Sorry, “Feel the Bern” Fans: President Sanders Won’t Change Anything

The appeal of Bernie Sanders is clear even to those who don’t “feel the Bern”: maybe, just maybe something will actually change in Washington. Fans of The Donald have the same hope.

A vote for Hillary is a vote for the status quo–for fake-sincerity speeches fine-tuned by the latest polls, for simulacra reforms that leave Wall Street and the rest of the Empire untouched, and for the astonishing hypocrisy of a visionless politico who amassed a vast fortune on the coattails of her aging-Lothario hubby attempting to fan the flames of class warfare.

As tempting as it is to hope that an outsider president such as Bernie or the Donald might change the trajectory of the Empire, this is a vain and futile hope.

This is partly the result of the limited domestic powers of the Imperial President and partly the result of the momentum of the Empire and the pressure that will be brought to bear on anyone, insider or outsider, who attempts to change the course of the ship of state.

Get money out of politics? The president is powerless. Congress passes the laws, and the Supreme Court shreds any attempt to limit political contributions. Any bill that does pass has loopholes big enough for truckloads of cash to breeze through.

How about taxing the rich? Well, for starters, the wealthy already pay most of the federal income taxes: According to the Congressional Budget Office, the top 1% paid 39% of the personal income taxes in 2010 while earning 15% of the before-tax income, and the top 20% paid 93% of the federal income taxes in 2010 while earning 52% of before-tax income. So the rich are already taxed heavily, and those that aren’t bought a loophole from Congress that no president can close.

Tax codes can’t be changed at the whim of the President; Congress passes tax laws, and yes, contribution-loving Congress is open for business when it comes to buying tax breaks.

How about changing U.S. foreign policy? Long before he is sworn in, President-elect Sanders will get the treatment: the lives saved by all those drone strikes, the risks of upsetting our many allies, our many treaty commitments, the dangers of appearing weak in these critical times, the enormous value of the intelligence gleaned by the NSA and the rest of the National Security State, and of course the famous nuclear launch capability that rests with the president.

Don’t hold it against Bernie or anyone else when they cave under this pressure.The president is a figurehead, a PR spectacle with limited powers to change the course of the state or nation. Yes, Bernie could end various undeclared wars, but the pressure to maintain drone strikes (and everything else we don’t even know about) will be unremitting.

Whatever the president proposes domestically is just that–a proposal. Congress has to approve programs, budgets, tax codes and the rest of it, and what’s left after all the pork-barrel additions, lobbying and campaign contribution buy-ins? Should anything untoward actually get passed (don’t hold your breath), the Supreme Court strikes down anything that threatens the status quo.

Other than glad-handing and managing whatever undeclared wars he’s been let in on, President Sanders won’t change anything important because he can’t change anything important. Neither can any other president.

Political theater is just that–theater. Fans of Obama learned the hard way that hope and change are quietly dumped the moment you enter the Imperial Presidency.


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  • Very timely Mr. Smith, and I will add this to your article. Oct 17, 2015 Nullify! Chapter 1: Three Things that James Madison did NOT Advise

    “What James Madison did NOT advise might be even more notable than what he did advise. He never told you that your first or primary strategy should include the three things most people do today.”

  • jadan

    Think back to the 30’s, Smith, and then repeat again that a president is a powerless figurehead. You need a good fireside chat, friend. A president can do a great deal when the time is ripe. It happens that the time is getting riper. Our system, Our Way Of Life, is in crisis. It has no future as it is and it must change one way or another. You seems to assume that the mysterious powers-that-be, for whom the president is a mere figurehead, have got it under control. No sir, that is a dangerously naive, AND, a defeatist assumption. You have already surrendered to a figment of your own imagination.

    • diogenes

      You need to inform yourself about the true character of FDR’s administration and the consequences of its acts, which we are living with, to our detriment, today. FDR, as he said “saved capitalism” — meaning Wall Street. That’s not surprising since he was the son of the oldest surviving Wall St. banking family in America. What’s pathetic is to see people who think they’re informed and intelligent parroting the propaganda lies of the New Deal 80 years later. Some people never learn.

      • jadan

        Bullshit, friend. The New Deal legacies include unemployment insurance, social security, and insured bank deposits. The Wagner Act reduced violence in labor relations. The Securities and Exchange Commission protected stock market investments of millions of
        small investors. The Federal Housing Administration and Fannie Mae enabled a majority of Americans to become homeowners.

