Author’s note: as I write this while Bernie Sanders is considering a second presidential run, it should be remembered that he and a large portion of his supporters never did what I noted in my below piece they needed to do to give Democrats the best chance of victory in the 2016 general election. We can only hope history does not repeat itself in the next one.
A deep look at the Clinton vs. Sanders fight: the history, the present, and a path forward. Sanders never had more than the slimmest of chances. Besides never winning over even close to a majority of the Democratic constituency on a state-by-state basis, Sanders also failed to understand even the basics of politics, which is more than just haranguing special interests and saying what you think with no filter. Clinton knows this, and it is a big part of how and why she has accomplished more in her career than Sanders. Ultimately, if you don’t share the same beliefs as the political party you want to lead and don’t know how to play the game of politics, you won’t be successful, no matter how much you and your supporters would love to ignore the game. But the game is part of reality, part of politics, and part of winning. And, like in sports, in politics, winning is not only everything, it’s the only thing. It doesn’t mean you need to sell your soul, but it does mean that the model Sanders has laid out is both naive and ineffective, even more so in a general election. Still, we come here not only to criticize, but to both praise and bury the Sanders campaign.
Originally published on LinkedIn Pulse April 29, 2016
AMMAN — Now is a critical time for the Democratic Party. There are two candidates vying for the presidential nomination of the Party. One is Hillary Clinton, very active in Democratic politics for almost half a century since her rejection of Republican ideology in 1968, coming after her days as a “Goldwater Girl” and being raised by a very conservative father, a political transformation she underwent during her days as an undergraduate at Wellesley College.
The other is Bernie Sanders.
How We Came to This Point
The official Senate page listing all the senators of the 114th Congress does not list Bernie Sanders as a (D) for Democrat, but as an (I), displaying his status as an independent. Bernie’s own Senate website still proudly states that he is “the longest serving independent member of Congress in American history,” in his “About” section. As a non-Democratic who in twenty-five years in the House and Senate combined refused to declare himself as or officially become a member of the Democratic Party, and who proudly maintained his independence as a democratic socialist, he has clearly, beyond any reasonable doubt, failed to take over the Democratic Party as a shining outsider white knight he had hoped to be, an outsider that would have forced the Party hard and far to the left. And it was a Democratic Party that he only just joined (apparently) in time for this election season, but one for which for he so long clearly harbored disdain.
Listening to his rhetoric on the campaign trail, he clearly still harbors this disdain, playing a delicate balancing act of repeatedly decrying “The Political Establishment” that favors Clinton while simultaneously seeking its approval and endorsement (even to the degree of trying to get superdelegates to switch their support from Clinton to him), a contradiction that increasingly has not gone unnoticed.
Despite his surprising early success (a near-tie in Iowa and a resounding, crushing victory in New Hampshire), it has been clear to those willing to look at the hard numbers of electorate beliefs and trends, supported by masses of polling and social science research, from quite early in the race that Sanders’ ability to win the diverse type of constituency necessary to clinch the Democratic nomination was practically nonexistent. As I noted before, this precise moment came in Nevada, when Hillary Clinton won by staggeringly dominant support from African Americans and Latinos. Prior to this win, the polling data already heavily confirmed that Sanders’ core of support consisted of white liberals and young people, a core nowhere near large enough win the majority of the overall national Democratic constituency. The main question was as to if Sanders’ very strong performances in Iowa and New Hampshire would give African Americans and Latinos pause enough to consider, and then vote for, Sanders in large enough numbers for him to win the nomination. The Nevada contest on February 20th, coming just a week before South Carolina’s heavily black Democratic base would vote in its contest, and that coming just a few days before (the first) Super Tuesday contests that would award the most delegates in any single day and that would include most of South, with its heavily black Democratic constituency and with Texas and its huge Latino constituency, was Bernie’s one chance to show he could win over a diverse coalition of support before the South Carolina and the rest of the South would create a reality of, votes, delegates, numbers, and probabilities that would effectively end his candidacy in all practical terms if he failed to do so.
