So, Bernie Sanders has launched his post-candidacy organization. “Our Revolution” is having a troubled birth, what with half the staff quitting over the weekend after Sanders parachuted his campaign manager Jeff Weaver into the top spot. Apparently some people don’t like Weaver and, more importantly, question his older-school approach to organizing (and the group’s dark-money approach to fundraising).
This storm will quickly pass. But if the history of progressive politics is anything to judge by, it’s an example of the kind ot stuff Bernie will have to deal with, and it won’t be easy.
Because nobody’s more capable of generating destructive internal strife than the American left. Sooner or later, the Purity Wars break out. Everyone’s got a pet cause or bug in the bonnet. Axes abound, and they all seem to require grinding.
I’ve seen this repeatedly in my long and mostly disappointing life as a Political Observer, starting in the disastrous 1968 campaign. Divisions on the Left, sparked by the Democratic Party’s ham-fisted installation of Hubert Humphrey as its nominee*, bestowed upon a grateful nation the presidency of Richard Nixon and the transformation of the Sixties from authentic social movement to lucrative branding opportunity.
*The original Triple H is one of the saddest figures in our politics. He was an authentic progressive, a liberal champion, but he was thoroughly neutered as LBJ’s Vice President and forced to carry Lyndon’s toxic water on the Vietnam War. Humphrey could have been a great President; he certainly would have been a hell of a lot better than the Trickster.
On a local level, I saw this phenomenon up close in the late 70s and early 80s, with the emergence of the Human Rights Party in Ann Arbor. The HRP swept in, grew quickly, and nearly became the number-two party in city politics — until it imploded in ungovernable fits of Purity Rage.
Sooner or later, this kind of fractiousness will break out in Our Revolution. Dydees will need changing, and sandbox squabbles broken up. And hey, maybe that’s why Bernie and Jane decided to put their favorite grownup in charge. From his own long history in progressive politics, Bernie must be aware of the high potential for infighting.
It would be easy to see the choice of Weaver as a negative, but I’ve stopped underestimating Bernie’s political savvy. (The wisdom of financial secretiveness, that’s another thing.) He has deftly navigated seemingly impossible passages in his presidential campaign. Whenever I thought he was veering off course, it turned out he had a plan.
I don’t doubt that he’s capable of riding herd on his new organization. I do hope he stays alive and healthy long enough to be a guiding force for many years. And I do hope he identifies a specific purpose for Our Revolution, which enters a crowded field of similar progressive and liberal organizations.
And I honestly hope for the best. I didn’t support him for president, but he has worked wonders in staking out a plausible path to success for progressive candidates. That’s something his many forebears, the likes of Jesse Jackson and Dennis Kucinich, failed to accomplish. (You might laugh at the Kucinich reference, but I remember when everybody thought Bernie would be the Kucinich of 2016 — a cute little progressive gasping for airtime and donations. Just look at him now.)
And a word of advice from your elder to you whippersnappers joining Our Revolution: Stick it out. Don’t quit at the first sign of trouble, or the first time a decision fails to meet your high ideals. Compromise a little. Listen to your fellows, especially those with different points of view.
Build a movement that will make the Left as coherent and impactful force as the Right was from Reagan through Bush. That is the shining goal of Bernie’s Revolution.