A role for Sanders backers

Republicans keep a short leash on their leaders. When members of Congress and even presidents stray from party policies, the party base cracks down.

In 2005, for instance, George W. Bush was expected to appoint Alberto Gonzalez to the U.S. Supreme Court. But Gonzalez as a judge had once allowed a teen to use a judicial bypass to get an abortion without parental consent. GOP activists went into action, and Bush backed down, appointing his legal counsel Harriet Miers instead. Since party activists had no proof of her orthodoxy either, they forced the withdrawal of her nomination, too. Bush nominated Samuel Alito, who passed muster with the GOP base.

It took time for GOP true believers to shape the party to their ends. “Thirty years ago, right wing activists regularly mounted challenges to the GOP establishment … and usually lost,” journalist William Greider wrote in 2005. “They were called ’ankle-biters’ in those days. Today they are running the party. The right continues to use this tactic to threaten and punish wayward incumbents. The Wall Street-financed Club for Growth ran a right-wing primary opponent against Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania in 2004, and it is doing the same thing to Sen. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island in 2006. The Democratic Party is never going to change substantively and again become a reform party with a serious agenda until some of its blood is spilled in the same fashion.”

The Democrats have a follow-the-leader tradition that needs to end. Author Jeffrey Toobin, writing about the Gonzalez/Miers battle, noted, “The Democratic base did not control its members the way the conservatives control the GOP.” It’s time they did, and it’s a role the internet-savvy Bernie Sanders movement could fill nicely. Imagine if, during the Carter and Clinton administrations, the party base had pulled the two presidents back in line when they joined the GOP to enable conservative economic policies. Think of what would have changed. There would still be airline competition—no deregulation. America West, Braniff, Continental, Eastern, Midway, Northwest, Pan Am, TWA and dozens of smaller lines would still be in business. Legislation repealing usury laws would have died. No nation tied to credit card debt, no bundled subprime mortgages, no mixing investment banks and depository banks, no mortgage-backed securities, no collateralized debt obligations—no 2008 meltdown, no Great Recession.

And most of these concerns are right in line with the economic justice goals of the Sanders movement.

The same thing can be done at the local level where Democrats ignore the working poor and even burden them with taxes. Nowhere is that needed more than Nevada, with its soak-the-poor tax system and incessant sales tax hikes.

Whether Hillary Clinton wins or not, corporate Democrats in Congress need to be stopped from enabling the lobbyist/PAC culture. Sanders people want to keep their movement going, forming organizations toward that end. The groups are important, but will not alone do the job. It is rallying around specific needs, issues, and goals that will rouse the public and keep the movement alive. Good working people who have been victims of past Democratic policies should know that help is on the way.