It is probably not terribly productive or vital to make further arguments against Bernie Sanders’ candidacy now that he appears to have started looking for the exit, but I’ve just had a revelation about the roots of my frustration with him that feels important enough to get off my chest.
For some time now, I’ve thought of my professed support for Hillary Clinton as a necessary, pragmatic abdication of my deeply progressive tendencies. I haven’t exactly been embarrassed by my choice, but I have felt a constant, nagging tension between the camp it feels like I’m supposed to be in and the camp I’ve decided to be in. And yet I’ve never considered turning back, which is weird because I’m generally very comfortable changing course if I think it’s the right thing to do. I did it once already this election season.
So it stands to reason that there would be something more than just simple bet hedging lurking beneath the surface—I just wasn’t able to put my finger on what it was until today. It came to me after I saw and spent some time thinking about this meme:
It’s true, according to the Washington Post. The Sanders fundraising model essentially starves down ballot Democrats (including many progressives) of the funds they need to get elected or re-elected. (Yes, as the Washington post points out, this is what Obama did with Organizing for America, but that’s sort of the point: how exactly will Sanders fulfill the implicit promise that he’ll get more done than Obama if he’s working from the very model that led to the Republican obstructionism that prevented Obama from getting more done?)
Sanders pretty clearly doesn’t give much of a shit about Democrats up, down or across the ballot. (Just ask John Fetterman.) After all, they’re mostly a bunch of establishment hacks, right? Sure, he can assume that most Democrats would work with him on his signature issues, but first they’d have to get elected and even then they wouldn’t have much power if they remained in the minority or lacked a filibuster-proof majority.
So what I discovered today is that when it gets right down to it, Bernie Sanders irks me not in spite of my deep progressivism but rather because of it. His campaign’s raison d’être rests on the implication that this one election for this one office will solve the very problems that many of us have been ranting and raving about and working to address for years. He writes off geographic and demographic constituencies that have been the backbone and the greatest beneficiaries of Democratic Party policies. He pretends that voter suppression and low-voter turnout among poor people are somehow new issues that haven’t bedeviled liberal candidates for decades. He suggests, in word and in action, that he will realize the progressive vision for America by fiat; just keep those $27 donations rolling in.
In other words, Bernie Sanders trivializes the blood, sweat and tears that have been involved in making slow but crucial progress over time. If only we’d had the balls and the brains to elect someone like him before instead of wasting our time on a bunch of Democratic whores, everything would be just great.
Well, that’s all well and good except that there aren’t many like him because the vast majority of the American electorate is still, at best, just left of center and there aren’t too many places where a Democratic Socialist can get elected [yet]; In fact, there’s quite a few places where they’d get soundly trounced. He’s talking as though he has convinced the nation that far left-wing policies are the way to go when, in fact, he hasn’t even convinced a majority of Democrats.
So in the meantime, those of us who were not prepared to fall on our swords insisting on ideological purity on one or two issues have been working our asses off toward a generally bluer nation, knowing that incremental change for the better is vastly preferable to no change or change in the wrong direction.
You can imagine, then, the frustration someone like me might feel when a candidate—one who ostensibly shares my loftiest ideals, no less—sees fit to rather nonchalantly dismiss the time, effort and money I have devoted over the years as insufficient, if not detrimental to the cause of progress.
Make no mistake, this is what Bernie Sanders has done. This largely explains why so many of his superfans are young and/or newly interested in politics—they have no track record of activism or even peripheral attention to politics and thus can’t be offended by the premise of his campaign. They have the blissfully ignorant luxury of being able to judge the rest of us for not joining them on their newly discovered moral high ground.
And so today I’ve crossed over from merely preferring Hillary to actively disliking Bernie Sanders and the movement he represents. In many ways, he is our Trump, exploiting skin-deep, knee-jerk impulses that have no place in the serious project of making real progress.
Fortunately, there is one way to prove me wrong and I hope Bernie’s most ardent supporters will take every opportunity to make me to eat crow. First of all, you have to vote. Vote for Jill Stein if you want, but vote. Failing to vote would only confirm that you are the immature dilettante some of us suspect you of being. Then you have to show up from here on out, regardless of what happens to Bernie. Get involved in other campaigns, vote in every marginally significant little local election, work to change whatever parts of the process you think holds true progressives back, run for office.
Unseat the establishment, which is to say become the new establishment. The establishment exists because someone has to run shit while you’re not paying attention. Pay attention and the next thing you know, you’ll have an establishment candidate of your own.