After all, the laws of human behavior show that if a certain demographic of people favor one candidate generally by more than 4 to 1 (African Americans) or more than 2 to 1 (Latinos), those ratios will not switch in a matter days and weeks in the absence of some sort of remarkable event.
Such an event never happened in the run up to Nevada, and it has not since. Clinton was not indicted by the FBI in relation to her e-mail scandal, a probability that might have even been lower than Sanders’ miniscule chances of winning the nominations, nor did she suffer a dramatic collapse or series of gaffes. On Sanders’ side, he stubbornly failed to tailor or alter his message in any significant way to appeal to new groups who had thus far not bought into it. Aggressively trying to court African Americans on his terms, not theirs, was never a sound strategy.
Sanders’s Ideological Disconnect
Yet it is a hallmark of his idealist, socialist, even pseudo-Marxist theories of social change that maintain if only the masses were educated in the right ideology, they would largely come on board and support the revolution (never mind that time and time again people have proven this theory wrong, from Russia to China and elsewhere). “Educating voters” was a phrase Sanders and his supporters constantly used when explaining how a conservative country like the United States would suddenly elect a socialist president despite a fierce, visceral opposition to socialism among huge swaths of voters, particularly many millions of voters in key, populous battleground swing states that are crucial for victory in November. Like many Russians, Yugoslavs, and others before them, African Americans are not receptive to ideas of Bernie’s socialist “political revolution,” its prospects even far dimmer than his sliver of a chance at winning the nomination. If Sanders can’t win over such staunch Democrats, how will more conservative non-Democrats and Republicans respond to his message?
In constant use of phrases like “political revolution” and “educate the American people,” Sanders, like most ideologues, demonstrates his disconnect with—even war against—reality. For the ideologue, data, facts, context, research, all matter little; ideas, inspiration, and ideals are what matter most; and yet, that is why the vast majority of ideologically-driven revolutions have failed miserably and have often descended into mass-murder of the very masses the revolutions are ostensibly designed to save after these masses speak out and say “no, thank you,” to revolution.
Of course, Bernie Sanders and his movement are not violent like the Bolsheviks, Maoists, or Nicaraguan Sandinistas.
But there are similarities in mentality.
One similarity that I’ve already noted is the arrogance of belief that most people are simply with them, a belief that is simply an assumption and not based on any wider research and is based at best on anecdotal experiences. Another similarity in mentality is that those who disagree must have been brainwashed. Still another is that every single power structure or mainstream institution is nefariously stacked against them. There are not rational people, institutions, or credible authorities that disagree with the revolutionary ideals and plans, these ideologues say, because the powers that be have either warped or bribed the vast majority of policy, political, and economic experts and academics, as well any non-“alternative” news media (“alternative” meaning media that is for the revolution, its plan and ideals, not critical of them). And Mayor of Burlington Bernie Sanders in the 1980s vigorously supported the Sandinistas, even arranging to have their TV programming broadcast on Burlington’s local public-access cable stations.
The idea that thinking people can either rationally disagree or rationally conclude that such ideas might be nice but are not practical on a variety of levels simply does not occur to the ideologue. In my many exchanges with Bernie Sanders supporters, I have to yet to hear or watch or read, or even see from the candidate himself, any kind of thought-out, intelligent, detailed, worthwhile response to this concept of rational disagreement. Instead, the response is snark and slogans, castigation and conspiracy theories, as if somehow, to question Bernie Sanders (!) even on his quest for the presidency automatically makes us somehow deficient, all the while these ideologues never question their own deficiency when it comes to anything regarding the nuts and bolts of actual governance. This campaign has, among too many of Sanders’ followers, become something of a messianic cult, where the messiah is come and if you don’t get it you’re part of Team Devil. And, to a degree, the contempt that Sanders’ supporters have for anyone who disagrees with them—regardless of how rational the disagreement’s basis is—is mirrored, though more politely if still quite rudely, by the candidate himself.
