President Obama has made the argument about American politics that every young Bernie Sanders supporter needs to embrace if they are going to see their goals become a reality.
THE TARGUM: I realize that our time together is about to be up, but just moving forward — considering that your domestic legacy is likely to be rooted in how the economy has recovered under your administration — despite 73 straight months of private sector growth and a sharp decline in the (unemployment) rate under your administration, many Americans feel less economically secure as a result of mass layoffs, stagnant wages and the loss of benefits, such as pension plans.
Many of those Americans are looking to candidates like Bernie Sanders, who has focused his campaign on income inequality and the shrinking middle class. He actually spoke here at Rutgers last night. Do you think the anger and despair caused by the upheavals of globalization have been adequately addressed by our elected officials? And if not, what more can be done?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well first of all, it is absolutely true that there are a lot of folks who still are struggling out there, and we can’t minimize that. There (are) trends that have been taking place over the last 20 (or) 30 years that have dampened wage growth, that have made it tougher for folks to save for retirement or for their kids’ college education — and there’s a whole range of things that can make a difference. Some of them we’ve done — we’ve worked on — like improving the education system and making sure that we are making college accessible.
But more needs to be done there. And some of the steps that we’ve taken are going to pay off over the course of the next 20 years. There are things like raising the federal minimum wage or rebuilding our infrastructure — that would put people back to work right away and that would accelerate growth. And so the key is to remind ourselves No. 1, that actually we’ve made significant progress over the last seven and a half years that we are better positioned than any country on earth to continue to grow and to prosper in the years to come. And (No. 2), that the solutions that are out there are not beyond reach.
If we are changing just a few laws that make it easier, for example, for workers to organize, that close corporate tax loopholes or tax loopholes used by wealthy individuals so that they’re not paying their fair share — if we take that money and make sure that we’re investing in the kinds of things that make an economy grow, if we ensure that we’ve got a healthcare system that is affordable and accessible for all people, then I’m confident that America’s best days are still ahead. I do think it’s important, even as people may be frustrated, to remind ourselves both of all the terrific advantages that America still has in terms of the best universities in the world and the best scientists and researchers, and some of the most innovative companies and the ease of doing business. But that’s not a cause for complacency — that just tells us that when we put our shoulder behind the wheel and we’re focused, that we can get things done.
We have to make sure we also recognize this is a big country, and there’s very rarely a single set of silver bullets out there that would immediately solve all of these problems. We’re part of an interconnected global economy now, and there’s no going back from that. It’s important for us to not oversimplify how we’re going to bring about the kind of change we need.
We’ve got to also recognize that, in a democracy like this, it’s not going to happen overnight. We have to make incremental changes where we can, and everyone once in a while you’ll get a breakthrough and make the kind of big changes that are necessary. That consensus building is important because that’s historically how change has happened in America.
A political revolution sounds sexy, and more importantly, it implies immediate results, but history has demonstrated that very little political change is immediate. The minimum wage was defeated several times before it was signed into law. A more recent example is the Affordable Care Act. Democrats had been fighting to expand access to healthcare for nearly 45 years before the ACA was signed into law. Civil rights legislation took decades to pass. The fact is that the progressive changes that we take for granted today took years and sometimes decades to become a reality.
In the current era of extreme partisanship, the political revolution of a President Sanders would likely die in the Republican-controlled House or a Democratic-controlled Senate that the lacked the votes needed to overcome GOP filibusters. Democrats have already seen this movie during the Obama years. The idea that electing either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders would be enough on its own to change this dynamic is fantasy.
Sanders supporters should fight for their political revolution, but Obama’s message is one that they should keep in mind. A series of small victories can result in major change. If the young Sanders supporters take President Obama’s message to heart, they will lead more a successful revolution by winning the war through a series small battle victories.
How one gets there is not as important as arriving at your destination.
Mr. Easley is the managing editor. He is also a White House Press Pool and a Congressional correspondent for PoliticusUSA. Jason has a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science. His graduate work focused on public policy, with a specialization in social reform movements.
Awards and Professional Memberships
Member of the Society of Professional Journalists and The American Political Science Association