Where We Go from Here: Two Years in the Resistance by Bernie Sanders. Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press. 2018.
I wanted to read Bernie Sanders’ latest book for a couple of different reasons. First, in the spirit of full disclosure, he was my choice for the Democratic candidate in 2016 and I continue to follow his career in American politics in the belief that he is among the most, if not the most deserving of my support in 2020. Second: and I suspect this applies to many more of his “supporters” than we – collectively – want to admit, I was familiar with the ideals that drive him and conversant on the bullet points of his policy platform and agenda but, at the same time, wanted and needed to know more details before I could commit to calling myself a ‘supporter’. Finally, I was hoping to find in this book something that I could point to, something that I could lend or recommend when I was talking to someone who was on the fence about Sanders or even someone who was not on board when they probably should be.
I found a lot to like in this book . . . It was an easy read, it provided a depth to the bullet points that I knew about Sanders, and it checked off a number of boxes on the list of open questions I had about who to watch as the contenders for the next Presidential election declare themselves.
The book is laid out in a way that is very easily accessible. Each chapter is a sort of journal entry and each entry is in chronological order. Most chapters are less than ten pages long, making it easy to pick the book up when you only have a few minutes of free time. There is at least one big gap in the entries (between May and September of 2017) which got my wheels turning just a bit. It’s also worth mentioning that while the entries are in chronological order, Bernie’s writing style can be a bit meandering so there is a movement within each chapter that leads to both repetition between chapters and a certain level of scattered-ness across them.
I was glad to find the book to be so reader friendly. A book that is fun to read is an easier sell when you’re using that book to work on potential converts.
But it is also worth noting that there is a lot of depth and detail contained on these pages that you just won’t get when you try to get to know Sanders through journalistic treatments or even through his own stump speeches. I’m sure this was the biggest treat for the already-on-board. I could clearly hear Bernie’s Brooklyn inflected voice as I read his prose. But this isn’t about the already-on-board; they’ve probably read the book cover to cover twice already!
For those who are still on the fence, or even those who are on the other side of the fence but open to considering their options, I found the following items to be the most important to consider:
– For those who are most concerned with nominating a Democratic candidate who is electable (someone who can beat Trump) . . . Sanders’ book gives you a much better sense of “how” he will run this time, “if” he runs.
– For those who aren’t sure about voting for an Independent Senator from Vermont on the Democratic ticket . . . There is plenty in the book to give you a better sense of how he will work with the party, with the Congress as a whole, and with the various agencies of the federal government if he is elected.
– For those that worry that Sanders’ effectiveness as an agitator for a Progressive agenda won’t translate well to the Oval Office . . . the book gives you a much better sense of how he will engage with communities either as an advocate or through his policy platform and agenda.
– Finally, but most importantly to me, there is an explicit discussion of what a “Progressive Foreign Policy” looks like and what a Sanders Presidency would look like from the outside looking in.
The book did leave me with a few lingering questions, but I suspect that these will stick with me long-term and may never be answered with any finality.
The first question has to do with an intersection of a few disparate threads that come together in a way that is hard to express but, when they do work on me, they work on me in ways that it would take a Lacanian to explain “clearly”. Here’s my best shot at it . . . When Sanders talks about his platform, his policy, his agenda; he always points out explicitly that the movement isn’t about him. The movement is about the people it will help and Sanders always makes a point of listing the groups within the group that is the movement. But still, there is a disconnect that nags at me.
It isn’t that I think that a white, male septuagenarian from New England can’t represent the interests of the LGBTQ community. It’s harder to define than that. It was most clear to me when Sanders addressed the allegations of sexual harassment against his 2016 campaign a few weeks ago. After explicitly disavowing any wrongdoing and promising to do better in the future, all in very straightforward and unequivocal terms that should have made me feel even better, Sanders responded to a question about whether he had been aware of these things going on at the time. It was his response to that question that troubled me. He told the interviewer that he had not been aware because “I was a little bit busy running around the country” trying to secure the nomination.
In moments like that, you get a glimpse of what I perceive to be Sanders’ Achilles’ heel as a Presidential candidate. Sanders is policy-strong, community-minded, but sometimes seems to be blind to the individual person right in front of him. Failures of this sort don’t just miss opportunities to cement a single voter when they happen on the national stage. They get magnified and they multiply.
In an ideal world his selfless commitment to the policies should be the gold standard rather than a cause for concern. Is it the case that I’ve become too jaded about national politics? Or, is it the case that I’m looking clear-eyed at the reality of the situation in the cynical politics of the present day? Is Sanders the second coming of McGovern? Or, is he some sort of hold-over from a better moment in our national politics . . .? A Kennedy in an off-the-rack sport coat?