Decoding the Debate
This contempt was on full display in the last Democratic debate, but has hardly been limited to just that stage.
AP Photo/Seth Wenig
Without a doubt, that latest Democratic debate in the Brooklyn Navy Yard (you can watch the full debate here) was the most spirited, eventful debate on the Democratic side yet: nasty, full of contrasts, and even with a few big surprises. But like all the other debates, in which Hillary Clinton had commanding leads in some sort of combination of delegates, votes, and polls, this debate once again featured a Bernie Sanders that needed to do something dramatic to alter the dynamics of the race to have even a prayer of a chance of winning the nomination, and, once again, that he failed to do.
It wasn’t for trying or lack of trying, but, as has often been the case with Sanders, the level of effort and level of strategic and tactical planning did not match each other. Both candidates were claiming that New York state was their home turf: Sanders, with his thick Brooklyn accent and his youth spent growing up in Brooklyn, and Clinton, with her service as a New York’s Senator from 2001-2009 and living in the state since those days up through the present day. Sanders made the calculation that perhaps he could afford to be, by far, his most aggressive and condescending yet to Clinton, perhaps feeling that NY would, in the end, prove to be more his home state than hers. He was snide, dismissive, and sarcastic; he laughed at her, mocked her, repeatedly used sarcasm; his body language and motions all evening were hostile, with him contorting his face constantly in expressions of derision and amusement while Clinton was talking (she, conversely, was often calm and stoic while he spoke) and literally pointing his finger at her incessantly, wagging and waving it at her invasively, raising it often while she was still talking, interrupting her, too (not that she did not interrupt him a few times as well). He was hypocritical in his modes of attack (her tiny amounts of fossil fuel industry contributions that her campaign and PACs received are, apparently, fair game, but not the small amount of high per-capita guns coming from Vermont into New York City; her votes should be viewed in black and white, his with respect to his environment and details). He even questioned her motives, again—what has been a staple of the Sanders campaign—implying that Clinton is a corrupt hack, bought and sold by her special interest donors, without actually directly leveling the accusation. Apart from interrupting Sanders, Clinton did none of these things. She stuck to a more elevated tone and to the issues, and did not question his motives for voting on gun issues the way he did with her even though he did not return the favor on other issues.
Some would say because Bernie did not attack Hillary on the e-mail and Benghazi issues that this is somehow him taking the high road, an example of his being exceptionally civil. I find that to be wholly unconvincing; unlike Republicans, Democrats do not see these issues as either terribly substantive or evidence that Clinton did something seriously wrong. Like most politicians, Sanders decided to attack Clinton where he could gain points for doing so; in a Democratic nomination contest with mainly Democrats voting, that was on issues of campaign contributions and super PACS, not on what Republicans were throwing at her. If anything, Bernie holding back on the e-mails and Benghazi is a just sign that Democratic voters would not have responded well to such attacks. Had he gone down that road, Bernie would have looked and sounded just like the desperate Republicans have if he had attacked her on those issues; it would have hurt Brand Bernie. So no, Bernie didn’t avoid those lines of attack out of charity and kindness; it was in his interests not to come off sounding like Republicans. When the topic resounds with the Democratic base, he has been happy to attack Clinton.
Conversely, I have not heard Clinton attack Bernie Sanders for broadcasting Sandinista propaganda in Burlington, for how he campaigned during the Vietnam War to reduce the American military to “local citizen militias and Coast Guard,” for how in 1980 he served as an elector in an obscure Trotskyist political party that called for “solidarity” with the Iranian Revolution even as its regime held Americans hostage, among other gems from Sanders’ past. And yet, you never hear Clinton being given credit for playing nice with Sanders, even though she clearly is, overall. The general approach for both seems to be that they attack each other from the left, not the right or with other tabloidy-stuff. And, as nasty as this race has gotten, the tone is astronomically more mature, substantive, and polite than the race on the Republican side.
