Remember 2008? As it became clear that Barack Obama was going to win the nomination, Hillary Clinton and her supporters become more fervent that not only would he not, but that he was a weak candidate who couldn’t possibly beat the Republicans (Hillary less so than her supporters and surrogates, honestly). To me, the culmination of this nonsense was when she won West Virginia in mid-May. It was a rout, and the Clinton camp used that to argue that they were better positioned to win in November, because, as the candidates said “I’m winning Catholic voters and Hispanic voters and blue-collar workers and seniors, the kind of people that Sen. McCain will be fighting for in the general election.”
Those of us in the Obama camp were obviously incredulous. There was no way that she was going to win West Virginia in November. Winning the Democratic primary there was about as valuable as in Idaho or Wyoming, places that wouldn’t go blue if a Democrat promised to make potatoes our new currency. She was losing the popular vote, states won, and total voters. There was no case that she should be the nominee.
So basically, this is kind of weird mirror year, no?
This is what happens in a political movement that considers itself a revolution, as the Sanders campaign does. His supporters definitely do, and the candidate seems to as well. As Amanda Marcotte, who has been invaluable this election, points out, Bernie seems disdainful of the idea of being in a party except as a vehicle for his own ambitions. And these are ambitions with which I agree! It’s why I voted for him, and would happily do so in November. But they are wrapped up in the idea that it is so pure an ambition, and the hard work of regular politics is so anathema to those ambitions, that anything getting in the way has to be corrupt.
This includes voters who support Clinton. This includes stupid voting rules in New York and bureaucratic fuck-ups. It includes the entire idea of a party vote being a closed system that can set its own rules, unless those rules redound in their favor, like in caucuses. It includes the very idea that in order to vote in a party system you have to, you know, actually be part of that party. It becomes conspiratorial, with the assumption that the Clinton campaign, which was never actually threatened in New York, engaged in voter suppression (or #votersupression), even though it was far easier and less risky to just, you know, win. As Joshua Holland at The Nation asks, why rig a campaign that you’ve been winning from the start? (The counterpoint to that is Nixon, but come on).
As any political campaign wears on, the people invested in it get more hysterical and more prone to conspiracy and anger and seeing the opponent as the enemy. In the Democratic primary, this goes both ways. But only one side seems to feel that they are the natural heir to justice, and so anything that gets in the way of that is pure evil.
A revolution always starts out with a few targets, but soon enough, anything not moving in lockstep becomes something else to fire at. Bernie Sanders has done this country a great service by pulling the Democratic Party even more to the left and by reviving an economic populism that had only been scratched at on the national level. He’s accomplished a great deal, and I hope he keeps contesting primaries. Hillary shouldn’t tack to the center, because she can win from the center-left. But he also has to acknowledge that politics is the way things get done, and has to make sure that his supporters don’t, through sheer force of narcissistic self-righteousness, undo the great work that he and his campaign have done.