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Reich writes: "'The real world we're living in' right now won't allow fundamental change of the sort we need. It takes a movement. Such a movement is at the heart of the Sanders campaign."

Robert Reich. (photo: Richard Morgenstein)
Robert Reich. (photo: Richard Morgenstein)

It Takes a Movement

By Robert Reich, Robert Reich's Blog

02 February 16


n 2008, when then-Senator Barack Obama promised progressive change if elected President, his primary opponent, then-Senator Hillary Clinton, derided him.

“The skies will open, the light will come down, celestial choirs will be singing and everyone will know we should do the right thing and the world will be perfect,” she said, sarcastically, adding “I have no illusions about how hard this is going to be.

Fast forward eight years. "I wish that we could elect a Democratic president who could wave a magic wand and say, ‘We shall do this, and we shall do that,’” Clinton said recently in response to Bernie Sanders’s proposals.  "That ain’t the real world we’re living in.“

So what’s possible in “the real world we’re living in?”

There are two dominant views about how presidents accomplish fundamental change.

The first might be called the “deal-maker-in-chief,” by which presidents threaten or buy off powerful opponents.

Barack Obama got the Affordable Care Act this way – gaining the support of the pharmaceutical industry, for example, by promising them far more business and guaranteeing that Medicare wouldn’t use its vast bargaining power to negotiate lower drug prices.

But such deals can be expensive to the public (the tab for the pharmaceutical exemption is about $16 billion a year), and they don’t really change the allocation of power. They just allow powerful interests to cash in.

The costs of such deals in “the world we’re living in” are likely to be even higher now. Powerful interests are more powerful than ever thanks to the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision opening the floodgates to big money.

Which takes us to the second view about how presidents accomplish big things that powerful interests don’t want: by mobilizing the public to demand them and penalize politicians who don’t heed those demands.

Teddy Roosevelt got a progressive income tax, limits on corporate campaign contributions, regulation of foods and drugs, and the dissolution of giant trusts – not because he was a great dealmaker but because he added fuel to growing public demands for such changes.

It was at a point in American history similar to our own. Giant corporations and a handful of wealthy people dominated American democracy. The lackeys of the “robber barons” literally placed sacks of cash on the desks of pliant legislators.

The American public was angry and frustrated. Roosevelt channeled that anger and frustration into support of initiatives that altered the structure of power in America. He used the office of the president – his “bully pulpit,” as he called it – to galvanize political action.  

Could Hillary Clinton do the same? Could Bernie Sanders?

Clinton fashions her prospective presidency as a continuation of Obama’s. Surely Obama understood the importance of mobilizing the public against the moneyed interests. After all, he had once been a community organizer.

After the 2008 election he even turned his election campaign into a new organization called “Organizing for America” (now dubbed “Organizing for Action”), explicitly designed to harness his grassroots support.

So why did Obama end up relying more on deal-making than public mobilization? Because he thought he needed big money for his 2012 campaign.

Despite OFA’s public claims (in mailings, it promised to secure the “future of the progressive movement”), it morphed into a top-down campaign organization to raise big money.

In the interim, Citizens United had freed “independent” groups like OFA to raise almost unlimited funds, but retained limits on the size of contributions to formal political parties.

That’s the heart of problem. No candidate or president can mobilize the public against the dominance of the moneyed interests while being dependent on their money. And no candidate or president can hope to break the connection between wealth and power without mobilizing the public.

(A personal note: A few years ago OFA wanted to screen around America the movie Jake Kornbluth and I did about widening inequality, called “Inequality for All” – but only on condition we delete two minutes identifying big Democratic donors.  We refused. They wouldn’t show it.)

In short, “the real world we’re living in” right now won’t allow fundamental change of the sort we need. It takes a movement.

Such a movement is at the heart of the Sanders campaign. The passion that’s fueling it isn’t really about Bernie Sanders. Had Elizabeth Warren run, the same passion would be there for her.

It’s about standing up to the moneyed interests and restoring our democracy. your social media marketing partner


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We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

It is also clear that we still have elements of the same activity in our article discussion forums at this time.

