It would have been amusing if the stakes weren’t so deadly serious: The New York Times described Clinton’s narrow victory in Nevada as reassuring “an anxious Democratic Party” that she could still win the nomination despite Sanders’ surging poll numbers. While not quite saying so, the implication seemed to be that the Democratic Party doesn’t include the insurgents who support Sanders. This is a subtle indication of the obvious: there is a civil war going on in the Democratic Party, and the corporate media has sided with the Democratic establishment. In order to end this civil war, Sanders supporters must convince Democrats leaning toward Clinton to join them in a revolution against corporate rule.
While the candidates have confined themselves to occasional heated exchanges, most of the fighting has been going on in the alternative media, letters to the editor sections of newspapers, and social media. In the latter, the arguments are getting increasingly vicious. Sanders supporters are getting frustrated by what they see as the blindness of Clinton supporters to the need for "political revolution," whatever that means to them. While Sanders has never precisely defined the term, the context in which he refers to it suggests that it means creating a system where money does not determine who voters will get a chance to choose from to represent them.
If we accept this as the definition of the term, then the question becomes one of whether the millions of Clinton admirers are willing to give up the dream of helping elect the first female President in order to pursue what many consider a quixotic quest: addressing the corrupting influence of money in politics. Is that really a naïve idea? Sanders supporters who expect more from his election than just populist rhetoric do not think so. Although he has not made the point clearly on the campaign trail, Sanders doesn’t just think that overturning Citizens United is just a good idea: He has been actively working on it for years. Furthermore, he has very specific ideas about how to do it. Not only would match Clinton’s promise to use a judge’s willingness to reverse the decision as a litmus test for Supreme Court appointment, he has already been attacking it with a more direct approach.
Sanders has introduced resolutions for constitutional amendments to effect campaign finance reform in each of the last three Congresses, the most recent one just last month. His strategy is not just overturn Citizens United, but the whole series of decisions that began when money used to influence political campaigns was declared protected “speech” in Buckley v Vallejo in 1976. Although the effort to pass a strong constitutional amendment has lost some momentum after the initial success of Move to Amend and other groups, the movement has not gone away. He could give it new life.
As a senator, his ability to advance the idea was limited by how much attention his efforts received, including in the “alternative” media. Now that Sanders is highlighting campaign finance reform in front of a national audience, the issue could form the nucleus around which to build a real movement, one that could unite not only Democrats but all Americans. Regardless of political ideology, only the terminally naïve doubt that it is the corruption of politics by special interest money that has frustrated efforts to effectively deal with almost every problem whose solution might affect corporate profits. As President, Sanders would be in a position to lead the effort to pass an amendment, using the power of the movement that he has begun to mobilize.
The theme of the Sanders campaign has been addressing corruption. He has returned again and again to the issue of the corrupting influence of money in politics, and particularly in elections. Although it was a point lost on most of her supporters, his pointing out in their last televised debate that Wall Street is a big Clinton backer was not an accusation of corruption. Deftly ignoring the distinction, she played for sympathy by accusing Sanders of “smearing” her. The problem is that it is not possible to “smear” someone by pointing out relevant facts.
The sources of Clinton’s campaign funds are largely known, and she did not challenge the fact that she has accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in speaking fees from Goldman Sachs alone. Sanders was too polite to mention that in total, she has received millions from Wall Street institutions and the industries in which they are most heavily invested (among these are the corporations that comprise the medical-industrial complex, raising questions about what makes her so sure that single payer will never come to the US even though it has been proven to work everywhere it has been tried around the world). As Sanders pointed out in frustration, it is hard to imagine why those who benefit from Washington’s corporate-centered policies would be throwing so much money at someone who calls herself their “greatest enemy” unless they understood that such threats are not to be taken seriously.
If Clinton is serious when she agrees with Sanders that Citizens United should be overturned, she should understand the importance of the fact that he is running without the benefit of SuperPAC backing or that of wealthy and well-connected establishment Democrats. It is important to remember that the Supreme Court decision to remove the floodgates of corporate cash was based on the assumption that it did not “create corruption or an appearance of corruption.” So if we were to take her objection seriously, shouldn’t we be concerned about at least the appearance of corruption when her campaign is primarily funded by wealthy donors and corporations?
To repeat: pointing out that Clinton is very deeply enmeshed in a corrupt system is not the same as calling her corrupt. As she points out, so are almost all other politicians. Impugning her character on this basis is a sure way to encourage her admirers to defend her against more valid criticisms. A far more effective way to persuade them to back Sanders is to focus on the potential benefits of a Sanders win: It would prove that we don’t need to accept the candidates that the economic elite offer. As president, Sanders can take the lead in promoting reforms like the American Anti-Corruption Act and making a constitutional amendment a litmus test in every congressional election until we have a Congress that puts our interests over those of the billionaire backers of the current crop.
That’s a pretty revolutionary idea.