I’m not particularly thrilled about quoting Jim Webb, but sad to say, I think he was on to something during his one (and only) Democratic debate appearance back in October when he said to Bernie Sanders, “I don’t think the revolution’s going to come.”
Why do I believe Webb was on to something? Let’s start with Sanders’ prescription for the revolution he believes is necessary to change American politics.
“I think what we need, when I talk about a political revolution, is bringing millions and millions of people into the political process in a way that does not exist right now.”
Unfortunately for Sanders, and arguably for America, that hasn’t happened, at least not at the polls so far (yes, it’s possible that turnout could crank up in South Carolina and the Super Tuesday states, but I’m not holding my breath for that, are you?). Check out turnout in the first three Democratic caucuses and primaries: Iowa (171k in 2016, down sharply from 236k in 2008); New Hampshire (251k in 2016, down from 288k in 2008); Nevada (84k in 2016, down from 118k in 2008). So yeah, Democratic turnout has been down in all three primaries and caucuses held so far, compared to 2008. That’s certainly no sign of a “revolution” in progress. In fact, if there’s a “revolution” happening anywhere, it’s frighteningly on the Republican side, with Donald Trump (as Catherine Rampall points out in today’s Washington Post, turnout is way up on the GOP side compared to 2012).
By the way, yesterday’s Washington Post story about how young voters are supposedly “failing Bernie Sanders, just as they’ve failed so many times before,” may have been needlessly harsh in tone, but the fact is that young voters are NOT turning out in “revolution”-level droves for Sanders this year. And that’s a huge problem both for Sanders’ chances of winning the Democratic presidential nomination, and more broadly for Sanders’ underlying idea – one I strongly agree with – that we need much higher levels of constructive citizen involvement in our democracy (e.g., “an informed, engaged electorate” would be nice) if we’re ever going to get the kind of systemic change we so badly need.
Bottom line: Sanders is correct in many ways about what we need in this country. He’s also in many ways shifted the political conversation, bringing issues of income inequality, corporate power, the health of our democracy, etc, etc.. to the fore. But so far at least, Sanders has been incorrect that simply by forcefully calling for super-progressive policies and for a “political revolution” in this country, such a “revolution” will actually occur. For those of us who have been struggling for many years (and mostly failing) to get Democrats to show up in huge numbers for local races, state legislative races, Congressional races, etc, etc., let’s just say “we feel your pain, Senator Sanders.”