first fireside chat.
Click on that, and search for the word “bankers.” You will find it only once, pretty near the end. And here’s the Bernie-style tongue lashing they got. Or is it? “Some of our bankers had shown themselves either incompetent or dishonest in their handling of the people’s funds. They had used the money entrusted to them in speculations and unwise loans.”
But he didn’t want to sound too harsh or offend bankers in general, so in his next breath he softened that, saying “This was, of course, not true in the vast majority of our banks, but it was true in enough of them to shock the people for a time.”
And then to even out the blame a little, he continued, by saying that this shock had put people into “a frame of mind where they did not differentiate, but seemed to assume that the acts of a comparative few had tainted them all.” In other words, calm down and don’t be so upset with the bankers, “the vast majority,” are honest and deserve your respect.
So the one precedent that has been claimed for fiery rhetoric leading to a political revolution, actually did not involve much fiery rhetoric. And its biggest step towards a lasting “revolution” was the passage of the early version of Social Security that was so weak, racist and sexist that it was passed with a huge Republican majority in both the House and the Senate. The ultimate bipartisan compromise. As usual, truth is stranger than fiction.