For Bernie Sanders, the campaign he’s built won’t end if he makes it into the Oval Office. There’s a lot he’ll still be asking of the movement he’s mobilized, though a President Sanders would be turning his supporters’ focus away from $27 donations and toward lobbying their members of Congress.
“We’re trying to do things really quite differently than other presidents have done,” Sanders reiterated to Starting Line in an interview this week.
The easiest path to implementing his vision for health care, the environment, worker rights and more would be with a Democratic-controlled Senate — and perhaps an elimination of the filibuster. That may not be what Sanders finds (and on the filibuster, not necessarily what he wants).
“I’m going to work as hard as I can to make sure that Democrats control the Senate and retain control of the House. But if it doesn’t happen, how do you make change?” Sanders said. “The way I will make change is the way real change has always taken place in America. Except this time, you’re going to have a president who is not simply the commander-in-chief, you’re going to have a president who is, in many ways, the organizer-in-chief.”
And therein lies what is perhaps Sanders’ most radical belief of all: that his movement can change the minds of Republican senators or, at the least, pressure them into voting his way.
Another president tried this not too long ago: Barack Obama.
After mobilizing a new generation of political activists, bringing in many younger people and people of color into the process, Obama attempted to keep his own movement going with his Organizing For America group. It was an attempt to continue on his campaign infrastructure and keep his best volunteers engaged in grassroots lobbying efforts across the country.
It had mixed success. Some criticized it for working outside of the party infrastructure too much, others thought it simply didn’t have the impact it promised to. While volunteers knocking on doors to push Obama’s policies when Democrats still controlled Congress may have helped sway some members’ votes Obama’s way, progress came to a halt once Republicans captured the House.
Sanders promises to be an even more engaged president. Rather than just keep an organizing infrastructure in place during his presidency, Sanders would outright lead it.
“We are going out to states, right here in Iowa, and Kentucky, and talk to the people in those states and say you have senators today who are not prepared to raise the minimum wage to a living wage. You have senators here who are prepared not to vote for a Medicare for All, which will guarantee health care to all people,” Sanders said. “You’re going to have a president who is helping to lead – can’t do it alone – that grassroots movement.”
How all that would look mechanically would include a president who takes much more frequent trips out to states of difficult senators. Given his ability to draw large, enthusiastic crowds on the campaign trail, there’s no doubt he’d do the same once in office (at which point he’d have likely won over a larger part of the Democratic Party).
President Donald Trump has used this tactic to significant success in keeping members of his own party in lockstep. The question is whether public pressure like this alone can break obstructionist Republican senators.
Of course, that’s a problem for any Democrat that wins. One might figure that success is more likely with a broad, nationwide movement than without.
New Labor Plan
One major policy focus for a Sanders presidency will be workers’ rights, something that was front and center in his campaign this week as the senator visited the Iowa Federation of Labor convention in Altoona. Sanders unveiled a new, extensive policy outline titled “The Workplace Democracy Plan.”
“It will be a workforce that will be finally earning the wages and benefits that people need to live with dignity,” Sanders said of the American workforce he hopes to create.
His plan, among other provisions, would:
- Allow majority sign-up to organize a union
- Eliminate “Right To Work” state policies
- End the practice of misclassifying of employees as “supervisors” to deny overtime
- Allow federal workers to strike
- Protect workers’ pensions
- End “at will” employment
- Create collective bargaining wage standards across work sectors
“The economy is doing really phenomenally well for the people on top. Half of our people are living paycheck to paycheck,” Sanders said. “We’re going to try to turn that around, and we’re going to create an economy that works for working families, not just the 1%.”
Winning The Iowa Caucus
To get that opportunity, Sanders must first win the nomination of a party he has only been loosely connected with during his political career. That will require both 1) convincing Democrats they need a very progressive nominee, and 2) Democrats should pick him over Elizabeth Warren as that progressive choice.
“I’ve been criticized by the Wall Street wing of the Democratic Party as an existential threat to the Democratic Party,” Sanders said, referring to Third Way’s critiques of his candidacy. “They’re right. I am. Because I intend to transform the Democratic Party into a party that represents the people in that [union convention] room.”
But what separates him from Warren? Sanders said he didn’t want to critique his fellow senator, and instead pointed to his background.
“What people might want to look at is my life’s work,” Sanders said. “This is not a new thing to me. I’ve been on picket lines my entire political life, not just voting the right way. We took on Amazon, we took on Disney, helped workers there get a $15/hour minimum wage. We have led throughout my political career introducing far-reaching legislation to help the working class.”
He also encouraged caucus-goers to read through his policy positions.
“I think if people look at my agenda, whether it’s this pro-labor agenda we have, whether it’s Medicare for All, whether it’s cancelling student debt, whether it’s creating millions of jobs by transforming our energy system to protect us against climate change, I think you’ll find it to be the most progressive agenda of any candidate out there,” Sanders said.
In 2016, Sanders came just a few delegates shy of outright winning the Iowa Caucus. With a much larger field this time around, the task is more difficult, but he’s got the same strategy of taking it one voter at a time. Sanders noted they held 113 public events in Iowa during the last caucus, and started this cycle with the largest volunteer network in the state.
“In a state like Iowa, fairly small state, the way you win it is not through television ads and radio – they’re important, we’ll do it – the way you’re going to win it is by door-to-door discussions, by personal contact and by me getting around all over the state,” Sanders said.
by Pat Rynard