top of page

Who Will Lead the People?

Updated: Nov 16, 2020

by Thomas Neuburger

There is a tide in the affairs of men.

Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;

Omitted, all the voyage of their life

Is bound in shallows and in miseries.

—Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

Remember this, from 2015?

'Run Liz Run!' : Elizabeth Warren Rallies Progressives DETROIT -- Liberal activists repeatedly shouted “Run, Liz Run” during Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s speech at a conference here, as party activists continue their attempt to draft her into the 2016 presidential contest. Netroots Nation, an annual conference for progressives, this year has turned into a “Warren for President” event. ... From the moment she was introduced, the crowd of more than 1,000 started waving their signs and calling for her to run. At one point in her 15-minute speech, she was drowned out by the chants about her getting into the race. Warren completely ignored the presidential issue.

It's impossible not to think that this was the peak of her "greatness," her moment of great possibility, her world-historical moment if you will. And she passed on it, according to Politico, because "Hillary ... was where the leverage was," or so she thought.

It probably seemed reasonable at the time to think that way. But that's assuming her eye was off the actual ball, the fact that if we don't 1) address the climate crisis now — meaning halve (at least) carbon emissions by 2030 — our emissions will be halved for us by the tragedy we invoke; and if we don't 2) end aggressively the massive wealth-and-power imbalance that led to Trump in the first place, there will be another Trump.

I know Liz Warren had income-inequality and wealth-redistribution plans as early as then, and probably still has them now. It's part of what made her so popular with the "let's transform the country from the left" crowd.

But she missed her moment. Time has passed her by. And passed us by as well, since it left us without someone to lead us over the walls and into the castle of our enemies. I think, though Sanders lost in 2016, a determined non-Hillarist Warren would have won — probably the nomination, certainly the presidency.

Was Warren capable of being a determined non-Hillarist? Obviously not. But when her moment of leadership was handed her, unbidden, unmanufactured, she said "No thanks," and the story moved on without her. The tide rolled in, rolled out, and left her on the shore.

The Sanders Case

The Sanders case is more complex, and I'll examine it at length in another piece. Needless to say, Sanders took up the Warren-rejected banner in 2016 and very nearly won it for himself, certainly the primary, most likely the presidency as well. Between faux-change and real change there's no comparison.

Sanders' obstacles in 2016 were not Warren's. While a world-historical moment was handed to Warren, Sanders had to fight for his. He started with very low name recognition, something Warren never faced in the run-up to 2016, and even by Super Tuesday, much of the country had no idea who he was.

Sanders also declined, gentleman-like, to attack Hillary Clinton for all the reasons no one should chosen her in the first place — she was, after all, the queen of the Goldman Sachs contract at a time when people were still reeling from the 2008 meltdown. And her "damn emails" were a huge liability, if someone with the ear of the public would just explain them properly (she committed a crime that lesser souls lost careers over; she created a quasi-government server, then left it unencrypted for weeks) — but Sanders, collegially, refused to attack her for them.

This would prefigure his own fall from grace, his rejection of his own moment in 2020. One could go into that in great detail, but to keep this short, Joe Biden, friendship, the party (yes, that), and collegiality were Sanders' Kryptonite, and it disabled him.

Take this as Sanders' bottom line: He campaigned in 2016 as an "existential threat to the Democratic Party" and almost won. He waffled in 2020 as an "existential threat" and modified his message to appease the Party — but not enough. He failed to bring in the angry new voters he needed, and failed to appease Party leaders who would always reject him. When finally his "friend" Joe Biden became his only opponent, Sanders — there's only one way to say it — caved to pressure, proving to anyone who wanted an "existential threat" that he was never going to be one after all.

Will the nation see again a Sanders event like this?

Bernie Sanders in Wisconsin

Who would go? What hope does he hold out? Will he lead us over the castle walls to face our enemies, having already said no, he won't ? That's what the angry disaffected want, those in their 20s and younger. They know what's coming, and they know who's responsible for it.

The challenge was to challenge the Party when Obama came knocking. The moment to "resist" Party elders came when they said "surrender." Sanders surrendered, in full few of us all, and his moment passed.

Who Will Lead the People? Anyone?

I'll end where I began. We must halve (at least) our carbon emissions by 2030 or face, in this generation, the death of our big-screen, smart-phone lifestyle and exit the remains of our so-called "civilized life" for a very long time.

We must also find a leader and a vessel, someone with whom to fight and win against the rich — against the corrupt, corrupting donor classes — or face the next Donald Trump, a smarter, more prepared, more capable beast, one who wants to use the power he has to gain power itself, and not just for the daily stroke of Twitter's velvet glove.

The part of the nation in pain, the part that hates for good reason both of our parties, needs a leader. Who will stand with us? Who will move us to act on the schedule the times require?

Who will lead the people? Anyone?


(For those who like my work, I've launched a Substack site. You can get more information here. If you decide to sign up — it's free — my thanks to you!)

bottom of page