NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Sunday, October 29th, 2017

Book Review: Bernie Sanders’ “Guide to Political Revolution” aims to be teen resource

Democ­rats still get into argu­ments about the mer­its (or lack there­of) of Hillary Clin­ton’s and Bernie Sanders’ can­di­da­cies for the 2016 Demo­c­ra­t­ic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion. It’s why many of us on the left con­tin­ue, inex­orably, view­ing con­tem­po­rary events as a chance to re-lit­i­gate that con­test and who was right.

Bernie Sanders' Guide to Political Revolution

Guide to Polit­i­cal Rev­o­lu­tion, by Bernie Sanders (Hard­cov­er, Hen­ry Holt)

To say that Bernie Sanders: Guide to Polit­i­cal Rev­o­lu­tion is just for teenagers will invite cheap jokes.

Mere­ly by exist­ing, it has helped reignite the con­ver­sa­tion about who actu­al­ly had the bet­ter fire extin­guish­er a year and a half ago, even as the grease fire con­tin­ues to spread through­out the house.

So let’s be clear: If you liked Bernie Sanders’ cam­paign and the pol­i­cy direc­tions he empha­sized dur­ing his many stump speech­es, you’ll prob­a­bly like this book.

But you may not enjoy actu­al­ly read­ing it unless you’re in your teens. That is its intend­ed audi­ence, and it’s a sol­id col­lec­tion of ideals and poli­cies for teens to think crit­i­cal­ly about. But it also has its prob­lems, includ­ing some inher­it­ed from its name­sake author.

First, it’s inten­tion­al­ly designed like a text­book and pep­pered with the sum­ma­riz­ing design fea­tures teenagers sup­pos­ed­ly need to ingest and enjoy read­ing beyond one smart­phone-screen length. Some info­graph­ics, like those break­ing down aver­age CEO pay or the green­house gas effect, are effec­tive and com­mu­ni­cate their infor­ma­tion well. Oth­ers, like how many hours Amer­i­cans work com­pared to oth­er coun­tries or high­er edu­ca­tion costs, are extra­or­di­nar­i­ly bad.

If the e‑book ver­sion has them all in col­or, that could help some, but as it is, these graph­ics have a poor hit-or-miss ratio.

Sec­ond, I’m not sure how much fresh work went into this. It’s def­i­nite­ly writ­ten in the voice of Bernie Sanders, seem­ing­ly down to cadences, when talk­ing about wealth inequal­i­ty, break­ing up the big banks, and rais­ing the min­i­mum wage.

Oth­er por­tions, such as crim­i­nal jus­tice reform, are lit­er­al­ly tak­en word-for-word from his cam­paign site — although they did take the trou­ble to update the book with sub­se­quent vic­tims of extra­ju­di­cial police exe­cu­tions.

The rehashed ver­sions of his well-worn anec­dotes are sim­i­lar­ly word-for-word: My father came to this coun­try from Poland at the age of sev­en­teen with­out a nick­el (some­times pen­ny) in his pock­et (some­times plus ‘lit­tle edu­ca­tion’).

More impor­tant­ly, with the pos­si­ble excep­tion of rais­ing the min­i­mum wage for fed­er­al con­trac­tors by exec­u­tive order, none of the “we should” state­ments includ­ed in Guide to Polit­i­cal Rev­o­lu­tion are doable through exec­u­tive action alone. Vot­ers would need to elect a pro­gres­sive Con­gress, not just a pres­i­dent like Bernie Sanders, in order for the ideas expressed in this book to be real­ized.

That remains, for me, the most frus­trat­ing aspect of Sanders’ 2016 cam­paign and con­tin­ued rel­e­van­cy. Sanders inspired pro­gres­sives all over the coun­try with his cam­paign, but there is still a Repub­li­can Con­gress… and Repub­li­cans still con­trol most of the states too. They have tri­fec­tas in near­ly every region of the coun­try.

I appre­ci­at­ed the book devot­ing pages to calls to action under the head­ing Mobi­lize (these calls to action main­ly explain how young peo­ple could get involved with non­prof­its), but it nev­er offered the scaf­fold­ing of what gov­ern­men­tal pow­er already exists, and what would need chang­ing to set the stage for a twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry equiv­a­lent of the Pro­gres­sive Era.

Sanders, or his ghost­writer, nev­er clar­i­fies why we ought to sup­port any of these “we shoulds” — why guar­an­tee a $15 per hour min­i­mum wage and not $20, or why that instead of Uni­ver­sal Basic Income or invest­ing in pub­lic hous­ing?

Nowhere in the text does Sanders offer a coher­ent world­view to under­pin his list of “we shoulds”, which means his teen read­ers aren’t get­ting the ben­e­fit of a primer explain­ing the log­ic of pro­gres­sive val­ues. (Those val­ues are what con­nect all of the pol­i­cy direc­tions and spe­cif­ic poli­cies that pro­gres­sives believe in.)

Good jobs that pay a liv­ing wage, uni­ver­sal health­care, tuition-free col­lege, paid fam­i­ly leave — these are wor­thy ideas. But so is tran­sit for all. So are amply fund­ed K‑12 pub­lic schools in every juris­dic­tion. So are repro­duc­tive rights.

This text is more of a guide to Bernie Sanders’ favorite 2016 cam­paign themes than a com­pre­hen­sive pro­gres­sive man­i­festo, but Bernie Sanders’ Favorite Polit­i­cal Ideas Guide isn’t as allur­ing of a title as Bernie Sanders’ Guide to Polit­i­cal Rev­o­lu­tion.

Flaws aside, this book is a good start­ing point for think­ing about facile socioe­co­nom­ic issues, and if paired with, say, Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me and Chi­ma­man­da Ngozi Adichie’s “We Should All Be Fem­i­nists,” is a sol­id foun­da­tion for any­one start­ing to think about the world of pol­i­tics and what a teen should strive to have changed by the time they’re an octo­ge­nar­i­an.

Adjacent posts

  • Enjoyed what you just read? Make a donation


    Thank you for read­ing The Cas­ca­dia Advo­cate, the North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute’s jour­nal of world, nation­al, and local pol­i­tics.

    Found­ed in March of 2004, The Cas­ca­dia Advo­cate has been help­ing peo­ple through­out the Pacif­ic North­west and beyond make sense of cur­rent events with rig­or­ous analy­sis and thought-pro­vok­ing com­men­tary for more than fif­teen years. The Cas­ca­dia Advo­cate is fund­ed by read­ers like you and trust­ed spon­sors. We don’t run ads or pub­lish con­tent in exchange for mon­ey.

    Help us keep The Cas­ca­dia Advo­cate edi­to­ri­al­ly inde­pen­dent and freely avail­able to all by becom­ing a mem­ber of the North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute today. Or make a dona­tion to sus­tain our essen­tial research and advo­ca­cy jour­nal­ism.

    Your con­tri­bu­tion will allow us to con­tin­ue bring­ing you fea­tures like Last Week In Con­gress, live cov­er­age of events like Net­roots Nation or the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Nation­al Con­ven­tion, and reviews of books and doc­u­men­tary films.

    Become an NPI mem­ber Make a one-time dona­tion