The Democratic establishment, and their supporters, mistakingly blame the protest against Hillary Clinton on Bernie Sanders. There is no question that a tremendous number of Democrats and independents prefer Sanders over Clinton, but this is far more than a battle between personalities. It is over principles. Martin Longman tried to set Democrats straight in writing, It’s Not All About Bernie:
Perhaps it is unfortunate, in a way, that Bernie Sanders has a substantial amount of personal charisma and has won the allegiance of quite a number of people based on them liking him personally rather than for what he has to say about U.S. foreign policy and economic justice. The reason I say this isn’t because I think this number is that large, but more because it has contributed to a sense that there is a Cult of Bernie with ardent and sometimes misbehaving acolytes. Some people call them Bernie Bros., but that insulting catch-all doesn’t capture what’s driving so many Democrats into the arms of an (until recently) independent Socialist who is still a harsh critic of the Democratic Party and its leadership.
From a personal perspective, I’ve been traveling in progressive circles for more than a decade now, and I’ve been part of the liberal blogosphere almost since its inception. By far, most of the people I’ve become acquainted with, many of whom are among the most committed and experienced Democratic organizers and partisans you will find, have been Bernie Sanders supporters from the beginning of this campaign. By and large, they aren’t part of any cult and they haven’t been drinking any Kool-Aid.
The liberal blogosphere snapped into existence at a time when it seemed that the Democratic Party had lost its way. They had lost the election in 2000 (made it close enough to steal, if you will), had failed to stop Bush’s devastating tax cuts, and were showing no backbone against Bush’s post-9/11 national security insanity. In the 2002 midterms, the Democrats performed much worse than expected.
Meanwhile, the media was not questioning the assumptions behind or the factual basis for the march to war in Iraq, and they were painting concerned citizens as unpatriotic.
In the beginning, the progressive backlash against this didn’t much include any retrospective condemnation of the Clinton administration, except to the limited degree that some blamed it for letting things get so out of whack. It wasn’t until we had the 2008 primary that progressives began having an internal argument about the legacy of the Democratic Leadership Council and the triangulating ways of Bill Clinton. This was fueled further when the economy collapsed in September of that year, which eventually led to the Occupy Movement and a further split on the progressive left…
So, what the Sanders campaign really is when you get past the idiosyncrasies of Bernie Sanders, is an expression of dissatisfaction with the status quo and a desire to change the party to meet the needs of the country on a more urgent basis. And the practical way that can be done is by having their voices heard at the convention. To the degree that this ambition is shunted, the progressive conscience of the party is marginalized and frustrated.
The focus shouldn’t be so much on personalities or the worst behavior of the loudest and most annoying people. It should be on the big picture. Young people, in particular, are vastly more attracted to the Sanders message than what is being offered by Clinton. These are potentially Democratic Party members for life, but that isn’t going to happen automatically, and especially not if they feel that their beliefs are unacceptable and have been defeated.
Many of us are seeing our principles betrayed by having the party establishment back Hillary Clinton. Those of us who backed the Democrats in protest against George W. Bush’s foreign policy and neoconservativism are not going to automatically vote Democratic if this year it is the Democrats who are running the neocon as their candidate. Similarly, those of us who protested the violations of civil liberties, hostility towards government transparency, the role of money in government, and the support for an increased role of religion in public policy under Bush are not pleased to see a Democratic candidate who shares these faults. Plus Clinton is to the right of Trump on issues ranging from trade to drug policy. The election of Hillary Clinton looks like a third term for the policies of George W. Bush with the ethics of Richard Nixon.
Clinton certainly has the edge in the election, but it is now looking very close. If Democrats want the support of those who backed them in opposition to Republican policies, and if they want to win, they need to offer a candidate who respects our values–not one who quotes arguments from The Wall Street Journal to attack Medicare for All and other progressive programs. If the Democratic Party doesn’t offer an acceptable candidate, many voters will look elsewhere.
Third party candidates have the potential to disrupt the Democratic/Republican monopoly more than usual this year. A Data Targeting poll from today shows that “55% of respondents favor having an independent presidential ticket in 2016.” This includes “91% of voters under the age of 29.” In addition, “65% of respondents are at least somewhat, pretty or very willing to support a candidate for President who is not Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton.” Both Trump and Clinton have historically high negatives. While I am skeptical that this will actually occur, here is their most dramatic finding:
In a ballot test against Clinton and Trump, a truly independent candidate starts off with 21% of the vote.
This number increases to 29% in the “Big Sky” region, 30% in “New England” and 28% in the “West” region.
Among voters with an unfavorable opinion of both Trump and Clinton, the independent actually wins the ballot test
Democrats can greatly reduce the risk of seeing Donald Trump being elected by nominating a candidate who stands up for Democratic principles like Bernie Sanders. Otherwise they risk losing a generation of potential voters, and possibly the beginning of the end of our current two party system if it fails to provide a true choice.