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Marc Ash
Founder, Reader Supported News

+88 # librarian1984 2016-02-02 14:06
There is another issue: electability.
Things don't get accomplished by skeptics; they get done by those who won't take no for an answer.

Contrary to the statements of the Clinton campaign, Sanders consistently outperforms Clinton in GOP matchups.

More importantly, Clinton will mobilize the GOP base, while Sanders will energize the Democratic base.
-37 # Rain17 2016-02-02 22:41
"Sanders consistently outperforms Clinton in GOP matchups."

The problem with this point is that less people know about Sanders. He has lesser name recognition in comparison to Hillary. Once people know about him I suspect support will drop for him.

The problem is that Sanders has said that he is a "Democratic Socialist". And, despite what people say here, it's a deal-breaker with many voters. Sanders's radical past is almost certainly going to be brought up, including:

--The fact that he applied for conscientious objector status in the Vietnam war.
--The fact that he called for the nationalization of businesses in the 1970s.
--The fact that, as mayor of Burlington, he traveled to the USSR in the 1980s.
--The fact that he visited the Sandanistas in Nicaragua in the 1980s.
--Stating out loud that he plans to raise taxes.

All of these facets of his past will almost certainly end up in negative ads should be the Democratic nominee. I am afraid that Sanders won't survive the onslaught that is almost certainly coming his way. Whatever Hillary has said about him is only the tip of the iceberg.

This is why I am voting for Hillary in the primary. I don't think Sanders can survive this onslaught of negative ads.
+20 # jimallyn 2016-02-02 23:58
Quoting Rain17:
--The fact that he applied for conscientious objector status in the Vietnam war.
--The fact that he called for the nationalization of businesses in the 1970s.
--The fact that, as mayor of Burlington, he traveled to the USSR in the 1980s.
--The fact that he visited the Sandanistas in Nicaragua in the 1980s.
--Stating out loud that he plans to raise taxes.

To many, those are good reasons to vote for Sanders.
-18 # Rain17 2016-02-03 00:08
But they aren't to a majority of voters.
+12 # mentor 2016-02-03 06:20
A really big problem is the stupidity and intellectual laziness of too many voters.
-8 # MidwestTom 2016-02-03 10:30
The Democrats are the ones always pushing for extension of the vote to uniformed voters.
+7 # Buddha 2016-02-03 14:05
Huh? Republican voters have experienced no disenfranchisem ent, they are totally free to continue voting against their economic self-interests.
+16 # newell 2016-02-03 08:52
All my heroes ain't Reagan cowboys. My heroes were consciencious objectors that chose a cage over killing innocent civilians. And I believe most Americans would agree if given the choice of a Clinton or a Bush who didn't show the leadership to publicly announce, like Ali and Bernie and MLK, that the war was wrong. Fact--people said many things in the 70's. Fact-- Burlington has a sister city in Russia. Many cities do--we were trying to avoid all the yahoos that wanted a nuclear war. Fact--Reagan illegally sold them weapons. Fact--Eisenhowe r had a 92% tax rate on the rich.
+3 # Raging Moderate 2016-02-03 13:39
You are exactly right. I have been saying the same thing for months
-32 # Shades of gray matter 2016-02-02 14:24
Inconvenient Truth: Among young Iowa voters, The Bern "Movement," "Revolution," drew FAR FEWER caucusers than Obama, costing US a desperately needed win. WHY? Is this a social media "virtual Movement"? Twit "Virtual Revolution"? Clicking "Like" won't threaten U.S. BASED criminal GlobalCorp technocracy. Droning on and on won't ground drones.
+3 # Buddha 2016-02-03 14:11
Actually, I hate to admit it, but Shades is actually correct here. Something like only 18% of Millenials caucused in Iowa, and they are the ones Bernie most needed to turn out in historic numbers. If even just 25% of them showed up, Bernie would have won handily. And African-America ns and Hispanics, those most screwed by our racist status quo Drug War and neo-liberal economic structure, still overwhelmingly support Mrs Status Quo HRC herself. I love Bernie and wholeheartedly support him...but it seems as if the masses are after 3 decades of Reaganism too misinformed, too beaten-down, and too lazy to rise up and take our democracy back from the Oligarchs who have stolen it.
+76 # Bernforward 2016-02-02 14:43
Robert, You have been so right for so long and this is not an exception.Berni e stands for the government we want, while Hillary stands for the government we have, and what we have is an oligarchy ! ! !
+76 # mh1224jst 2016-02-02 14:45
For sure, we're between the rock and the hard place. Sanders isn't running for personal gain, we all know that. And Clinton is too compromised, which is a basic reason she's putting down political revolution. The Clintons made their choice decades ago, and can't realistically change now. It's up to the electorate. Bernie is givng us a chance. Let's take it.
+54 # mebemo 2016-02-02 14:53
Dear Shades,
Either tell us what you're doing to improve things or stop bitching about it.

