Jamelle Bouie argued in 2015 that Sanders was trying to run the Obama playbook but Obama's presidency proved that playbook could not succeed.
No, He Can’t
Bernie Sanders is an inspirational candidate, but his theory of change doesn’t have a chance.
By JAMELLE BOUIE, Slate.com
OCT 16, 2015
When asked for a theory of change—and how he’ll move the United States toward “democratic socialism” as president—Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has a simple answer. He’ll inspire a “political revolution.”
“Now, in my view, the only way we can take on the right-wing Republicans who are, by the way, I hope will not continue to control the Senate and the House when one of us [is] elected president,” he said at Tuesday’s presidential debate. “But the only way we can get things done is by having millions of people coming together.” Sanders will build so much enthusiasm and inspire so many voters that he’ll come to office with the votes he needs to pursue his plans.
But there’s a problem. We’ve seen this story before.
Barack Obama entered office on a Democratic wave. He won a strong majority of the popular vote—flipping Republican states like Indiana and North Carolina—and helped Democrats win 255 seats in the House of Representatives and 56 seats in the Senate. With a sure mandate and a largely unified party, Obama was primed for success. And he got it, sort of. Over two years, Congress passed an ambitious stimulus package, health care reform, financial reform, and a bevy of smaller measures, from the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to a bill to reduce the crack and cocaine sentencing disparity.
At the same time, this was a slog. Despite an economic crisis and a supportive public, Obama couldn’t win Republican support for major policies. Just three Republicans crossed the aisle to vote for the stimulus, and one of them switched parties in the face of a backlash from GOP voters in his state. Without Republican support—and facing filibusters at every turn—Obama had to corral every Democrat, which gave leverage to centrist and conservative Democrats like Sens. Joe Lieberman, Ben Nelson, and Evan Bayh. It’s how we got the “Cornhusker kickback” (which was later removed from the bill).
It didn’t matter that party voters were behind Obama and his priorities; if the White House didn’t accommodate every Democrat, its agenda would stumble and fall. And even after Democrats won 60 seats—Al Franken entered the Senate in the summer of 2009—the challenge remained. We can criticize Obama for everything he didn’t do as a legislative leader, but the truth is that his plans were steered, in large part, by the right flank of the Democratic Party.
Put differently, President Obama entered office under the best circumstances for any Democrat since Lyndon Johnson won a landslide in the 1964 presidential election. Yet his core priorities nearly crashed on the rocks of Republican opposition and political venality.
On Thursday, I argued that both Hillary Clinton and Sanders need to give plans for executive branch action, given gridlock in Congress. In response, on Twitter, some Sanders supporters said this was wrong: That Sanders—with a long career in lawmaking—could win Republican support; that Sanders would use the bully pulpit to rally voters; and that a Sanders win would necessarily bring the kind of wave that would give him votes for his policies. [...]