Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign resonated with Democratic voters in a rare way. While he did not achieve the success of Barack Obama’s electrifying 2008 election, his campaign helped create a spontaneous movement of support. Certainly, I saw it among my students who overwhelmingly favored Sanders and felt about him much like I had about Obama.
But spontaneous happenings only achieve long-term success if they institutionalize themselves and evolve into something more than what was once known as a happening in the 1960s. The Sanders movement has done that as the Sanders’ call for “a revolution” has evolved into the decidedly non-revolutionary organization called Our Revolution.
Our Revolution Maryland’s (ORM) approach in this election is emblematic of this new highly institutionalized, even establishment, approach. The campaign by Ben Jealous, a co-chair of Sanders’ 2016 bid, has all the spontaneity of your average Brezhnev-era central committee meeting. The contrast with the 2016 Bernie Sanders campaign could hardly be greater.
While Sanders supporters bitterly objected to what they viewed as the Democratic National Committee’s tilt in favor of Hillary Clinton, that has nothing on ORM’s “process” for endorsing a gubernatorial nominee. Before the official process even began, Jealous told other candidates in no uncertain terms that ORM and Sanders’ organization would back him.
Prior to the launch of ORM’s kabuki endorsement process, ORM’s Director appeared right behind Jealous at the announcement of his gubernatorial campaign. Unsurprisingly, no other gubernatorial candidate agreed to participate in ORM’s endorsement charade because they didn’t want to validate a pre-determined outcome.
The Jealous campaign has been no less establishment. Its pollster, for example, is Fred Yang. He’s a deservedly well-respected Washington Democratic pollster. Yang has also worked on campaigns for numerous other mainstream Democratic candidates and issues, such as the Maryland marriage equality referendum in 2012.
Jealous’ running mate, Susie Turnbull, has held no elective office but she practically defines the term “insider” as a wealthy and connected former Maryland Democratic Party Chair – and not a renegade choice for that position. Turnbull has also long been very active in national DNC politics. Hardly the choice of a self-proclaimed revolutionary running to take down the Democratic establishment.
ORM has also made the highly strategic choice to avoid endorsing in the U.S. Senate campaign in order to support Jealous. Most mainstream Democrats regard U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin as a great guy but the more overtly hardline progressives are not happy, especially about Cardin’s unflinching support for Israel. ORM didn’t endorse either of Cardin’s more left-wing primary challengers as part of an effort to keep the influential Cardin out of the gubernatorial race.
As it turns out, the vaunted vanguard of the progressive revolution is not so different from the mainstream Democratic Party. Jealous hires the same political people, has an establishment running mate and received the pre-determined support of a political organization that, in turn, has tactically decided not to endorse other progressive candidates to help out Jealous.
It’s not surprising that Jealous would take this route. The NAACP remains the grand old dame and most established of African-American organizations. Moreover, the reason smart candidates don’t expect their campaign to be spontaneous electrifying happenings is that approach generally doesn’t work.
Just don’t expect much revolutionary out of Our Revolution or its candidate. Jealous decries half-measures and enjoys citing his grandmother’s wisdom that if you only fix half of a problem, you still have a problem. But, if elected, you should still expect lots of compromises, a hallmark of the American political system, or not much to happen at all. The revolutionary rhetoric cannot really mask a non-revolutionary approach.
That’s all to the good, as revolution is vastly overrated and most don’t turn out nearly as well as the American version.