I'm not easily annoyed, but your constant carping about folks who don't live up to your standards is getting tiresome. You may be on the side of the angels but you write like a very judgmental one.

Please eschew bitterness. We're all together in our species' long struggle to wake up, and what we need is positive reinforcement.

+42 # 2016-02-02 15:43
This is precisely what I've been telling friends and others who will listen. That even if Bernie Sanders win the presidency, all that he ran on will be for naught...UNLESS there is indeed a major coalescing of power in the hands of citizens. Call it a political revolution or not -- but that is what is it will require. Democracy is participatory, and unless people get involved, nothing that Sanders proclaims needs doing will come to fruition. Voting is necessary, but not sufficient. Early on friends told me Sanders doesn't have a chance. And then they said even if he gets elected, nothing will change. Nothing will change unless you be the change you want to see.
+26 # davehaze 2016-02-02 16:48
Sanders won't win the presidency without a coalescing of power of citizens. If he wins he would have an aroused public behind him.

Obama could have done it but I think he had no intention from the getgo. I think he has accomplished what he intended: a facade of feelgood democracy while keeping the empire of oligarchy ticking.

Clinton is prepaid and prepared to do the same ropeadope.

Livable wage? No you cant.
Peace? No you cant.
Clean air. No you cant. get the picture.
+20 # mentor 2016-02-03 06:26
Omitted in this discussion is the matter of race. Teddy Roosevelt was white. Mr. Obama was/is a once-in-a-lifet ime politician who achieved the nearest best, given the vast corruption and the racism in our Congress. Mr. Sanders is also a once-in-a-lifet ime politician. The word that comes to my mind, in his case, is "authentic." What you see is what you get. It is touching and awesome to see how this 74 year old inspires love and passion among the young. This 76 year old is right in there with him! (If we wind up with a choice between Hillary and Cruz, the American people are not the winners. The real winner is Goldman Sachs. Cruz's wife is an employee, and Hillary is their most distinguished bribe taker.)
+6 # Crebbafrabitz 2016-02-03 09:29
Great post, mentor. Thank you. I hope you are heard.
-15 # Shades of gray matter 2016-02-02 16:01
The Movement Bernie talks about would require ENORMOUS struggle, sacrifice, risk. See Civil Rights Movement, which was absolutely no threat to Concentrated capitalism. A "Revolution" is a whole 'nother matter: Mega-Deaths. If Bernie had won Iowa, with a huge delegate difference, would left loonies be calling it a virtual tie for Hillary? I would like to have seen Bernie give a shout out to Flint last night. I would like to see Bernie spend considerable time in Flint before SC primary. These are not "my" standards. I do have the luxury of having seen, and participated in, the labor movement, the Civil Rights Movement, the Anti-War Movement. I would like to see Berners wake up and smell the challenges, the risks, the dangers. Then begin to put up or shut up. Disruptive MASS protests, HUGE demonstrations, MASSIVE marches, sit-ins, sit downs. Failing to properly support RSN and FAILING to even Show Up at Iowa caucuses in Obama #s is not a good sign. There is no time to waste on idle feel good chatter. As the Chinese, who did make a Revolution when they embraced entrepreneurial capitalism to compensate for the abject failures of socialism, say, "It is time to jump into the sea." Sideline cheering by the internet pom poms will accomplish NOTHING. Start by adopting the standards of the Civil Rights Movement, then get even tougher, because the OPPOSITION will.
+16 # auroraconsultants 2016-02-02 19:10
There is a level of reality in your observations... .people DO need to get active or it WILL all fizzle!
+2 # newell 2016-02-03 08:59
+5 # Crebbafrabitz 2016-02-03 09:32
Your gray matter has turned black. Maybe you shouldn't post anymore until you get some FACTS and become a more positive human being about America's future. We who want to take our country back do not need to hear the whining, complaining, bitching, and otherwise NEGATIVITY from the likes of you. WE WANT A COURAGEOUS MOVEMENT! And THAT, Buckaroo, is where Sanders is leading us. JOIN US!!!
+2 # Buddha 2016-02-03 14:21
Gray says he participated in the Civil Rights movement, the Anti-War movement (this dates him, lol). Taking him at his word, that is someone who at least has put his own person on the line for something he believes in. I did the same at Occupy, how many here can say the same? You may see Gray's comments in this thread as negative, but he does have a point whether one wants to face it or not. Occupy was one such recent chance for the masses to stand up and take our democracy back, but most sat on their ass...and this allowed Obama the political cover to have his DOJ get on the bat-phone to mayors the country around to break us up. Bernie similarly is calling for a political revolution in the same vein...and in Iowa, only 18% of the Millenial vote who most supports Bernie demographically actually showed up to caucus. I am not saying to give up, and we should still fight for our beliefs and for Bernie...but we need to be real here and accept that the masses simply might not WANT to wake up. Like "The Matrix", most simply want to stay plugged in and asleep.
+30 # jimallyn 2016-02-02 16:25
The question isn't COULD Clinton use the bully pulpit to galvanize political action, the question is WOULD she? The answer is no, she wouldn't. Bernie Sanders would.
+12 # Stilldreamin1 2016-02-02 17:27
Income inequality has taken off under Obama. We can't survive a continuation of Obama, as Clinton basically promises. Many liberals are saying they prefer Sanders but would happily vote for Clinton if she's nominated. And then we would have another fake progressive in the white house / Granted he has been good on gay rights and Cuba but not much else. Whenever money was at stake, Obama has protected vested interests. We're fighting our own and proxy wars all over the world. Imagine if Obama had proclaimed an end to the War on Terror after killing OBL (he should have been captured and put on trial). That wasn't the agenda and it certainly wouldn't be Clinton's. There's too much money at stake, and Israel might have to back off on its imperial project- along with us. And unless Sanders steps away from imperialism, his domestic agenda is just a fairytale. Empires demand and get sacrifice from the common people back home. Empires can't afford socialized medicine and a living wage. Too much treasure has to go into conquest and into the rulers' coffers.
+12 # lfeuille 2016-02-02 19:01
I think she's actually be worse than Obama. She is much more enthusiastic about starting wars.
0 # Rain17 2016-02-02 22:49
I'm sorry, but I can't afford the luxury of either staying home or voting third-party on election day.
+6 # Buddha 2016-02-03 14:25
And that is exactly what the DNC counts on, as they keep putting forward Center-Right GOP-lite Corporatists. That when the general election comes around, us Progressives will fall in line and rationalize as usual "better than a GOP". Maybe if the DNC truly feared they would lose about 25% of their voting block, us Progressives, by continually taking us for granted and assuming we won't take our votes elsewhere, they might actually put forward and support Progressive candidates? Maybe we'd have more candidates like Bernie to vote for?? Maybe if African-America ns and Hispanics weren't so willing to be taken for granted in the same way us Progressives seem to be, the Democratic party would actually take a stronger stand against things like the racist Drug War and Mass Incarceration, and sending our manufacturing jobs overseas with things like the TPP, etc?
-3 # Rain17 2016-02-04 01:48
"Maybe if African-America ns and Hispanics weren't so willing to be taken for granted in the same way us Progressives seem to be, the Democratic party would actually take a stronger stand against things like the racist Drug War and Mass Incarceration, and sending our manufacturing jobs overseas with things like the TPP, etc?"

And there you have it. You wonder why minorities haven't embraced the far left or Sanders by and large? It's condescending attitude like that.

