An Open Letter to Sanders Supporters

I’d be super happy to vote for this guy, but he’s probably not going to be the nominee. Nick Solari [CC BY-SA 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

Dear Bernie Sanders Supporters,

There are many good reasons to prefer Sanders to Hillary Clinton. He critiques the current system in a way that proves he understands the economic security issues that so frustrate many Americans. A system in which a person can work a forty-hour work week and not get paid anywhere near enough to pay rent (forget about buying a home), buy health insurance, make car and car insurance payments, purchase a cable and internet package for the home, maintain a healthy diet, or save for his or her children’s education without going into perpetual debt is a rotten system indeed. It isn’t fair and it’s terrible and the Democratic nominee for president is almost certainly going to be a person who raked in 10 times the yearly salary of the average person in the bottom 50% of the United States’ income distribution just for delivering a single speech.

The progressive Democrat’s case against Clinton is compelling. She’s never been a trusted friend of labor, her healthcare policy is not nearly as ambitious or as just as Sanders’, same goes for her education policy, and on foreign policy, she still buys into the consensus that brought us the Iraq War and in which Henry f’ing Kissinger is considered a wise elder statesman. She exhibits the same instincts that drove the Left nuts about her husband’s presidency: always looking to appeal to the Reagan Democrat, like she did recently when she inexplicably praised Ronald and Nancy Reagan’s HIV/AIDS epidemic record despite the fact that the Reagan administration’s response to the emerging crisis was to ignore it and make disgusting jokes about gay people. Like going after the vote of some goober in Alabama is her path to the presidency rather than mobilizing the Obama coalition. Let’s not dance around it: Clinton makes it hard sometimes to support and trust her.

The delegate math is what it is; members of the Democratic Party are showing a strong preference for Clinton, although Sanders has made this race much more competitive than most people thought possible just three months ago. Sanders shouldn’t and probably won’t drop out before the convention. He could still win but it’s now extremely unlikely; the fact that he didn’t repeat his Michigan performance in Ohio or Illinois all but closes off his path to the nomination.

Sanders and his supporters should proudly make their voices heard at the convention in Philadelphia this July. Clinton and her supporters cannot ignore the 40% of the Democratic Party’s electorate that prefer the vision of a democratic socialist. And they shouldn’t ignore it. The Clinton campaign needs to combine her message of preserving and strengthening the accomplishments of the Obama era with the more galvanizing appeal for a more just society represented by Sanders. Fairly and sometimes not so fairly, Clinton is viewed as a status quo figure. And in 2016, it’s clear that about half the general electorate is sick and tired of the status quo. Clinton needs the Sanders wing if she wants to transcend the politics-as-usual label.

Make Clinton earn your support, and then vote for her in November. There are huge, fundamental differences between how the Democratic Party would govern and how the Republican Party would govern. If you don’t believe me, take it from Noam Chomsky.

There have been reports that 10% or maybe 30% or who really knows at this point how many Sanders supporters there are who claim they will not support Clinton in the general election under any circumstances. We won’t have a good grasp on this question until if and when Clinton secures the nomination. Some say they want to wage a write-in campaign for Sanders, or sit out the election, or vote for Donald Trump. Any of these options – and especially voting for Trump over the Democratic candidate – is cutting off one’s nose (and ears, and arms, and legs) to spite one’s face.

Many Sanders supporters, and many libertarian types on the Republican side, complain about only having two major parties from which to choose. There is an entire academic literature I’ll get into in a future post about why the American system produces two major parties, with each party comprised of competing but somewhat compatible factions. The short explanation is that we don’t have four or five competitive parties like proportional representation parliamentary systems do because we do not have a proportional representation parliamentary system. Brilliant insight, I know, but it is what it is. This is really the only point over which I lose my patience with Sanders supporters and libertarians. They talk about the need for more competitive parties but they are ignorant of which they speak.

Unfortunately, I’m well aware that “vote for the lesser of two evils” is not an inspiring message. But if you stop for a minute and think about the differences between the Democratic and Republican parties rather than your (justified!) grievances against Clinton, you will see that the choice between them is no choice at all. Maybe there are some voters out there that want to criminalize all abortions but also want strict environmental regulations, or think the federal government should have no role in providing universal education but should maintain Social Security, or think that single-payer healthcare is a good idea but we should have extremely low or no income taxes, or think that LGBT people should have the right to marry whomever they want but we should ban Muslims from entering the country. If these voters exist then they definitely don’t have a party that reflects their positions.

