Reporter's Notebook

Hillary vs. Bernie
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A reader debate over the leading Democratic candidates of the 2016 presidential primary.

Show None Newer Notes

The End of a Political Revolution, Cont'd

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A reader, Robert Eller, writes:

Dear Ms. Foran: “The End of a Political Revolution” was an unfortunate and uncharacteristically poor title for an Atlantic article, particularly one which otherwise was quite correct. Even Senator Sanders knew, and said as much repeatedly, that his election would not be “the revolution” he has been urging, and which he’ll likely continue to argue and work for. Thus his losing the nomination augers nothing about “the revolution.” Whether the revolution has ended is yet to be seen—and will be determined not by Sanders, but by the preponderance of Millennials who responded to him.

By contrast, President Obama’s first election heralded the end, not the beginning, of the revolution many anticipated with his victory. This was because Obama unwisely demobilized his troops—his active supporters—as soon as he was elected, as if he had won a victory rather than just a battle.

Sanders recognized and articulated Obama’s unforced error. And Sanders troops do not have to disband, just because Sanders lost. I suspect they can even continue be funded by the same Sanders supporters who donated to his campaign.

“The revolution” was always about what happened in the Congress and in state and local governments. So we have yet to see if it’s alive or dead.

Bernie Sanders certainly made clear that the political revolution was never solely about himor any single candidate. And yet, when Sanders declared that Clinton had won the Democratic nominating process, a certain vision of how the revolution might have played out effectively died.

By running for president on a platform of political revolution, Sanders was, whether explicit or not, suggesting that he could help to lead that revolution, or at the very least work to make it a reality by serving as president. Now, the revolution that might have been if Sanders had won the White House won’t come to pass.

As our reader notes, that doesn’t mean there won’t still be revolution. At its heart, the political revolution that Sanders promoted aspires to wrest power away from wealthy elites and restore it to ordinary Americans. Whether that can be achieved may very well hinge on what supporters of the campaign do next, and if they succeed in organizing to elect populist progressive candidates across the country.

Efforts to ensure that the revolution won’t fade away have already started to unfold. Bernie has endorsed a crop of candidates running for Congress and state legislature seats. He has promised to shortly announce “the creation of successor organizations to carry on the struggle.” Sanders supporters are also actively working to carry on the revolution. Brand New Congress is one example.

Still, all this points to a central tension of the Sanders campaign. Sure, Bernie said it wasn’t about him. But for so many of his loyal followers, he has been the source of inspiration for political engagement. Sanders is poised to continue agitating for a revolution. But it remains to be seen how much the so-called revolution’s energy and enthusiasm can be sustained once the campaign has reached an end.


I figured our Clinton-Sanders discussion thread in Notes would have ended with Clare’s note about the “end of the [Sanders] political revolution,” but never underestimate the Clintons’s ability to attract controversy. The latest scandal within the Dem establishment is again over emails, this time with WikiLeaks revealing how DNC officials regularly discussed how to undermine the Sanders campaign. Many Atlantic readers are sounding off over the bombshell news. This one doesn’t have much sympathy for Sanders:

Everything about the emails was both stupid and wrong, but can we still give it some context? Mr. Sanders is a brand new Dem and not a particularly loyal or supportive one. His campaign and supporters have initiated about a kazillion lawsuits against the party he just joined, slamming the rules that were in place long before he used the party to run. (For goodness sake, Tad Devine [a top Sanders advisor, was instrumental in creating] the Super Delegate policy.)

Bernie does not ordinarily support many Dem candidates and has been saying for decades that they are very close to being one in the same with the GOP. He excused unseemly behavior at a state convention, and in the past he tried to get a candidate to run against Obama—the head of the Party. Even the most ardent Bernie supporter recognizes that he usually disdains being a team player in every way that traditionally sustains a political party.

The DNC needs some seriously reworking, and Debbie Wasserman Schultz [outgoing DNC chair and the national co-chair for Clinton in 2008] should indeed step aside and apologize, but acting shocked over these emails seems rather naive.

But this reader isn’t buying that argument:

Please. The emails show that the members of the DNC violated their own rules of governance.

A reader finds the nomination of the first female U.S. presidential candidate bittersweet:

What Hillary Clinton has done is no different than what women in Pakistan [Benazir Bhutto], India [Indira Gandhi], Bangladesh [Khaleda Zia], and Argentina [Cristina Fernández de Kirchner] have done: follow their fathers or husbands into politics, and use their family name to become head of state. All of those countries got there first. How are they doing, overall, on women’s rights?

There is little correlation between the election of women in those countries and the lives of average women there. So it will be here. If Hillary Clinton’s story gives you a vicarious thrill, enjoy it. But that’s about all you’ll get. Whether it’s George W. Bush or Hillary Clinton, the selection of leaders who owe quite a bit to their families’ political history is a sign of parties bereft of ideas and a weakening democracy.

I would dearly love for a woman to be president. But it would be more meaningful if her political resume didn’t begin with someone else’s. Elizabeth Warren is a far better example to America’s young women that anyone can rise from average beginnings to become a leader.

Your thoughts? Drop us a note. Update from two readers who defend Clinton. Here’s Rebecca:

Here in Maine, we have another example, a woman much like Hillary: GOP Senator Margaret Chase Smith, the first woman elected to the Senate—an earlier glass ceiling. (Chase Smith also ran for president [in 1964], but her first in the Senate is more to my point here.) Smith was appointed and then elected to her husband’s legislative seat prior to running for and winning her seat in the Senate on her own merits. As a freshman Senator, she stood up to McCarthy. Her accomplishments paved the paths of [Maine Senators] Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins.