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THIS Changes Everything: Bernie as Dems' New FDR

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Face it: we live in crisis times. But, just as the Chinese word for "crisis" also means "opportunity," some keenly perceptive writers have noticed the enormous, perhaps unprecedented opportunity for lasting, deeply desirable change our perilous era affords. I speak especially of Naomi Klein, who, while acutely conscious of the climate apocalypse we're courting, envisions the radical transformation of global institutions needed to dodge it as virtually entailing a "new Eden"--a world of peace, shared prosperity, greater beauty, better health, meaningful work, and expanded leisure.

From Bernie Sanders--Democrats' new FDR--leads charge to overturn Citizens United. THIS changes everything.
Bernie Sanders--Democrats' new FDR--leads charge to overturn Citizens United. THIS changes everything.
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While Klein's may seem a classic "carrot and stick" motivational approach to climate action, I see no rational grounds for doubting her basic assessment--on either side. We face either unprecedented global hell, or humanity's nearest-yet approach to earthly paradise. The choice is really ours.

In an age of crisis, only the visionaries, sensing both onrushing catastrophe and untapped promise, are prudent; those with cautious imaginations, bounded by the status quo, will be proved reckless fools. When mere safety, let alone happiness beyond precedent, depends on "the radical transformation of global institutions," it's high time for partisans of the "prudent" status quo--the one leading us to hell in a hand basket--to step aside. In politics, this translates into a need for transformative leadership. The sort provided, amidst our nation's most hellish depression, by FDR. Or that could be provided, amidst looming climate apocalypse and oligarchs' growing tyranny, by Bernie Sanders. Provided Democrats--and above all, those positioned to pressure Democrats--shrewdly "grok" the potential.

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See, I believe Klein, in her bipolar assessment of climate Armageddon or a much better world, is irrefutably right. The mindless consumption and merciless competition that make our economy a blind, heedless engine of climate fiasco are also a foremost cause of human misery. In overhauling our economy to be far kinder to our climate, we would, incidentally, be far kinder to ourselves. Of incumbent, electable politicians, only Bernie Sanders, by his independent action and thought, has arrived at positions compatible with Klein's. Only third parties like the Greens--still sadly unelectable--embrace positions even more humanity-friendly than Bernie's. But among electable pols, Bernie is an utter revelation compared to Hillary Clinton; and he has offered Democrats an immense opportunity to be on the right side of history--if only they knew it--by being their 2016 presidential candidate.

To more strictly partisan Democrats, less interested in making history than trouncing Republicans, Bernie offers a virtual "nuclear weapon." Why? Because he alone, in these desperate, crisis-plagued times, offers hope and transformative leadership. Potentially, the same kind FDR did--thereby reaping for Democrats huge, enduring rewards at the polls. But only if they're smart enough to pink-slip their clueless, conviction-less corporatist Hillarys and become "Bernie's party."

A wave--perhaps ultimately, a tsunami--of change is building, and I sense it not just in books like Klein's This Changes Everything, but in articles by fellow writers at OpEdNews. I'd like to cite two, in particular, since they had a deep, formative influence on what I'm now writing.

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In his "Press the Battle" series, Andrew Schmookler makes a convincing case for the sheer, unprecedented evil of today's Republicans and for Democrats' need to address voters at the level of basic moral principle--"the side of the angels"--as FDR did, to trump this insidious ill. I couldn't agree more, but I find today's Democratic Party, led by Hillary Clinton, far too riddled with the moral cancers it's fighting to deliver the needed sermon. Given my own low opinion of corporatist hawk Hillary, I find anointing her as lead preacher for such a message rather like "summoning Satan to cast out Beelzebub." Or, to be gentler (and switch Biblical similes), it's like "storing new wine in old skins." Fobbing off a "made" party hack like Hillary as lightning rod for transformative change merely offers satiric fodder for Saturday Night Live. The independent, outspoken Sanders, by contrast, sports that role like a glove .

If Bernie's the fittest warrior to press Schmookler's battle, another OEN writer, Dr. Rick Staggenborg, has forged him the deadliest weapon for pressing it. In an immensely worthwhile article, Staggenborg (correctly, in my view) dismisses skeptics about the prospects for passing an amendment overturning Citizens United (probably the chief weapon in Republicans' evil arsenal), discerning instead a burgeoning support that renders its overthrow inevitable. Agreeing the time is ripe for Citizens United's demise, I can't conceive of a more "killer" campaign issue for a Democratic ticket, led by Bernie Sanders, in 2016. No issue better announces a commitment to transformative change, for, as Staggenborg notes, it's precisely Citizens United, enabling the corporate purchase of U.S. elections, that's clamping shut the gusher of urgently needed reform. What fitter Commander-in-Chief than Sanders, utterly innocent of corporate funding and a merciless foe of Citizens United, to lead the war to its death?

If Democrats are smart, they'll not only see in Bernie their new FDR, but in an amendment overturning Citizens United, the "killer" issue paving way for his "New Deal." Polls repeatedly cite overturning Citizens United as wildly popular among Americans; what's more, seeing it's the basis of Republican power, a fulcrum for limitless "money speech" by GOP donors like the Kochs, it's a popular issue Republicans can't touch. And the reforms its repeal would enable--enhancing life prospects for most citizens (just as FDR's did)--would be popular enough to keep Democrats in power for a long time. Popular enough, I suspect, to move even the GOP leftward, in fear for its own survival.

Of course, my whole argument is premised on Democrats being smart; we all know LOTS of corporate dollars (like those backing Hillary) are staked on keeping them stupid. So, for those of us who find urgent reform a matter of human survival--I speak, above all, to the climate justice movement--we can't leave Democrats' "intelligence" to chance. Like Naomi Klein, in her vision of humanity's prospects, we should offer a carrot and a stick. If Democrats endorse Bernie Sanders as their presidential candidate and make overturning Citizens United their chief issue, we'll pledge our support in 2016. If they refuse, we'll conclude they have no interest in being on the right side of history and pledge our support to Greens. Voluntary persistence in stupidity--when intelligence is desperately needed--deserves some radical payback.

If you believe in humanity's future--and favor the "carrot and stick" pledge I sketch here--please consider helping me build a movement on this basis. Making Democrats smart will require nothing less.


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Patrick Walker is co-founder of Revolt Against Plutocracy (RAP) and the Bernie or Bust movement it spawned. Before that, he cut his activist teeth with the anti-fracking and Occupy Scranton PA movements. No longer with RAP, he actively seeks (more...)

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