Bernie Sanders and the Limits of Non-Politics


How can you not love this guy? Well, there’s a way…


“I know that the Clinton campaign thinks this campaign is over. They’re wrong,” Sanders said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press from New Albany, Indiana. “Maybe it’s over for the insiders and the party establishment but the voters today in Indiana had a different idea.”

Here’s the problem with leading a revolution. Anything that is opposed to it is, by definition, counter-revolutionary. And it isn’t just that: opposition becomes the enemy of progress, it becomes and ill and evil thing. It falls short of perfection, and a revolution doesn’t want to live in a fallen world.

The Bernie Sanders campaign has been incredible. He has changed the tenor of the campaign, and pulled a cautious Hillary Clinton to the left. This is good for policy, of course, but it is also good politics. Forcing her to hedge on trade will be good in November, acolytes of “tacking to the center” be damned. Forcing her to the left on economic inequality will be an enormous boost in the generals, even if it makes pundits itch. Bernie has helped the country, and he has, so far, helped to make sure a Democrat beats Donald Trump.

But it won’t be him. All he can do now is make it harder for Hillary Clinton. And given what he’s done, that’s a damn shame. The legacy of this incredible campaign shouldn’t be the election of Donald Trump. The problem is that Bernie, and a lot of his supporters, seem to feel that math is damnably counter-revolutionary, and so it too must be fought against.

Read more on how Bernie can still help the fight for progress

Before we go on, I want to make clear that I very proudly voted for Bernie Sanders in the Illinois primary. It was my 6th-favorite vote I ever cast (four for Obama, one for Tom Geoghegan). I know these are caveats that no one cares about, but I think it is fair to explain where I am coming from.

It’s not that Bernie can’t win. As he pointed out, by definition, there will be a contested convention, since Hillary Clinton won’t be able to get enough pledged delegates to win without the help of superdelegates. But this is also always the case: Barack Obama needed superdelegates to win as well. The difference is that Hillary Clinton- means, grasping, greedy, self-centered, money-grubbing, only-in-it-for-herself, evil corporate stooge- didn’t contest the election. She acceded to reality, and knew that contesting would hurt the chances of electing Barack Obama.

So that is to say, the only way this is a contested convention is if Bernie Sanders decides it is incumbent on him to contest it. There isn’t some exogenous force demanding it. It’s like flying through a red light and claiming that the intersection was contested.

Now, admittedly that analogy is imperfect, because if you are going through a red, you are breaking a law that most people would admit is pretty helpful. There is no such law that Sanders has to follow. Indeed, he can claim (fairly) that not following the standard is a good thing for a few reasons:

  1. The system is unfair and rigged
  2. He represents the true will of the people
  3. He has a better chance of winning

Let’s look at these. The first has the best case. It’s true that the inexcusable Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, friend to payday loan scammers and credit card debt factories, wanted to make this as easy as she could on Clinton, scheduling debates for the weekend and clearing the schedule for a frontrunner. But are superdelegates so bad? Charles Pierce certainly thinks so, and he (as always) makes a very strong case. I still think they aren’t inherently anti-democratic, because by definition superdelegates get to where they are by winning votes from people, even if it is just the committee chairwoman of West Nowhere, Illinois. Mayor Daley wasn’t wrong in 1972 that Humphrey better represented his constituency than did George McGovern, and the election results proved it. But still: Bernie’s case is that they are anti-democratic if they just reward an insider rather than the will of the people.

The problem is, that’s exactly what he’s arguing they should do, by switching to him. Hillary, inarguably, has three million more votes than he does. I know you can say that had more independents been able to vote, it would have made a huge difference, and that he represents more than people who vote in Democratic primaries, but at the end, that’s just speculation. As is the idea that if the superdelegates hadn’t pledged early, people wouldn’t have voted for her. There’s an argument there, for sure, but it is one that has to be argued backwards, and fought against moving forward. You can’t actually make that case as a counter-factual to what has happened in the voting booth. Hillary has more votes. A lot more. Enough to the point where saying that you are the people’s true tribune is actually embarrassing.

And I don’t want Bernie to embarrass himself, or to make himself marginal. I love what he’s done to this race. So there is no reason for him to drop out. If it took John Kasich this long to leave, there is no reason why someone who has actually ran a triumphant and brilliant and inspiring campaign to get out now.

But he has to- he has to- stop attacking this in a way that feeds the “Clinton can only win when things are rigged” mythology. Not only is that insulting to the millions of people who voted for her because they want her to be President, it fuels Trump’s only reasonable line of attack.  And if Trump wins, do any of Bernie’s supporters actually feel that is a triumph for progress? That their voices will be heard? That we won’t enter a terrible time in American history? Do they think that honest-to-god building a wall on the border will make things better for the American worker, much less the people of Mexico? It won’t. And if Trump wins, there is no way that the Senate is flipped, and certainly not the House. It’ll be a complete catastrophe.

Non-politics is great, but politics actually do matter. All progress in ths country has come from the fire of activists forcing the politicians to do the right thing, but it hasn’t been able to enact anything from the outside. They have to work together. Electing a Democrat is the only way to make things better, and to keep moving on the incremental but serious progress made by Barack Obama. It isn’t sexy and it doesn’t contain the pure joy of revolution, but an ever-leftward Democratic Party is the goal. Hillary can win (negating point #3), but only if Bernie actually accepts that he isn’t the will of the people made flesh. She got more votes. He has to help make sure she gets more in November as well, or all the good that was done will be washed away, buried under the muck and ruin of an American Mussolini.

One thought on “Bernie Sanders and the Limits of Non-Politics

  1. Pingback: Sanders and the Kentucky Recount | Shooting Irrelevance

Keep it respectful...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s