Maybe minorities are more pragmatic in their thinking because they have more to lose if a Republican wins. Maybe they can't afford the luxury of throwing an election away. And you wonder why most of them are still with Hillary. Talking down to them isn't going to get them to change their mind.

Sanders and his supporters being dismissive of Planned Parenthood, the Feminist Majority, John Lewis, other civil rights activists, labor unions, and other organizations and activists who have endorsed Hillary is not helping their cause.
+3 # Buddha 2016-02-04 09:42
Condescending? No. What is condescending is time and time again the DNC assuming that their voting base won't notice that they actually haven't done anything for them in actual policies over the last few decades, and just keep demanding our vote with your "well, Dems are better than the GOP". Is that all we offer minorities a choice between in each general election, a condescending indifference to their plight as a contrast to the active hostility of the GOP? And then you wonder why less and less of them even bother to show up to vote, eye-roll. How about actively DOING SOMETHING positive for those communities. Ending the Drug War would be a huge start. Stop sending non-college manufacturing jobs overseas with bills like the TPP, which has eviscerated urban employment, would be another.

Sorry but poll after poll shows that most minorities still don't even know who Sanders IS. They don't know that while Hillary was working for Barry Goldwater, Sanders was marching with MLK. Hillary is many things, but a person of the people, and one who is actually going to stand up to the very powerful special interests who are funding her campaign, is not one of them.
+1 # Jim Rocket 2016-02-05 14:05
It's true that minorities haven't even heard of Sanders. The next little while will be very interesting because the MSM can't ignore Bernie anymore. Hopefully people like Dr. Cornel West and Killer Mike will help in opening minds.
+14 # hoodwinkednomore 2016-02-02 18:52
Shades of Grey Matter, your grey don't matter, honey, in our fight for justice and peace. You oughtta just take your nasty, negative attitude straight to the therapists....T his country needs a revolution! This country needs to emasculate Wall street and it's benefactors. ALL of them. And that is precisely what's going to happen, with or without you!
+6 # Cassandra2012 2016-02-03 00:35
The country needs to vote in decent members of congress and not just the same old good old boys again and again.
Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.
No more coal (like no more buggy whips.) Why, for one example, is Yertel the turtle McConnnell still there? ...he doesn't (and cannot) produce more jobs in Kentucky....
+4 # newell 2016-02-03 09:06
Agree we need to get some good ones in and that's part of the revolution--to get involved--run for pta or city council. But since we don't get to vote on anything except wealthy representatives in this country---we first need to make all election publicly funded. Then we can get honest people into office and maybe even get to vote on wars, health, education, taxes or the environment. Then we would live in a democracy.
-6 # Shades of gray matter 2016-02-02 22:23
I watched MSNBC tonight. They laid it out plain & simple. Bernie lost because his turnout did not match Obama's in 2008.
It is not untoward to suggest that this Progressive Effort will take a lot more, a thousand times more, than most of its neophytes have acknowledged, delivered so far. I'd love to hear that the Berners have taken a state that doesn't touch Vermont, and has more than one half million primary voters. I love Bernie, but he needs to educate his supporters, and quit promising them free tuition that they will NEVER receive. Party on!
+11 # Radscal 2016-02-02 22:39
Apparently, Queen Hillary "won" by the tiniest of a margin because she "won" 6 coin tosses.

His plan for "free tuition" is explained on his website. Quite simple. Quite doable.
+6 # Buddha 2016-02-03 14:30
Yes, Bernie has completely explained things on his website, and in his speeches and debates. Meanwhile, the Right and HRC and the corporate mass-media 24/7 mischaracterize Bernie's plans and present it as impossible Marxism. Ask yourself, which narrative is the typical "low-informatio n" American going to be most exposed to?
-9 # Rain17 2016-02-02 22:47
And that is my biggest problem with Sanders and his supporters. They claim Sanders will bring single-payer and free college, but get angry when anyone asks how it is going to happen or how it's going to get through a Congress that is likely to still be GOP-controlled after the elections. And some of them really think that, after 20 January 2017, as soon as Sanders takes office, all these things are going to happen.
+5 # Radscal 2016-02-03 00:47
Above, I posted the link to Sanders' plan for tuition free public school through 4-year college.