Of course, as the front-runner, it makes sense that Clinton would not come out swinging the way Bernie did, who was far behind and had to make up a huge gap. That is politics, and Sanders, lest we forget, is still a politician, much like Clinton. Neither has been a saint, but Sanders campaigns on being one while Clinton never has. So attack her he does, and often not fairly, often by insinuation, often indirectly, and often letting his surrogates and supporters do the dirty work, whom he often fails to restrain. That has not been much of a high road for those who have been playing close attention, although this has largely escaped scrutiny because of the outlandish conduct on the Republican side that has made it seem tame in comparison.
And in the debate, happy to attack her he was; Bernie clearly felt comfortable not holding back much against her.
This calculation, in the end, would prove to be disastrously wrong.
In Bernie’s opening statement, he noted how far behind Clinton he was at the beginning of the race, and attributed how close it was to what claimed was the “radical” move of “telling the American people the truth” (the clear implication is the Clinton is not).
As usual, Sanders attacked Clinton for the support that she and organizations that support her received from special interests, including Wall St.
Sanders’ first big stumble was in saying he didn’t think the government should break up the banks, that the banks should break themselves up, a thoroughly unconvincing response from a man who has made the big banks one of America’s great public enemies in his campaign. The second came right after, when he could not name a single instance of when Clinton’s money she received from Wall St. influenced a specific decision of hers when she was in power in the Senate. He followed up with his inability to do this with a salvo of nasty sarcasm belittling her speaking out against the big banks, noticing mockingly and acerbically that the bankers “must have been crushed by this.”
One line of attack that I thought was particularly unfair was Sanders’ minimum wage cheap shot swipe against Clinton. The current federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. I will point out that from 1998, when I had my first job one summer while I was in high school, through mid-2013, the vast majority of the jobs I had and the vast majority of the hours I worked were at or near the minimum wage ($7.25-$8.25 an hour). Much of this was in the retail industry while I was in school or trying to transition to something better suited to my background and skills. So I know what it’s like to work a minimum wage job more than many Americans, and I care about this issue a lot. Hillary Clinton wants to raise the federal minimum wage to $12 an hour, a huge increase of over 65%. She further thinks that in many localities, like New York City, $15 makes more sense, and she has supported such efforts at the state and local levels to make the minimum wage $15. The thing is, Clinton and many experts recognize that a one-size-fits-all minimum wage is not a good solution for the country as a whole; the cost of living in Northern Virginia, New York City, Los Angeles, and Boston, among other places, is dramatically higher than in most other parts of the country, particularly rural areas and small towns. A $15 minimum wage in the near future would be very difficult for many small businesses outside of major U.S. metropolitan areas to handle or afford. Clinton’s nuanced approach is very much called for, Sanders’ oversimplistic approach (as is often his type of approach to many issues) is not and would harm the economy in many parts of America. For Sanders to try to portray Clinton as if she is somehow against American workers, as if she has not fought for a $15 minimum wage in important instances, and to attack her so strongly on this issue, to me does not seem fair. Sanders’ calling for a nearly 107%, unrealistic increase in the minimum wage across-the-board, period, and to attack Clinton’s over 65% increase—still a major, historic increase—is attacking someone who is still fighting hard on an important issue to most Democrats, just in a different way than Sanders, and seems to be splitting hairs on an issue where they are far closer than they are apart. I would also add that it is telling that Sanders wants to discuss who wants the higher federal minimum wage instead of actually discussing the actual policy itself and the differences between $12 in a rural area and $15 in NYC, between federal efforts and state and local efforts. Sanders should, if his mantras are to be believed, be better than hyperinflating such differences.
