Dear Berners: Are You Ready To Do The Work? Or Are You Underpants Gnomes?

Remember that old episode of South Park with the underpants gnomes? They snuck in and stole underpants to somehow make a bunch of money? That was their whole plan. They said “Phase one: Collect underpants! Phase two: ? Phase Three: Profit!”

There was no bridge between the underpants and world domination. It was a bad plan.

I sometimes feel like the most ardent Bernie Sanders supporters are like underpants gnomes. They expect to elect Bernie then take over the world without all the stuff in the middle that makes a plan work.

So I ask you this, Berners: Are you ready to do the work? Or are you underpants gnomes?

I was working at the American Cancer Society when Barack Obama tasked Congressional Democrats with writing and passing the Affordable Care Act My organization was part of the process of advising and lobbying in favor of the bill. It took the better part of two years, hundreds of stakeholder groups, millions of grassroots advocates, and countless person-hours to get it to passage. And even with all of that, it damn near fell apart multiple times.

It was hard, intense, unrewarding, stressful work. The result was a deeply imperfect bill that was lightyears better than the status quo but nowhere near the ideal outcome we had envisioned the day Obama promised health care reform.

Every Bernie Sanders supporter who is hanging out on Twitter yelling at Bernie critics needs to understand that that level of work – or more – will be required to get even a fraction of the Bernie agenda accomplished. It will take focused, expert coalitions made up of both insiders and new voices to begin the process of drafting laws that can not only pass, but withstand judicial challenges. You’ll need to rally the type of grassroots support that health care groups mustered for the ACA and you will need existing networks of special interests to help you every step of the way.

The person you are calling a corporate shill today might be the advocacy leader you need tomorrow.

And you will need advocates tomorrow. Trust me on that. If you don’t want to use money to get stuff done, you need people. Lots and lots of people. Politicians listen to two things: deep pockets or loud mobs of constituents. You need one or the other and every person you alienate now is someone who might sit on their hands rather than making calls to Congress when you ask them for their help later.

I don’t have a problem with Bernie Sanders agenda but I’ve never yet seen evidence that he’s is ready to do that kind of work. He – and everyone on his team – needs to figure out what to do once he’s gotten elected or he will end up being an inspiring speaker who never accomplishes a single noteworthy thing in office.

So I ask you all again: are you ready to do the work? Or are you and Bernie Sanders just a bunch of underpants gnomes?

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