A little over a year ago Senator Bernie Sanders began a quixotic quest, with no resources, to become the next President of the United States of America. Since then the ranks of his supporters have exploded, and with them, his coffers. I noted that his efforts will change political campaigning forever. But I have a question for Bernie and his supporters:
What are they all aiming so low?
Bernie Sanders & Internet Campaigning
Let me explain. Bernie’s campaign is an upgrade of Obama’s strategy built on modern Internet capabilities (which was an upgrade of yet earlier efforts, particularly by Howard Dean). I offer this criticism of the President: he didn’t keep that Internet coalition going. It morphed and merged into efforts like MoveOn.org, but the President stepped back from it, to struggle in the same prosaic way that Presidents have since 1789.
Which is really surprising for a law professor. I noted that many of our problems in government stem from a negligent electorate. The system doesn’t work, because we don’t watch, and we aren’t engaged. Obama had an opportunity to involve the voters directly in a two-way dialogue, and to help us to better understand how the system really works and then, how to improve it.
Keeping Eyes on Government
It would have been powerful. To quote Raymond’s Law, “Given enough eyes, all bugs are shallow.” It works for software, but it also works for government. With thousands of eyes looking at the budget, looking at legislation, we could find many areas of waste and chicanery that would draw bipartisan opposition.
It would have also helped the President deal with Congress.1)You can oppose Obama but still agree that there is a problem when a majority of Americans and the Congress want immigration reform, but a ‘majority of the majority’ – by definition, a minority – won’t allow it. Something I learned working with the Louisiana Legislature is that, precisely because we do not pay attention, it takes a ridiculously small number of voters to sway elected officials. At the state level, if a legislator gets even a half-dozen phone calls unanimously approving or disapproving of some Bill, those six people will usually determine his vote.
The Extraordinary Power of Voters
At the federal level it takes more letters and phone calls, but not that many more. For most issues, as little as a couple hundred people can sway a Congressman, and it takes only a few more for a Senator. The President could have used his campaign coalition to keep up that up constantly.2)Which would have been appropriate, and even necessary; part of the reason that moderates are disappearing from government is that extremist media agitates the voters to block compromise.
Imagine what a leader could accomplish by engaging the voters directly, by involving them in the deliberations, and then urging them to contact Congressmen and Legislators to vote on various issues. That would be very powerful.
And what might happen if the leader weren’t even President?
The Downside to the Presidency
We don’t often look consider the downside to the Oval Office. The President is responsible for a massive administration and an enormous country: he must ride herd on his own officials; he has to oversee the 4+ million people who make up the federal Civil Service and the military; he is expected to resolve many private sector problems involving financial, medical, scientific, and ethical issues; and then he must serve as the de facto leader of the free world as well the primary policeman for our adversaries. Worse, he must do all of this while struggling against partisan factions in every aspect of the nation and the world, and he his constantly held in check by Congress, the Courts, and even the media.
So what more might Bernie do with his Internet coalition, if he weren’t President? What might he accomplish if he were to retool his coalition into a para-government force? Bernie wouldn’t simply be President; he would be more effective than the President.
He would become Superpresident.
Advantages of a Bernie Sanders Superpresident
Consider some of the advantages:
1) Omnipartisan Support.
If Bernie were elected President as the Democratic nominee, every one of his efforts would be opposed by a substantial number of Republicans.
But if he remained outside of government – as a complete independent – he could swell his supporters to include Hillary Democrats, many independents, and a lot of moderate conservatives. That coalition would influence all of government – including the President.
As noted, the President is responsible for too many things. He/She must dissipate energy on all sorts issues, many of them trivial.
As Superpresident, Bernie Sanders and his supporters could select a handful of critical issues, and keep them on the front burner until they are resolved. They would not be dragged into the constant kerfuffles that distract the President from pushing key initiatives.
3) Unlimited Terms.
If Bernie were elected President, he would have at most 8 years – and probably only 4 years – to attempt substantial, lasting change, all while dealing with the preceding challenges. And as soon as the opposing party gets into office, there would be a strong effort to repeal anything he had managed to accomplish.
If on the other hand Bernie chose to lead a para-governmental citizen force, he could work for change for as long as his health allows, and he could groom successors to continue the work indefinitely.
4) Public Engagement.
The nation is overly influenced by various special and partisan interests, who often prevail on critical issues. We as citizens don’t currently have much recourse to stop this.
If Bernie Sanders engages us on these issues, then we would become more effective as we also became more knowledgeable. And as we became a bit wiser, too: by looking at issues more closely, we will begin to understand that simple solutions are often simply simplistic solutions. Useful, enduring change takes commitment, resolve, and dedication by many passionate, intelligent people over many years.
5) Lifelong Learning.
And as we are so engaged, then a nice synergy emerges. As we become better informed about our government, we must become lifelong learners on other topics such as economics, science, human behavior, history, philosophy and the arts. Which will expand and extend the impact of Bernie’s educational planks (vide infra).
Consider the specifics that Bernie could accomplish as Superpresident, things which would be very difficult to do as President:
1) Campaign Finance Reform.
Corporation money would be eliminated from public policy, and equal protection could be protected by limiting individual contributions.
2) Free Higher Education.
The problems here are deeper than a sitting president could ever seriously address; implementing a sane solution would take a decade or more.
3) Reform of K-12 Education.
We need to identify great teachers, get the bureaucrats off their backs, and turn them lose.
4) Reform of Universal Healthcare.
Obamacare needs to be rewritten to serve citizens, not corporations.
And I want to add a couple of my own suggestions. We also need 100% recyclability: it would take years to phase in gradually, but everything a corporation makes, it should pay to recycle.
Access to Research
And we need free access to published research. Currently, we invest massive government and private funds underwriting university research, then those same researchers and the libraries that serve them pay a couple of publishing cartels a fortune to get the research back in published form. First, this will accelerate the pace and efficiency of research world-wide, allowing us to more quickly alleviate injustice and suffering. But second, this is critical to so many of the preceding considerations: if we are to watch what government is doing, we need to be a well-informed public, with access to the latest research, to better understand what government should do.
Bernie Sanders can do a lot more as Superpresident than he could ever do as a mere President.
Photo of Bernie Sanders compliments of Gage Skidmore on Flickr.
Footnotes [ + ]
|1.||↑||You can oppose Obama but still agree that there is a problem when a majority of Americans and the Congress want immigration reform, but a ‘majority of the majority’ – by definition, a minority – won’t allow it.|
|2.||↑||Which would have been appropriate, and even necessary; part of the reason that moderates are disappearing from government is that extremist media agitates the voters to block compromise.|