Is Bernie Sanders Deluding His Supporters?

Last night Bernie Sanders won big in New Hampshire.  His message of the need for a “political revolution” clearly resonates with “yuge” (thanks Donald Trump) numbers of voters.  (For the record, I share Sanders’ view that growing wealth and income inequality is one of the great problems facing our country.)

But is the democratic socialist agenda he advocates remotely feasible given the realities of the constitutional system in which he would operate if elected president?  In other words, given the likely composition of the House and Senate, and given the rules that govern the operation of each (e.g, like the filibuster in the Senate), is there a realistic chance that he could implement his agenda?

I think this is a very important question.  University of Texas Law School professor Sandy Levinson addresses that question here and here.  Money quote (from the second post):

The only thing we can know with certainty is that [Sanders] is deluding his impressionable supporters to believe that the very act of electing him would [be] the revolutionary transformation that would make all things possible.  It won’t be, and the Constitution guarantees that, unless one can believe that Sanders will see, when he gets to the White House, a Senate with at least 60 Democrats, all pledged to support a democratic socialist program, and a House that has flipped to a strong Democratic majority equally committed to becoming as much like Scandanavia as possible.

Levinson continues:

I am truly afraid that Sanders is wasting an opportunity to educate the public about important constitutional issues.  To say that every American should be recognized as having a “right’ to health care is lovely (even if somewhat meaningless, as a practical matter).  What he should be addressing is why it has proved impossible, over the past century, to engage in genuinely radical reform of the health-care-delivery industry, which is a mixture of American ideology and the institutions foisted on us by those who mistrusted democracy in 1787.  I’d like to “feel the Bern,” but I feel that we are being confronted with yet another politician who believes that he (or she) by virtue of good intentions and an inchoate “movement” can turn the dinosaur that is the American constitutional order around.

Prof. Levinson makes an important point: the formal rules by which our constitutional system operates make the kind of political revolution that Sanders wants highly improbable. Voters need to understand this lest they end of deeply disappointed when their candidate is unable to deliver on his or her promises.

Understandably, presidential elections tend to focus on individuals, not on our constitutional system.  Yet, the election is a perfect opportunity to discuss these issues.  Without a proper understanding of the limits that our constitutional system places on the ability of presidential candidates to enact their agendas if elected, voters will all too often finds themselves very disappointed.

One Comment on “Is Bernie Sanders Deluding His Supporters?”

  1. Mitchell Pearlman says:

    Every candidate, not just Sanders, is saying what they would do if elected president. I doubt that any of them can do what they promise under current constitutional and political constraints. I think what they mean is this: This is what I would do if I were king.

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