It’s come to my attention that quite a few Bernie backers are seriously considering a third-party choice or sitting this election out. I don’t believe there’s such a thing as a wasted vote, and I’m not going to pretend anyone has a moral obligation to settle on the lesser of two evils. Nevertheless, I am puzzled by this.
Bernie people shouldn’t be gloomy. They ought to be feeling confident and proud. Senator Sanders ran a model campaign: he raised his national profile considerably and forced Democratic Party leaders to confront issues that they would have preferred to ignore. Bernie did the sort of broad, generous coalition-building that American electoral democracy is built on, and he was rewarded for his efforts with platform planks that wouldn’t be there if he hadn’t run. Success for Bernie-style ideas and Bernie-style politics is more attainable now than it has been at any point in my lifetime.
All of that is contingent, however, on beating the stuffing out of the other side.
I, too, doubt that Hillary Clinton has genuine enthusiasm for the Sanders agenda. But with a Democrat in the White House and Democrats in control of the Senate (and Sanders himself as chair of the Budget Committee) we’ve got a better-than-decent chance of realizing some of Bernie’s ambitions. If the Republicans win control, we have no chance. This shouldn’t be a difficult decision.
By many measures, Senator Sanders is the most popular person in American politics. Crucially, he’s also the best understood: because of his evident integrity and the clarity of his voice, everybody knows what he stands for and why. President Hillary Clinton is not going to be able to belittle his objections — or pretend to misapprehend them — as if he’s some lone backpacker with a bullhorn making a nuisance of himself on the White House lawn. She knows he stands with millions behind him. He has become an integral part of the Democratic coalition, and if she pisses him off, that’s going to have practical political consequences. She may or may not share Bernie’s egalitarian ideology, or his reflexive compassion, or his distaste for oligarchy or violent solutions to international problems. But she certainly understands practical politics.
You helped put Bernie in this position: your votes and your support gave him the clout he’ll have within the ascendant Democratic Party. If this election goes the right way, Bernie won’t be a gadfly from a cold Northeastern state anymore. He’ll be a figure of real significance — one who’ll be able to help shape public policy.
Bernie Sanders’ whole Senate career has been an object lesson about persistence and the value of working within a compromised system to achieve positive ends. That makes it strange to see some of his backers demonstrating the kind of impatience and foot-shooting impracticality he’s never shown. I’m disappointed by how many Bernie people seem willing to sacrifice leverage — hard-won leverage, I add — on behalf of purist principles that the Senator himself wouldn’t, and won’t, even endorse.
Look at it this way, Bernie-or-Busters: a politician committed to decency, humility, and fairness (how many of those are we even working with?) is on the verge of attaining real institutional power. That’s meaningful. Every Bernie supporter ought to be putting his or her back into the final push to get him there. Remember always that millions of Republicans are about to go vote for a person they find both morally repugnant and wholly unprepared to hold office, and they’ll hold their noses and do this because they understand how coalitions work. They’re no fools. They realize what’s at stake. We need to come at this election with the same ruthlessness — and the same faith in the persuasive power of our arguments to carry the day within the party. If we abstain, we might feel virtuous and unsullied. But we also risk tossing away everything we’ve worked for.
Senator Sanders is not Che Guevara. He’s a sitting U.S. Senator and career politician who has gained seniority by working and occasionally compromising with mainstream Democrats. He’s under no illusions about who the Clintons are: he’s had to deal with them for two decades plus. He’s not telling you to vote for Hillary Clinton out of the kindness of his heart, or because of some misplaced sense of propriety. He’s doing it because he’s made a cold calculation that that’s the best way he — and you — can gain power in a complicated and difficult system. If you trusted him in February, you ought to trust him now.
Friends, we’re almost to the finish line. Let’s not screw this up.