Brodsky: Bernie Is Debs and Dr. King: Is Hillary FDR?

American political history is the story of social movements turning into political movements. For every Debs, King and Friedan there is an FDR, LBJ or Bella Abzug. Movement leaders plant the seeds, organize the streets, get called names and are often beaten back. Great political leaders capture their ideas and values and politicize them, which is when they move from protest to policy.

This is such a moment. Bernie and Hillary are to be tested in the upcoming weeks. Can Bernie take the moral strength of his movement and employ it in the upcoming election? Can Hillary accept his vision and turn it into votes?

Bernie gave a second life to the ideals of the Occupy Movement. Occupy taught that government is simply not operating in the interest of the great majority of Americans. The concentration of wealth in the hands of the 1% has distorted society and politics. We are headed toward instability if we don’t self-correct. But it never became, or aspired to become, a political movement. No structure, no hierarchy, no lasting political impact.

Comes Bernie and people were given a campaign they could people, and contribute to, and vote for. He understood what FDR and LBJ understood. The genius of America is a political system that reaches out and includes (co-opts?) mass movements.

But he lost. What happens to the political movement? Does it go the way of Occupy?

Bernie gets it and will do what he can to deliver his folks to Hillary. But he may not be able to do so, alone. No matter how hard he works, Hillary has to embrace the movement. And that won’t be easy either, assuming that she understands what needs to happen.

It will not be settled by any particular act. A press conference, or the party platform, or the choice of running mate will not suffice. She will need to do all these things and more and over time and repeatedly. Else, all of Bernie’s good will and effort will be lost to her.

There will be forces in the Hillary universe advising against, largely on the grounds that Trump will self-destruct and she needn’t tie her hands on important issues. That kind of triangulation worked for Bill. It will not work for Hillary. She is being tested. Can she lead the country in her own way? Does she understand the depth of suspicion that Americans feel for their government, and for her? Can she embrace a movement that doesn’t trust her?

Eugene Victor Debs preached an 8 hour workday, Social Security, and labor unions. He ran for president and went to jail. FDR, a patrician mainstream Democrat, made all that real.

Dr. King preached racial equality before the law. He was jailed and murdered. Lyndon Johnson was a conventional Texas pol comfortable with the segregationist wing of his party. He turned Dr. King’s dream into law.

Bernie preaches an end to income inequality, free higher education and an end to the stranglehold big money has on government. Hillary is a practical politician with a keen eye for her own success. She needs Bernie to win, and she needs Bernie to make government work for the majority of Americans, again. She is a smart and decent person. But she needs to step up, smartly, and do what her predecessors did. Now.

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