        The New Deal’s greatest legacy was a shift in government philosophy. As a result of the New Deal, Americans came to believe that the federal government has a responsibility to promote the health of the nation’s economy and the welfare of its citizens. The New Deal ended laissez faire capitalism. You do not see bread lines and starvation in this country because of the New Deal. WTF are you talking about?

        • diogenes

          You start with an obscenity and a racial slur. Not promising.

          All the initiatives that you mention amounted to holding actions designed to “preserve capitalism”, as FDR said and as numerous historians understand and show.

          You need to educate yourself about the realities of the New Deal and FDRs first two administrations. Start with John Flynn, The Roosevelt Myth (1948), Benjamin Stolberg & Warren Jay Vinton, The Economic Consequences of the New Deal (1935), Ferdinand Lundberg, America’s Sixty Families (1938), and E.D. Kenedy, Dividends To Pay (1939). These eyewitness accounts will acquaint you with the facts of the New Deal and FDR’s administration and disabuse you of the democratic party pseudo-historical legends that you appear to think are history.

          But I don’t know where to send you to learn some manners.

          • cettel

            Your ‘history’ is simply false. FDR refused to bail out the banks, especially the big ones. They urged him to do it; he said that instead the public would get the money from the government. He even said in a speech on 29 November 1935, that they accepted his decision. Their greed would have been too conspicuous if they had even tried to press the matter. The great progressive, Nomi Prins, has written praising FDR for what he did:

            FDR took one road; Obama instead followed the urgings of the mega-banksters.

          • diogenes

            You are ignorant of the sources I cited so your dismissal of them as “simply false” is simply bullshit. You don’t know what you’re talking about. Your comments give the appearance of a political operative who is intent on grinding axes and pushing party lines and the Two-Party Lie with no respect for the truth and no respect for evidence. And that’s what you and your third-hand “ideas” get — no respect. Citing Larouche as a source on FDR is just ridiculous and pathetic. You assume that all your readers are as ignorant and deluded as you are. Citing Larouch while dismissing Flynn and Lundberg, with whom you are utterly unacquainted — is both ignorant and stupid. And shows it.

        • cettel

          You’re correct, Jadan, but too many have been brainwashed to think that having a decent person as President is useless — it’s what I would call the main ‘progressive’ (meaning fake-progressive) myth. The second ‘progressive’ myth is that someone who is out to wreck the Democratic Party by draining it, rather than to restore it to the Democratic Party that FDR had led, should become President — someone such as Ralph Nader. With ‘progressives’ such as that, the Republican Party has one of its strongest weapons.

          • kimyo

            having a decent person as President

            like fdr? using pearl harbor to lie americans into unnecessary war?

            like sanders? (loves drones and f35’s. positions discourse to ‘move on’ from hillary’s emails)

            a true progressive would immeditately and unconditionally withdraw support from sanders.

  • George Wrigley

    Bernie told us exactly that. To make changes will require millions of Americans to send a very strong message to Washington. As for me, I think we need a leader who could organize a national strike of all workers until Washington passes laws that make an equal playing field once again. It doesn´t have to be the president, anyone who desires change could lead it.

  • diogenes

    To effect change constitutionally means changing the membership of Congress completely, district by district, replacing current members with unboughten progressives and monitoring them closely to see that they deliver on their pledges. The President alone can do nothing. Congress writes legislation. The system’s focus on the Presidency is a decoy. Progressives need to focus on our individual congressional representatives and replace almost all of them. That is our ONLY chance for constitutional change.

  • diogenes

    The author needs to review the history of the changing composition, collective bent and shifting rulings of the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court is not an insurmountable obstacle to sufficient Congressional will.

  • namora

    I’m not going to bother to disagree with you and your defeatist attitude. You are nothing but another corporate shill trying to reason the defeat those who refuse to give up until the pitchforks come out and the storm troopers control the streets. I have nothing but pity for those like you who have such a bleak view of the future.

  • justquitnow

    What do you want us to do then? We can sit around in cynical smugness I guess and watch the world die. Getting Bernie Sanders elected is a good step. It doesn’t have to solve everything or anything but at least as we attack all the other problems, we have a President Sanders.

  • Karl Bonner

    Kshama Sawant sure changed things in Seattle and nationwide when it comes to the minimum wage! Lesson to learn: Sometimes Marxist city councilors can affect more real change than progressive occupants of the White House can. That was also true in the 1930s and 1960s, when socialists played a central catalytic role in movements for economic and cultural change.