Imagine you’re a project manager in a company. It’s time to submit an annual budget for running your little fiefdom. The company is notoriously tight with money, even though it’s doing well financially. Whatever budget you submit will likely be cut by about 20%.
A) Submit an “honest” budget proposal, only asking for the minimum funds needed to do your job well.
B) Accept the fact that times are hard, and budgets are tight. Show you’re a team player by tightening up your financial belt and submitting a bare-bones budget which would just barely be minimally adequate if everything goes just exactly right.
C) Deliberately inflate your budget request a bit so that even after it’s been cut by 20% or whatever, you’ll still be able to do your damn job. And if, by some miracle, your proposal is accepted in total, you then have a comfort zone where you can do the job even better, or put a few $ aside for next year, or deal with unanticipated difficulties.
Anybody who has ever worked in pretty much any company knows damn well the correct answer is C. The money folks need to feel useful, so they’ll cut a chunk off of whatever budget you submit. If you submit the larger budget, and it gets cut, then you can still do your fucking job, and everybody is happy. The big bosses get a functioning, profitable project, the money folks feel useful, and you can do your motherfucking job. If you choose B, and that gets cut, you’re screwed. If you choose A, you wind up implementing budget B and just limping through the year.
OK, Captain Obvious, we know all that. What’s it got to do with the price of tea in China? Political proposals, both in election debates and in actual legislation, work in a similar way. Everybody knows that pretty much any proposal is going to get modified. It’ll get compromised-down by a significant measure if it passes at all. So, what starting policy proposals are politicians supposed to make?
It seems like Elizabeth Warren is going with option A. She’s starting with pre-compromised positions which seem like they might pass a Congress with smallish Democratic majorities in the House and Senate. But, if she’s elected and congressional compromises lop off something analogous to 20%, what is left?
Biden and the other corporatist fuddy-duddies are going with option B. By choosing pre-emptive surrender masked as cold sober pragmatism, their proposals are condemned to a best-possible-outcome of gridlock. No problems will be solved or even addressed in a substantive manner. The only argument in favor of this approach is that it isn’t as bad as Trump’s plan to fire everybody and sell the equipment for scrap.
Yeah, yeah, you all know where this is going. Bernie chooses the wise option, C. Critics are quick to point out that his proposals are unlikely to be passed intact. But nobody’s proposals are likely to be passed intact. Duh. But there’s room for compromise in Bernie’s plans which leaves open the possibility of moving towards our actual goals. More importantly, if we only discuss the watered-down, pre-compromised positions, the real solutions will never be implemented because they will never ever even be discussed. If they’re discussed and rejected this time, or discussed and compromised down, they’ve still entered the public consciousness, they can be proposed again later with the rhetorical foundation already laid.
Beyond the little analogy, this illustrates the transformative power of Bernie’s candidacy. By going beyond the officially certified mainstream options and demonstrating that these policy proposals have a large support base, he’s expanded the realm of discussable options in today’s politics. Previously radical ideas have become so normalized that even conservadems like Kamala Harris parrot some of Bernie’s proposals, albeit half-heartedly and intermittently. Without Bernie’s 2016 candidacy, would we be seeing the corporate media discuss Medicare for all, or making the minimum wage a living wage, or taking climate change seriously, or running campaigns without mega donors, or substantially increasing taxes on the wealthy, or quite a few other things?
Having moved these ideas into the realm of public debate, now we need to work together to actually implement them. The road is long and hard, but we ain’t gonna get there if we don’t try, and plan B is fucking worthless.