One could be tempted to say the same for Clinton on Sanders with, say, guns, except that she is generally responding to attacks from Team Sanders that have been going on for months. If he is going have some major attacks that focus on minor differences, it is entirely reasonable that Clinton respond in kind. Further, I would argue that their differences in guns are more substantive than their differences on the minimum wage
Bernie, as was his usual response to the issue of gun violence, noted that he had a rating grade of a D- from the NRA. Hillary was very effective in attacking his votes that were in line with the interests of the NRA (for these he had a nuanced explanation, but for all the issues with Clinton where her votes are questionable, it’s black and white to him!), but she should have mentioned that her grade is an F, and while that might not seem like a big deal to some, Sanders voting against the Brady Bill five times and for shielding gun manufacturers from liability are not insignificant differences; they are differences that may very well account for lives lost and lives saved, and certainly account for the different grades they have received from the NRA and for why Clinton’s grade was lower than Sanders; even in the NRA’s view, Sanders did not do everything he could to restrict guns; in its view, Clinton did; otherwise, both candidates would have received and F. And, while only a tiny number of the overall traced guns from crime scenes in New York came from Vermont, Clinton is still absolutely right that Vermont had more guns per capita showing up in New York crime scenes than any other state, so using that statistic to point out that that laxer gun laws in Vermont have had negative consequences for New York—an effect outsized for its tiny population—is fair game when discussing gun policy in general before the New York state primary, since both Sanders and Vermont have been less tough on guns than Clinton and New York.
Israel, Palestine, and the Politics of Political Theater
The one moment where I was by far the most impressed by Sanders was when he was bold in speaking out on the plight of the Palestinian people. I have written numerous pieces in which I have been extremely critical of Israel’s policies towards Palestinians, of its tactics and strategy, of its occupation, of Netanyahu. I agree with Sanders 100% that, overall, the military intervention in Gaza in the summer of 2014 was disproportionate. A part of me was disappointed that Clinton did not express some of the same sentiments time in her recent AIPAC speech that Sanders has expressed, but at the same time, Sanders did not make the comments in question to AIPAC, which he skipped and which would certainly have been hostile to his message, and made the comments instead in an interview with the New York Daily News. Rather, Hillary (understandably if not admirably) tailored her message in a close race with Sanders, where even some polls in NY had them close, and, while not denying Sanders’ points, certainly avoided discussing them at all in favor winning over America’s Jewish political establishment in what has been a difficult primary (with NY state voting soon after this speech, NY being home to a huge portion of America’s Jews and, therefore, the world’s) and looks to be a difficult general election, one in which Republicans will try to make Democrats and Clinton look weak in terms of support for Israel. Sanders, as an American Jew and as many Jews do, may feel freer to criticize Israel than Americans who are non-Jews. Sanders also made the aforementioned comments to the New York Daily News as someone whose chances of ever being president were very slim; months from now, when Sanders is not the nominee or the president, he will face little scrutiny, and pay few penalties, for uttering them. Yet, if Hillary Clinton had said these things the way Sanders had said them, she could very well pay a price in November in a close race with Trump, or even once in the White House as she seeks to engage Israel and win reelection.
I can’t fault Hillary for not taking a big political risk on publicly speaking out for Palestinians the way Sanders has, though I would have preferred that her AIPAC address contained more lines addressing the plight of the Palestinians. Playing her cards closer to her chest is more than warranted in this instance, and I take far more comfort in Clinton’s actions over her long career rather than ascribe much to her statements made on the campaign trail when it comes to demonstrating fairness to both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She came out for a Palestinian state as First Lady, before her husband, and when she was Secretary of State, she repeatedly criticized Israel and Netanyahu for their treatment of Palestinians and settlement expansion, both privately and publicly.
