One of the stranger political locutions of the last few weeks- outside of every top Republican being shocked that a white nationalist candidate would appeal to naked racism- has been Bernie Sanders saying that he believes “the Democratic Convention will be a contested convention.” There was a strange passivity there, implying a lack of control. It wasn’t that he was choosing it to be contested in the face of math, reason, and democratic imperative- it just, sort of, was. Life, you know? What are ya gonna do?
That willingness to fight on despite having lost, and despite needing to do a 180 on superdelegates, was laid bare in a Politico article late last night, which demonstrated that it was Bernie Sanders in control of every decision the campaign made, including spending. This was a different narrative, pushed by erstwhile supporters and foes alike, that most of the annoying attacks and counterproductive strategies went through Jeff Weaver, whose pugnacity made him something of a centrist and center-left punching bag, Bernie’s own Mark Penn, except competent and resourceful and more likeable and able to do good for his candidate and understanding how campaigns work and not being unable to find his ass in a phone booth with two hands and a map. So not at all like Mark Penn, except in terms of being a target of loathing.
And, assuming that this article is true, and not just the ass-coverings of sunken ship survivors who realized that they might be playing with fire, and their careers, this doesn’t speak as ill of Bernie as I think people are making it out to. Yes, there is the usual bitterness that comes with a hard-fought campaign, where you focus every day on one person who is keeping you from getting what you want. That’s human nature, and that’s politics.
Some of the bitterness is disquieting for Dems, but also normal human nature, such as his anger at Sherrod Brown.
Aides say Sanders thinks that progressives who picked Clinton are cynical, power-chasing chickens — like Sen. Sherrod Brown, one of his most consistent allies in the Senate before endorsing Clinton and campaigning hard for her ahead of the Ohio primary. Sanders is so bitter about it that he’d be ready to nix Brown as an acceptable VP choice, if Clinton ever asked his advice on who’d be a good progressive champion.
In some ways, that doesn’t seem to bode well- it makes Bernie look like the self-appointed progressive messiah, who positions himself as the only acceptable candidate for the Left, and anyone who doesn’t believe so is an apostate. But really, that’s just politics. Everyone gets pissed when they don’t get an endorsement, especially one they are expecting. This should be fine. But…
But the good and the ill of the Sanders campaign was laid bare in what was, for Politico (as always, obsessed with process) a transition paragraph.
This isn’t about what’s good for the Democratic Party in his mind, but about what he thinks is good for advancing the agenda that he’s been pushing since before he got elected mayor of Burlington.
This campaign started out as an agenda one. It was a campaign that Bernie thought he could win, of course. No one runs for President without thinking that, with a few breaks, they might win (and don’t forget how successful a politician Bernie Sanders has been). He’s pushed a radically (for our post-Reagan times) progressive agenda, and has been able to move the party to the left.
That’s where the bad part comes in. In running a revolution, and not a campaign, Bernie and his most ardent supporters have convinced themselves that the Democratic Party is the obstacles to progressive change, and not, for all its ills the major vehicle for it. Politics work in this country because activists push creaking parties in one direction of the other, and sustain that movement. Sometimes you catch lightning in a bottle, like with President Obama, and sometimes you push party elders toward your positions, like with Hillary Clinton. But this is a good thing. It isn’t a loss.
It’s only a loss, weirdly, if they refuse to treat it like one, and continue to fight at and until the convention. (He’s staying in, for now, but that’s fine.Somehow I don’t think Washington DC is going to give him a boost.)This isn’t contested in any real sense, unless Bernie wants to make it such. But I think that’s what Obama will be telling him when they talk on Thursday, as is being reported. I imagine that it there will be a few major talking points.
- Don’t tell your supporters this was stolen. For one thing, that’s super insulting to the millions of people who voted for Hillary. They don’t represent the 1%. If your supporters think this was stolen, it’ll be harder to sustain the momentum you built. Have them keep driving the party. That’s how this works.
- Oh yeah- don’t tell them that it was stolen because she’s running against Donald Trump. As my friend BMK said, the conversation should involve the phrase “Donald Trump appearing in the first paragraph of your obituary”.
- You did a great and good and amazing thing. This is one of the most positive and remarkable campaigns in American history, and you will continue to play a huge role in advancing your agenda. But there is really only one viable high-level political path for that, and that’s the Democratic Party. We can work together on this. Make up with Sherrod Brown. Get over it. Get back to work.
The Politico article showed what a canny and involved politician Bernie Sanders is, to his great credit. And the race showed that a single-minded focus on the evils of inequality can have a remarkable impact. I don’t think Bernie is going to burn it to the ground. The question is whether or not he continues to push for positive progressive growth, or retreats into bitterness.