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bmckibbenbw1In the mounting, panicky attempts of elites to derail the Bernie Sanders candidacy, one strand dominates.

You find it woven through every sage piece from the old-school pundits of the New York Times and the hip insider websites like Vox. Yes, they say, he’s saying some useful things. But he can’t really make them happen. He’s talking “puppies and rainbows.” Real “reform is hard.” The Times editors, in their endorsement of Hillary Clinton, managed a matchless condescension: His ideas about breaking up the banks or guaranteeing health care for everyone, they intoned, “have earned him support among alienated middle-class voters and young people. But his plans for achieving them aren’t realistic.” Wait ’til you’re older and richer like us and then you’ll understand how change happens.

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In fact, these pundits couldn’t be more wrong about where change comes from. And neither could Hillary Clinton. Here’s how she put it a few months ago, backstage at a tense and fascinating little confrontation with Black Lives Matter activists:

“I don’t believe you change hearts. I believe you change laws, you change allocation of resources, you change the way systems operate.”

That sounds sensible, grown-up, wise. It’s what Washington pundits always say—they said it over and over again when we launched, say, the fight to stop the Keystone pipeline. But in fact it’s completely backwards.

Change comes precisely when you do change hearts—and once that change has come, then the laws and the “allocation of resources” and the “way systems operate” follow pretty easily.

Look, for instance, at gay marriage, which I’m pretty sure that President Obama will be holding up as one of the accomplishments that happened on his watch. And it did, but not much thanks to him. It came from a big, impassioned movement that cleverly changed the zeitgeist: that introduced Americans to their gay neighbors, that won a few court cases and then used that progress to show that the world wouldn’t fall apart with gay marriage, that argued in a series of referendum votes for the new right. By the time that Obama (and Clinton) came on board (a decade or two after Sanders), the battle was mostly won. There was mopping up to do, but the change had come and it had come from changing hearts.

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