Dear Liberals: We Can’t Repeat the Same Mistakes We’ve Made in the Past

obama-white-houseAs the 2016 presidential election inches closer and closer, I can’t help but feel a bit overwhelmed by everything that’s going on. Even as someone who’s passionate about politics, I’m already a bit exhausted and we’re still well over a year away from election night.

But it’s not been keeping up with Donald Trump and the whole GOP circus that’s been exhausting (if anything that’s been the most entertaining part), it’s that I’m seeing liberals making too many of the same mistakes they’ve made in the past that ultimately ended up with Republicans gaining more power in our government.

Right now it’s abundantly clear that either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders is going to win the Democratic nomination. Sorry Joe Biden fans, that’s just not happening. But it’s the Sanders supporters who’ve concerned me the most. While I appreciate passion, I strongly oppose irrationality; what I’ve come across from far too many Sanders supporters is that they’re not only irrational, but extremely unrealistic as well.

What I’m seeing now reminds me of what I witnessed prior to Barack Obama’s election in 2008. And while that night was historic, the unreasonable and unrealistic expectations of many liberals ultimately screwed over Democrats just two years later during the 2010 elections.

Let’s say Sanders were to knock off Clinton and go on to win the presidency. I would be absolutely thrilled because that meant Republicans failed to occupy the White House for at least four more years. While I am a Clinton supporter, I’ve maintained from day one that my main goal is to see Republicans lose – I’m perfectly fine with either Clinton or Sanders as president.

But let’s say in January of 2017 this nation ushers in President Bernie Sanders. Liberals all over the country will be beside themselves with joy that the “anti-establishment” Sanders won and is here to bring about a political “revolution” that only those who “#FeeltheBern” can understand. He’s almost everything many liberal Americans have dreamt about. Sanders is going to bring about a wave of change in this country that’s never been seen before.

Except – he’s not. The truth is, no president can really do any of that. It requires incredible cooperation from Congress, which Sanders is not going to get.

Which brings me back to 2008 and the unrealistic expectations many liberals had for Barack Obama. I remember meeting liberals back then who honestly seemed to think he was going to come in, wave his magic liberal wand and change everything they hated about our government. He was going to pass universal health care; close Guantanamo Bay; end the wars; fix income inequality; raise taxes on the rich; and usher in never-before-seen “liberal awesomeness” to the United States.

Then reality quickly set in. While I believe that President Obama has been a great president, the biggest complaint I’ve seen from his liberal critics has generally been their disappointment that he couldn’t live up to their unrealistic expectations about what he could do as president.

As a president, in a very simplistic way, you really have two choices if your party doesn’t have a super-majority in Congress:

  • Stick to your hardcore ideological principles and get practically nothing done. – or – 
  • Learn to compromise with the other party and tick off your “base” but at least accomplish something.

Well, Obama has been about 60-70 percent committed to his ideological principles and about 30 percent compromise to get at least some things done. Naturally, being that the base of either party typically whines about those compromises made by members of their own party, many on the far-left turned on the president, accusing him of selling out his liberal promises.

As we all know now, that played a part in Republicans seizing control of the House in 2010 as liberals apathetically sat out Obama’s first midterm elections.

However, I don’t see Sanders compromising on his beliefs, which brings up a whole other issue: Being labeled as an ineffective president.

If Sanders were to get elected next year, then proceeded to fail in his first four years to:

  • Raise taxes on the rich to 50 percent.
  • Make public college free.
  • Pass universal health care.
  • Expand Social Security and Medicare.
  • Raise the minimum wage.
  • Reduce income inequality.

You know, most of the key points on which he’s running – what would he then run for re-election on? It’s difficult to energize people for the same message twice when in your initial four years you accomplished almost nothing you promised to do the first time. Not only that, but quite a few of these same liberals who turned on President Obama for not fixing everything with the snap of his fingers would do the very same thing to Sanders. At least when President Obama was first elected he had a Congress that was controlled by Democrats (even though Republicans gained filibuster power after Ted Kennedy’s death), something Sanders will not have.

That could hand Republicans the White House in 2020.

And for those who think Democrats are going to take full control of Congress again in 2016, think again. At best Democrats might gain a slight advantage in the Senate next year, but the House is most likely going to remain in Republican control until at least 2020 when congressional lines are redrawn. Any legislation that’s passed over the next few years is going to be built on compromise, which is something I don’t know if Sanders can do. If he compromised on his far-left beliefs, which is really the basis for why so many people support him, then many liberals would turn on him for “selling out” – just like they did President Obama.

If liberals want to bring about true change in this country, it starts by:

  • Having realistic expectations about what the next Democratic nominee for president can actually accomplish.
  • Voting for that nominee, no matter who it ultimately turns out to be.
  • Voting for most of the Democrats running for Congress (after assessing their opponents and records).
  • Show up again in 2018 in huge numbers to, once again, vote for most of the Democrats running for Congress.
  • Repeat that process again in 2020.
  • Understanding that change takes consistent (and strong) voter turnout over many elections spanning years/decades – not just during presidential election years. No president, not even Bernie “Revolution/FeeltheBern” Sanders will be able to snap his or her fingers and fix everything.

If liberals show up to vote, Republicans can’t win. When liberals lose –  like they did in 2010 and 2014 – it’s because they let Republicans win by not showing up in large numbers at the polls.

However, if liberals repeat some of their same mistakes from the past (unrealistic expectations mixed with apathy), the progress and changes we want to see happen in this country will take much longer to accomplish – if those changes ever happen at all.