As admirable, then, as Sanders’ speaking on the plight of the Palestinians was, it also demonstrated how politically unsavvy he is. And political savviness is a crucial trait that one trying to run the American political system and run one of its two major political parties must possess. Sanders was even forced to suspend his Jewish outreach coordinator after it was discovered just days before the NY primary that she had posted some very pointed criticism of Netanyahu, utilizing offensive language, on social media. It is entirely possible, even probable, that Sanders comments and the story of his outreach staffer may have cost him some Jewish support in NY; Clinton did, after all, outperform the final polling that was conducted in the state, and Sanders underperformed. If she campaigned strongly right now during the election for Palestinians rights, it might cost her votes in a crucial state like Florida, and if she lost the election, she would also lose her ability to push for those very rights even as she spoke for them on the campaign trail. Sure, she slyly dodged the issue at AIPAC and the debate, but doing so was simply smart if not admirable politics (the former often more effective than the latter in terms of public discourse), and her record shows that there is little reason to believe she won’t stick up for Palestinians while still vigorously defending Israel’s right to defend itself.
If only politics were as simple as simply saying what you think, directly, all the time, consequences be damned, then Bernie’s style would make sense. But it’s far more complicated. Sometimes politics involves holding your tongue, playing your cards close to your chests, not saying everything you believe, tailoring your message, waiting for the right time. People who support Bernie like him for generally doing none of these; even some people who don’t support him like him for the same reason.
But politics is often a dance, a game, kabuki theater; in Bernie’s world, most people agree with him (the silent masses!), and if you just mobilize their support, presto! That’s how you get change done, that’s how you transform America from a plutocracy to one of shared socialist values. And that is what Sanders and his supporters believe.
Except it’s never that simple, that is not the real world, that is not the real America.
The bottom line is that such an approach has not made him a winner in this race (it was clear since Nevada he would not win, clearer since Super Tuesday I, and now only painfully, obviously clear to all but his most die-hard, delusional partisans). But even before this presidential campaign, his approach has only led him to pass one—just one—of his own bills in twenty-five years in Congress to Clinton’s ten bills in eight years. His mentality and worldview have not made him an effective legislator; relative to Sanders, Clinton was a very and far more effective legislator. Sanders might not realize this as deeply as he should, but there is a hell of a lot more to politics than simply standing up and saying what you believe. Millions of people in the streets may sound nice, but that is not how any major change came about in America, certainly not without numbers and leadership in Congress to back up such forces. As Sanders’ candidacy has proven beyond a doubt, filling tens of thousands of people in a park, street, or stadium is hardly representative of the level of support a candidate has: Sanders drew a remarkable 27,000 people to a rally in Washington Square in Manhattan about a week before the New York primary, yet lost 42% to 58% to Clinton, by about 300,000 votes.
Truce, Peace, or an Alliance with Sanders and Sandernistas?
I know I’ve been hard on Sanders, and his followers. I just don’t have much patience for “movements” that are clearly doomed from the start, that at best, succeed only in highlighting a few issues a bit more than usual, but that most often simply succeed in inflaming the passions of a minority of millions, filling their heads with unrealistic expectations, causing their hearts to swell with hope, a hope that will only be crushed and let down, feeding a roller coaster of emotions that crests mightily, continues to crest well-after all reason has warned them this will not end the way they envision, and inevitably leads to disappointment in one way or another. The Sanders “movement” is but one of many of such “movements,” and whether or not it is generally forgotten and just a minor blip on the political radar, has less to do with Sanders himself and more to do with whether his adherents buy into the two-party system, make their peace with reality, and start to work on their causes as active, registered members of the Democratic Party, bolstering it during mid-terms (when it has recently suffered losses), and thereby earning a seat at the table and a right to help steer the course of the Party, having put in their time, having voted with Democrats for repeated election cycles, have been there to withstand the onslaught or organized Republicans. Because what is perhaps most offensive to me about the typical Sandernista, besides the gleeful and inaccurate denigration of Hillary Rodham Clinton, is the sense of entitlement that most Bernie Sanders supporters—most of them non-(registered)-Democrats, independents, unaffiliateds, who are and have been supporting third-parties, whose inaction or misdirected action has been as responsible for the Tea Party takeover of Congress and the election of George W. Bush in 2000 as any other single group of people—feel that they automatically have the right to participate, take over, and lead the Democratic Party for which they have long held disdain and have not fought for over the years.