Here is his plan to pay for Universal Single Payer Healthcare:

Of course, if a President Sanders (who would bring in a more progressive Congress on his coat tails) would be unable to get even such widely popular programs passed, then a President Clinton, who is perhaps the most divisive politician, would get even less done.
+9 # newell 2016-02-03 09:11
Tax. This country pays the lowest taxes of any wealthy country. Bernie is not even going to tax as much as Eisenhower did, which was 92%. There is nothing wrong with Bernie's ideas--they are all doable. The problem is the 1%'s media not discussing them.
+4 # Buddha 2016-02-03 14:32
And my problem with HRC and her supporters is they basically say that all we should propose and support are things that "can get done" other words, things that Republicans already support. THAT kind of thinking is how we got the TPP, fracking exempted from clean water legislation, HeritageFoundat ionCare instead of Medicare-for-Al l, and proposals to cut Social Security.
+8 # newell 2016-02-03 09:08
California had free college. Europe has free college. You need to have vision.
+5 # SteveMorse 2016-02-02 22:28
Reich refers to Teddy Roosevelt's progressive reforms. TR's first campaign for president in 1904 can be seen as the first of the 28-year cycles of vibrant campaigns of progressive values that brought big positive changes to the US. 28 years later in 1932, FDR was elected. As the decade moved along, FDR responded to a huge people's movement and signed into law the New Deal reforms. In 1960, the energy that brought JFK into the presidency, helped shift us away from McCarthyism, fear and conformity, toward the social movements of the 60's and early 70's. In 1988, Jesse Jackson ran a very progressive campaign with strong multiracial support and won 13 primary contests. Now 28 years later, Bernie surely is the standard-bearer for the same progressive hope, energy and movement-buildi ng that the previous four candidates in this 28-year cycle made use of and helped build.
The magic of 28: between 1901 and 2099, years that are 28 years apart will always have the same calendar. Also, 28 is one of a very few "perfect numbers" in mathematics.
+6 # RNLDaWy 2016-02-03 00:03
There has not been three terms in a row with a Democrat as president since Roosevelt. (More than 8 consecutive years) ... however there has been 3 cycles of Repukes ... lot's are at stake and one of them is the Supreme Court and health care reform going down the correct road .. any Repuke wins .. and the cycle says they are due .. and lots will be lost ..
+5 # andyseles 2016-02-03 02:59
Mr.Reich is right. It takes a movement. Those who want a quick fix like some sort of happy meal are sure to be disappointed. We must fight the good fight on the land, the sea and in the air. Buck up brothers and sisters; we are in for the long haul. Rationalizing incrementalists need not apply. No more of your self-limiting, cynical pragmatism. Join us as we back our towns and cities and states. Reclaim your personhood, reclaim your freedom from the corpos and their obscene, insane, robotic worship of money. Resist commoditization of everything under the sun. Love your neighbor and fear no evil. "The arc of justice is long." And remember...the revolution will not be televised.
-6 # Raging Moderate 2016-02-03 10:00
First of all the income tax amendment happened in 1913, four years after TR left office. The intellectual laziness of Reich and others commenting on this post is astounding. The inability of the government to negotiate drug prices was the result of a law passed in 2005 under Bush. The Affordable Care Act was passed without the public option, a grave mistake that Obama made to please Republicans. Not only would Sanders be crucified by Republicans in the general election, but if by some miracle he were elected his presidency would be more of a disaster than even Carter's. He has no natural party behind him, Americans will never stay focused on the "political revolution" long enough for it to happen. Even if this left-wing consensus were a majority which it is not, Americans are much too caught up in their grotesque consumerism which which continues to prevent them from focusing on politics longer than five minutes. There is no movement, only occasional uninformed blather by political naïvetés. I would rather protect what we have gained under Obama and continue to make incremental progress under Clinton. Sadly, that is all the American people are capable of, a tough female to nudge them for the greatest good for the greatest number under the pathetic circumstances of American public.
-6 # Raging Moderate 2016-02-03 10:02
Rain17 is completely correct!

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