There’s no time for gridlock

Published 9:15 am Thursday, February 18, 2016

What is this debate about who’s “progressive” and who’s “establishment,” and why dwell on it? Well, maybe in a broader context this illustrates the emerging populist politics that has outsiders in both parties demanding attention or leading in the polls. But when it comes to Sanders and Clinton these terms mean different things.

Sanders is not saying Clinton is establishment in being bought by wealthy special interests — Wall Street — and doing their bidding; he’s saying her notion of what is possible can tend to be compromised ahead of time depending on this big money support — a problem that has become the norm in both parties. In this context, “a progressive that gets things done” (as Clinton describes herself), is relative to working within the status quo. Sanders, on the other hand, aims at changing the status quo, so the notion of “progressive” is broadened — asserting that only a popular social movement, independent of big donor support can change the political balance of forces and democratically implement significant progress in the face of the power of the 1 percent (a political revolution).

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It’s not about working across the aisle to get things done anymore — though we always need to try. The last seven years seem to have exhausted the possibilities here, leading to this polarized populist insurgence — everyone frustrated with the deadlock. We are at a decisive moment for determining our nation’s identity, approach to issues and direction forward. Are we going to press further for equality and democracy, making changes necessary for adapting to a new world, or try desperately to recover a past out of touch with the new reality and the global challenges we face? It’s less about competing and winning in the global economy and more about cooperation and mutual survival in the face of social and environmental crisis, destabilization and war.

There is no reason to expect Republicans would be any more accommodating to a Clinton or Sanders presidency. We don’t have time for eight more years of Republican obstruction and gridlock destined to be followed by an even more polarized populist reaction responding to the contradictions inherent in a system built on such gross and obscene income inequality and privilege. In this context, Sanders is not the idealistic long-term solution that compromises short-term incremental gains, focused on finessing the existing system (status quo political establishment); to the contrary, it is also the short-term solution in building the popular resistance and pressure against right reactionary forces through expansion of participatory democracy and the voter base. His is the pragmatic approach as well as the optimistic progressive vision. Progressive is as much about how things are done as it is about what may be accomplished, in that the “how” changes the conditions of possibility for progress. A sensitive recognition and timely appropriation of the populist movement is, here, also the winning strategy — the most electable one.


Mike Kelly

Albert Lea