As if the 2016 presidential nominating contests weren’t already interesting enough, candidate for the Democratic Party’s nomination Bernie Sanders went out and pulled off an extremely surprising victory in Michigan on Tuesday. For some perspective, Josh Marshall at TPM compares it with the early contests of the Barack Obama-Hillary Clinton battle in 2008. Harry Enten at FiveThityEight writes that we’ve only seen one upset of this scale before, and that was back in 1984.
Since Clinton won in a landslide in Mississippi on the same night and therefore netted more delegates, both writers agree that Sanders is going to have to repeat this performance elsewhere before we can say the ground has shifted in this race. But the fact that Sanders won a contest he was predicted to lose big is a fact, and last week’s conventional wisdom may not apply anymore. Sanders wouldn’t win states with African American populations above 10%, and then he did. My own archive is full of posts suggesting the inevitability of a Clinton victory, though I’ve usually been careful to mention caveats.
So far I’ve mostly limited my commentary about the Democratic Party’s race to pointing out that whoever wins is going to be far more preferable to whoever wins the Republican contest. That’s because we elect members of political parties to office, and those elected leaders staff the government with members of his or her party to conduct the people’s business. The Democratic Party has proven itself relatively competent to run local, state, and national governments since the early 1990s. The Republican Party has proven itself the opposite of competent. And it’s full of racists.
It’s possible to enthusiastically endorse a party while tepidly supporting certain of its candidates. That’s where I am with Hillary Clinton. I’ve mocked people for saying they don’t want to support Clinton because they just don’t trust her. I’ve reminded readers that electing a president is not some kind of psychodrama in which the players are obligated to make us feel warm and fuzzy. The truth is, I don’t love Clinton either, but the thing about living in a democratic republic is that you don’t have to love your elected officials or the political party they represent. I’ll happily leave the love and loyalty oaths to the reactionary fascists supporting Donald Trump.
Elections, especially presidential elections, have very real consequences. A poor woman who can no longer get her birth control prescription covered; a woman who is forced to bring her rapist’s child to term; a working class family that no longer qualifies for health coverage under Medicaid; workers who deserve much better than the scandalous federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour; members of communities victimized by National Rifle Association-endorsed gun policies; African Americans disproportionately imprisoned for committing the same nonviolent crimes as white people; law-abiding immigrants who pay taxes but do not have legal documentation and would be rounded up and deported, leaving American-citizen children behind – these people don’t care about enthusiasm levels for specific candidates. They care about whether the political party in power is going to actively work to make their lives miserable or make their lives better.
In my opinion as a white single male with a degree of financial stability, beyond agita and heartburn, I have very little at stake in this election. I’m not going to be drafted, my insurance won’t be lost if ACA is repealed, I won’t have to worry about losing my ability to get pap smears or mammograms or basic health services if PP is closed down, I won’t have to worry about feeding my children, I won’t have to worry about the right to control my body, I won’t have to worry about getting shot in the street for walking while white or be found dead in a jail cell after failing to signal a lane change. These are not and will not be concerns for me, ever.
For women and minorities, these are things they worry about EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.
Sanders can be trusted to take these concerns just as seriously as Clinton would. The issue for Cole, and for me, is electability. If Sanders wins the nomination I will work to make his political revolution a reality. Perhaps the median voter is ready to put a democratic socialist in the White House, but if Sanders is the general election candidate, his core supporters had better be ready to deal with all of the red-baiting that tends to be very effective in American politics. For guys like Cole and I, Clinton seems the safer bet. Up until Michigan, several crucial bases of support for the Democratic Party – minority groups and women – seemed to overwhelmingly agree.
If Sanders continues to make inroads with those groups as the primary contests move away from the South, and he maintains his lock on younger voters and progressives, he can actually win. Sanders or Clinton, I know what I think about the issues and which political party better represents my values, and that will lead me to support whoever wins the Democratic Party’s nomination. In the meantime, it’s certainly healthy for American democracy that a centrist Democratic insider is facing a strong challenge from a populist outsider.