Sorry, but you haven’t been with us, you haven’t supported us, not enough. If you get to take part in an open or mixed primary, good for you, welcome to the action, but this is rightfully at the discretion of state parties, and the state parties that say “Democrats only for the Democratic primary” are perfectly within rationality and their legal and political rights to make their contests closed to non-Democrats. Nothing entitles you to have power in my party, not when you’re not a member, not when you haven’t been there fighting on our side.
Sure, we appreciate the level of enthusiasm you have displayed; now, let’s see if you have the patience and maturity to stay engaged over time and apply that enthusiasm to actually making a difference. Simply latching onto a single candidate in a single election cycle that you think will change everything is not only foolish, but is the lazy, easy way out, when far more is required of you as a citizen over far longer a period of time than months or one year. I could have—and did—say many of the same things about Obama supporters in 2008; we got a fine president in Obama, to be sure; but the “hope and change” he campaigned on in that election, the transformative persona that so many of his supporters believed in, turned out to be a big disappointment, to no surprise to me. And yet with Obama, even if that more emotional aspect of his appeal never came to fruition, we had a candidate and a president who at heart was also a deep, substantive thinker, and thus disaster was averted and a pretty decent presidency emerged where “hope and change” failed. I was able to proudly cast my vote for him in November, both in 2008 and 2012. Bernie Sanders, as he has amply demonstrated time and time again, in interview after interview (most clearly in the now infamous New York Daily News interview), is not a man of substance, is not a deep thinker. It would have been with a large sense of unease if I had to vote for him in November in order to prevent Trump from winning the White House.
So no, I will not apologize for not respecting your movement, for not respecting your candidate, for not respecting the awful way you and he have treated the remarkable if imperfect woman who will be our standard bearer this fall. I was right to declare war on you when you and your candidate were out of hand and going to far.
But now I offer an olive branch: I offer a truce if you reign in your atrocious attacks on her, if Sanders is careful to encourage you to do the same, if Sanders stops allowing crowds to loudly boo Hillary at his rallies, if he himself reigns in his attacks on Clinton and focuses primarily on the issues for which he has been such a vocal and passionate advocate, then I happily offer a truce. I offer peace if you vote for Hillary in the fall, and do your part to stop a Trump and Republican takeover of the government. And I offer an alliance if you will register as a Democrat, be there election after election including midterms, stick with the Party and try to slowly change it from within, and maturely note as adults that, like in any relationship, there will be times that the Democratic Party will disappoint you, and such are no times to childishly storm off and say “I’m through.”
Believe me, I understand being frustrated with the Party; I thought a few times about leaving myself, so full of disappointed was I. But that is no way to help the party, to change it over time, to make a difference. And the sidelines are no place to be for anyone who claims to care about politics, their countrymen, their nation, is not place for doers; the sidelines are for the narcissists, the delusional, the selfish, the self-indulgent, the noisemakers. And it’s not about me, about whether or not I respect you or vice versa, about any personal anger you may or may not feel in reading this or any of my other pieces, comments, or tweets, or those of anyone else; it’s about whether or not Bernie Sanders supporters are mature enough to become part of the solution—swallowing some bitter pills, compromising, even putting up with some things and policies they don’t like (gasp!) in the interest of the greater good—rather than being part of the problem.
There will be no revolution, no unicorns. Just the same type of political warfare we’ve had for generations. You have two sides; you don’t have to love one or both, but you either pick the one that is closest to you on the issues and help it move policy and itself in the better direction on those issues, or you are irrelevant at best, or empowering the side that moves policy in the worse direction on the issues at worst. This is reality. Declaring war no reality has not worked out well for you or the Sanders campaign. But history will judge you if you declare war on reality, if you aren’t part of the solution, of the real fight for real change.
