I see a lot of excitement online, in places like Common Dreams and The Nation, and in my Facebook feed, about Bernie Sanders, supposedly remaking US politics, and Pope Francis, supposedly remaking the Roman Catholic Church.
About Sanders, I shake my head and wonder why long-time Democrat voters do not see him and his candidacy for what it is. About the Pope, I wonder why progressive people allow themselves to care.
Sanders is the new Dean
Bernie Sanders has been praised as a maverick, an independent, and a socialist. All of which may have been true at various points in his political career.
Right now Sanders is running for President as a Democrat. He is not spearheading a movement to build a new alternative. He is not refusing corporate funding and appealing to the grassroots. He is not "challenging politics as usual," as headlines in progressive news sites often say. He is seeking the Democratic nomination, which means he will play within the boundaries of that game.
And that game demands that Bernie Sanders not run for president. I suspect it's already a done deal: that in return for firing up progressive voters and helping them to believe that their cause is the Democrats' cause, he has already been offered a cabinet position, should Hillary become POTUS. I'd be shocked to learn that this is not the case.
However, whether or not there is already a backroom deal in place, we can be assured that Bernie Sanders will not be the Democratic presidential nominee. No matter the size of the crowds at his appearances, no matter the polls. The nominee is not chosen based on crowds, nor on polls.
Just as we have always been at war with Eastasia, there has always been a Bernie Sanders. His name has been Dennis Kucinich, and Howard Dean. His name has been Jesse Jackson, and Paul Wellstone. He exists to reassure and corral the liberal vote. He does his part, then fades away, as the "electable" candidate is tapped for the big show.
I recently saw this headline: Sanders and Trump Offer Two Roads Out of Establishment Politics—Which Will We Follow?. In what way does Sanders offer a "road out of establishment politics"? During his tenure in Congress, he has voted with the Democrats 98% of the time. Sanders is seeking the Democratic candidacy and Trump is seeking the Republican candidacy. What is anti-establishment about that?
Francis is not the new anything
And then there's the "radical pope". If ever there was a time for the "you keep on using that word" meme, surely it is when the word radical is applied to the leader of the largest hierarchy on the planet.
In what way is this pope radical? He has said some things. He has made some statements.
Pope Francis has declared that Catholic priests will temporarily be allowed to absolve the sin of abortion without obtaining special permission from a bishop. And media hailed this as the Church softening its stance on abortion!
Absolution? The Pope should be begging our forgiveness for the untold number of women who have died from illegal abortions, the orphans and desperately poor children whose mothers were denied contraception, the families forced into poverty by the Church's own policies. The Church offers a brief amnesty for women who exercised their human rights? Fuck you.
Pope Francis has made some statements against unchecked capitalism and in sympathy with the world's poor. Has the Church renounced its immense, tax-exempt wealth in order to feed the hungry world?
"God weeps," said this Pope, at child sexual abuse, and similar statements of contrition that survivors have heard from two popes before him. Pope Francis praised his bishops' handling of the sex abuse crisis, only to back down after an outcry from survivors and advocates. One more "carefully choreographed" statement. One more nothing. If survivors themselves had not risen up and demanded the world hear them, the Church would still be playing whack-a-mole with pedophile priests.
Pope Francis has acknowledged that LGBT people are human beings, and perhaps will not suffer eternal damnation for leading their own lives. Gee thanks, Pope.
There is no doubt that Pope Francis has changed the tone of a tone-deaf institution that is decades, if not centuries, behind the times. Because liberation movements - of women, LGBT people, indigenous people, sexual abuse survivors - have changed our very world, the Church was finally forced to acknowledge modernity.
But he has altered nothing of substance, and certainly has not moved one iota towards radical change.
This pope name-dropped the great radical leader Dorothy Day, much as every US politician quotes Martin Luther King, Jr. But besides his speeches in the US, what did Pope Francis actually do? He canonized Father Junípero Serra, a Spanish priest who was actively complicit in the genocide of indigenous peoples of North and South America.
Yet this change of tone and some heartfelt conciliatory speeches are enough for the media - including much alternative media - to hail Pope Francis as a Great Bringer of Change.
I watched in wonder as liberal USians hailed Obama as the Great Bringer of Change, then had their hearts broken, as per usual. Yet now, less than a decade later, they appear to be hypnotized again.
Bernie Sanders will not save us. Pope Francis will not save us. We are the people we have been waiting for. If we want radical change, we have to band together and create it ourselves. Idle No More. Occupy Wall Street. Fight for 15. The member organizations of 350.org. Food Inc. No One Is Illegal. Marinaleda. Los Indignados. And a million other groups - groups without names, groups without media coverage - groups of people, acting collectively. This is the way forward.
Vote for Sanders in the primaries. Then dutifully vote for Hillary for president. And wonder why nothing ever changes.