Allen Clifton

Allen Clifton is a native Texan who now lives in the Austin area. He has a degree in Political Science from Sam Houston State University. Allen is a co-founder of Forward Progressives and creator of the popular Right Off A Cliff column and Facebook page. Be sure to follow Allen on Twitter and Facebook, and subscribe to his channel on YouTube as well.


Facebook comments

  • StlSaxist

    I would add one suggestion for your list for creating change – elect people that share your beliefs in state and local elections. It can’t all be done at the national/federal level.

  • Jon Beachkofski

    While I don’t agree with your suggestion that Sanders won’t compromise on his beliefs, that is not my chief objection. It is your false claim – “If liberals show up to vote, Republicans can’t win. When liberals lose – like they did in 2010 and 2014 – it’s because they let Republicans win by not showing up in large numbers at the polls.” Liberals and Conservatives will always vote. It is the rest of the country that concerns me. Where are the candidates at any level that can inspire voters to pause their daily grind for existence, fight their way to the polls, and cast their vote? Who will make them believe that it is worth their time to sift through all the lies and deception of political and “interest group” advertising? You worry that Bernie will inspire and not deliver. I worry that Hilary and the supporting cast of so-called liberals will never inspire in the first place.

    The Democratic Party needs to find and support candidates that can inspire people to become liberals. Then they will come to the polls and vote.

    • Tom Noel

      He’s not wrong. It’s been proven that if democrats show up to vote; democrats usually win. The numbers don’t lie. And as far as inspiring people? That has nothing to do with what this article is about. This article is telling you not to expect too much from him in the first term. He won’t have the right people in his hands in Congress to push his agenda forward. As long as the republicans have the house; there are going to be problems. If we get the senate, he might be able to push some agenda forward. The problem is most bills have to make it past the house first. If they don’t; they’re dead in the water. Do you get how this works? The President has VERY limited power. Without the help of people in the house and the senate, he is nothing more than a token or trophy for the democrats. I just wish Bernie would have waited until 2020 to run and a push for a change in the house and senate would have been the main focus of the next two elections. With a majority in both houses of Congress; a lot more gets done. Don’t believe me? Look at what Obama got done in his first 2 years as President. Then look at what he’s been able to get done in the last 4 1/2. You’ll then get the concept. We had the house and the senate for the first 2 years of the Obama administration. We lost the house in 2010 and then we lost the senate in 2014. After losing the house and the republicans in the senate minority having the power of the veto, nothing but gridlock took place. Remember Green Eggs and Ham?

      • Jon Beachkofski

        I do not disagree with the article’s main message, or the author’s list. Bernie Sanders has had the same message to his supporters. It is somewhat sad that anyone actually has to make that point.

        My point is that it is wrong to assume that everyone who voted Democrat in 2008 did so because they are a “Democrat”. People who self-identify as a liberal or a conservative are motivated to vote and will always vote in all elections. As surveys have found, that is about 33% of people of voting age. The remaining 67% of people need inspiration (or some perceived reward) to vote. Don’t blame the voters because you are politically active and they are not. Find ways to reduce barriers to voting, reward people for voting, or, at the very least, find more inspiring candidates. I would be for mandatory voting if there were some reasonable way to enforce it. And I believe if people actually voted, they would elect more Democrats.

        And I do have a vague recollection of reading Green Eggs and Ham to kids and grand kids. But I don’t remember much about it. I guess it wasn’t very inspiring.

  • wendy

    sometimes compromise is not possible.
    Like a bad marriage, sometimes divorce is necessary.
    For example, wife wants kids, husband doesnt want any. Cant have half a kid!
    I see dems and reps in this light which equals more years of gridlock.

    • Jason Mattish

      I would say the wife(Dems) lies and says she wants kids and then uses the husband who also doesn’t want kids as cover for her true beliefs.

      Democrats don’t even try to compromise on so many issues… they give up before they even start the debate.

      • wendy

        eye roll

      • The Beagle Nose

        Our country is a mess due to that.

  • Anthonij

    Like Clifton, I believe any Republican in the White House would be a disaster and would therefore vote without hesitation for Clinton against anyone the GOP might nominate. But I think it would be really selling ourselves short if those of us who find Clinton somewhat distasteful on the grounds of her history and policy positions reject Sanders — with whom we enthusiastically agree on a wide array of the most important social, economic and political issues — merely because other folks are telling us Sanders is somehow unelectable (or in the case of this article, unreelectible).

    If Clinton wants the enthusiastic support of progressives like myself and many of my friends, she needs to — or needed to (perhaps it is too late!) — have a more progressive agenda, e.g. opposing XL and TTP, a Warren-like position overagainst the banking industry, etc. But the fact is, Clinton is a centrist and the centre in this country has been pushed far too far to the right. She is very much a friend of the corporate world and while that might make her more electable, that is also precisely what makes her quite distasteful to many committed progressives.

    • strayaway

      Irony defined:

      “Clinton is a centrist and the centre in this country has been pushed far too far to the right. She is very much a friend of the corporate world and while that might make her more electable, that is also precisely what makes her quite distasteful to many committed progressives.” …”and (I) would therefore vote without hesitation for Clinton.”

      This is sort of like a Ron Paul supporter who voted for McCain because he/she believed that any Democrat “in the White House would be a disaster.” My guess is that McCain would have been and Hillary will be a disaster too.

  • cruisersailor

    I am amazed that too many liberal voters don’t vote in every single election. I only have one vote and need other liberals to get out and vote in every single election too. Republicans don’t seem to need coaxing.

  • The Beagle Nose

    Two terms of a dem prez is enough, I believe the same happened
    with Bush and Clinton, I would bet that our next president will be
    a Republican… Thank goodness, there is so many things we
    need to fix to make America great again.
    God Bless America. Trump 2016