Bernie Sanders is a passionate, exceptional advocate for the small number yet incredibly important types of issues he has chosen to take up, and he has drawn in millions of people who, together with him, can make a difference if they are willing to dance. They don’t get to dance on their terms; newcomers seldom do, and if they try to dance on their terms, they will dance alone, in a void, with no music. And even someone like Hillary Clinton is very constrained by both the realities of the political system and the American electorate. Operating within those constraints, and knowing how to do so, is the key to success in politics. And Clinton has understood this from her days as an undergraduate; even then she pushed against the Saul Alinksy tactic for disruption, and passionately knew that the best way to affect change in a messy system was to take responsibility for that system by working to change it from within, something Clinton has done ever since her days as an undergraduate at Wellesley, as this must-read article notes.
This is the difference between her and Sanders, the realist and the fantasist.
Sure, it would be wonderful to destroy what we don’t like about the system by simply willing and haranguing it away. But that does not happen in reality, revolutions are incredibly rare, successful ones even rarer, non-violent ones that are successful even rarer than that.
Sanders and his supporters never had more of a chance than hope and prayer; it is now time for responsible citizens to come together and to stop dreaming of a longshot Hail Mary, to not to make demands on a front-runner who will have more than enough delegates to seal the nomination, but to roll up their sleeves, and to get ready for the long-hard work of bringing about real change, to not bank an entire critical election against a terrifying opponent and the fate of a nation to hope and a prayer, but to bet more solidly on thought-out plans of workable change within the constraints of present reality and to back a candidate with an actual record of bringing about change by working practically within the system.
To be fair to Sanders, he and his wife Jane have signaled and begun to demonstrate over the last few days that the campaign will be toning down its attacks on Clinton and that they have no plans to play a “spoiler” role or run as a third party. This is both a welcome and a necessary step, if overdue. If this is indeed what they are doing, this is great news for all of us.
Join Us and Vote Democratic in the Fall
I know many of you Sanders supporters are angry and bitter. But that’s life. I was angry and bitter in 2008 when Clinton lost to Obama, but I came around to support Obama by November; Clinton lost and I did not feel she was entitled to make any major demands. I was also bitter and angry when Kerry and Gore lost in 2004 and 2000, respectively. But I didn’t give up.
George Takei’s recent eloquent plea to unite for this fall election, to #VoteBlueNoMatterWho, should not go unheeded. We are defined just as much by what we do in defeat as what we do in victory. Sore losers and sore winners are both noxious forces. Yet as a Hillary Clinton supporter, I don’t feel like we’ve won anything yet. It’s all about November. And it’s been clear since the last Republican debate that the Republicans will not be nearly as big a mess as liberals were hoping they would be, as I have noted before, and the conventional wisdom that the Republican Party will deny Trump the nomination if it comes to a contested convention, thereby leading to a Republican meltdown and schism and the Party’s destruction, is misleading, as I have also noted before. In other words, Democrats will face an organized and tough foe in the fall, one led by Trump, who has an unprecedented ability to play the media in his favor. Unless Trump and the Republicans are kept out of the White House, their hands kept far away from Supreme Court nominations, we will all have lost. Like it or not, you’re stuck with Clinton if you’re on the left. But it’s up to all of us to make sure we aren’t stuck with Trump and the Republican Party that produced and empowered his rise over many years of anti-intellectualism, nativism, hatred of government, of division. Love or hate Hillary, she is against all of these things. So the choice in November is no choice at all. Are you with me? Are you with her? Are you with us? Or will you help them, even by inaction or misdirected action?
I’m with her. And you should be too, Sandernistas. And who knows, once you see what she can do in power, maybe you will actually like her. Even if you never like her, you still have a part to play if you want to be a responsible citizen in stopping the Republicans and Donald Trump. It’s up to you to convince your most die-hard compatriots that Clinton is better than Trump and worth supporting against him. Get to it!
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