Bernie Sanders' One Answer on How He Would Get Anything Done

Bernie Sanders' One Answer on How He Would Get Anything Done (ABC News)

In its editorial endorsing Hillary Clinton, the Des Moines Register zeroed in on one key aspect of Bernie Sanders’ campaign.

“Sanders admits that virtually all of his plans for reform have no chance of being approved by a Congress that bears any resemblance to the current crop of federal lawmakers,” the opinion piece reads. “This is why, he says, voters can’t simply elect him president, but must instead spark a ‘political revolution.’”

At almost every one of his town halls around the country, someone in the audience asks the Vermont senator a question centered on that idea: How will he get it all done? Many of them bring up the big ambitions that President Obama had when he ran. How could Sanders, with campaign promises even more progressive than Obama’s, accomplish what the president could not?

“How realistic do you think this is to get all of this done?” Devyn Harris, for example, asked the senator in Hooksett, New Hampshire, on Thursday. “You are fighting against a Republican-controlled Congress.”

Sanders often cuts the questioner short, just slightly, like he did to Harris, once he realizes the thrust of their inquiry. He knows his answer on this topic, it always the same and it goes something like this:

“If you know history you know that nothing ever changes from the top on down, it is always from the bottom on up,” he began in Hooksett. “If we were sitting here 20 years ago and someone jumped up and said you know I think that gay marriage will be legal in every state in this country, the response would have been, ‘What are you smoking?’ Today, gay marriage is legal and for many young people it is not even an issue any more."

“My point is, if you look at politics as stagnant in a conservative way and say, ‘Wow, we’re going to have to deal with the Republicans and they’ve been obstructionist and against Obama from day one, how can you accomplish anything?’ But here’s another way to look at it. ... When millions of people begin to stand up and say, 'Hey, Congress, I don’t now want to go $50,000 in debt for the crime of going to college and you will do something about it, because look out the street, you’ve got a million people here marching on Washington and we know what’s going on.’"

“I cannot accomplish these things alone,” he concluded.

Sometimes, if the question is framed specifically about bipartisanship, Sanders will add a reference to the veterans’ health care bill he passed with Republican Sen. John McCain as proof of his ability to cut a deal. That bill was a huge piece of legislation, but Sanders does not mention on the trail that the senators only successfully reached across the aisle at the height of the scandal in the Veterans’ Affairs Department, under immense pressure, when not getting something done was not a political option.

As the Des Moines Register concludes, Sanders is promising to go to the White House with a strict set of values, use executive actions when he can, and the rest, he says plainly, is up to the people. Either they come or they don’t. He does not advertise experience or knowledge of how to get things accomplished.

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After the town hall, Harris told ABC News she was not totally satisfied with Sanders’ answer. “There are so many grassroots campaigns that you see out there and none of them really end up doing much,” she said. “I think it could end up being different with him at the top and grassroots campaigns at the bottom and working together, but I still think it is a very idealistic way to look at the world.”