I’ll wager free subscriptions to this blog that Sanders supporters hold all or most of the following positions: equal access to reproductive health services across the country for women and their families, effective environmental regulations that take climate change seriously, universal education, strong Social Security, truly universal healthcare, appropriate income tax levels to maintain the government services demanded, a universal right to marry whomever they want, and a just immigration policy. That would make them Democrats.

As explained previously, I know what I’m talking about here because I was that special voter whose vote was as pure as the driven snow back in 2000. Since I was living in Virginia, my Ralph Nader vote didn’t cost Al Gore the election. But if I’d been living in Florida I would have been one of the 97,488 voters there that essentially handed the election to George W. Bush. I regret that vote to this day, and I guarantee you that if you sit out the election, or write in a candidate not on the ballot, or God forbid, vote for the Republican, and the Republican wins, you will regret your vote, too.


Steve Frediani


10 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Sanders Supporters

    • Thanks for the comment and I agree with both points. Maybe I shouldn’t have used the word “goober” but I was feeling particularly frustrated with the Clintons’ tendency to go after the votes of people who are never going to vote for them. Shouldn’t take that out on poor Alabama goobers…


  1. Steve,
    I’ll just leave this comment that showed up in my FB feed yesterday from Weldon Berger. I just want to say, in regard to the dismay about some Sanders supporters vowing not to vote for Clinton should she unfortunately prevail in the primary: get your party to make them an offer. You want people to vote for your candidate, give them a reason to vote for your candidate. “You’ll be responsible if the monsters get out of the closet” is off the table.

    Clinton is a hawk who pushed a bloody and reckless foreign policy agenda as secretary of state. What can you offer to ameliorate that problem?

    Clinton is a friend, neighbor, colleague, philosophical partner and financial beneficiary of the good folks who brought us the crash. Make the people an offer.

    And so on. The issues aren’t a mystery and they aren’t manufactured. What can you offer, what can you make your party offer, what can you make your candidate offer, to overcome the resistance to voting for her? If you’re a “never Hillary” person, what would it take to get you to vote for a ticket with her at the head of it?

    I can’t stop any Clinton supporters* from focusing their response on the Sanders supporters who may have unsavory reasons for opposing Clinton, but I would prefer that the reader assume that among her opposition are many people who are deeply opposed to the economic and political system in which she is embedded near the apex. I can’t stop any Sanders supporters** from making the obvious “take her off the ticket” response, but I would prefer they not.

    * I can, obviously, but I would rather not.
    **See above.

    Now, I’m a Sanders supporter, but the comment by Weldon notwithstanding, I’ll vote for Hillary with grave reservations. My biggest concern is that once she is in office, she’ll do the same thing to the progressive liberal wing of the party as Obama has done. Ignore us. This is the same dynamic that Republicans’ have used for years with the now ascending Trumpnuts. Sooner or later, the current “centrist” Democratic leadership is going to find out, just as Republicans’ are now, that we’re not going to support them anymore. Letting the monster out of the closet, as Weldon notes, might be inevitable at some point. Not a good outcome, and one I’d rather not withness, first hand.

    PS: your shameless blogwhoring at Charlie’s place, paid off. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tony, thanks for the comment. I agree with most of it and now that Trump is likely to be the Republican nominee, I’d rather a democratic socialist get his or her (his this time around, obviously) shot at the general election. That would be an interesting contest, and one in which I think Sanders would be the favorite. He looks good in a head-to-head matchup with Trump now, but we should remember that generally those polls don’t mean anything until after the conventions.

      I only strongly disagree with one part – “You’ll be responsible if the monsters get out of the closet” is most definitely on the table. It ignores the realities of the American political system. Spoiling the election for the candidate of the major party you most agree with, whether that’s the Republican or Democratic Party (Republicans – ignore the following), might be cathartic but is terrible strategy.

      The American political system tends to generate two major parties because elections are winner-take-all. Any time a major faction arises within one of the parties, its best strategy is to try to become dominant within the party. If it breaks away, it splits the votes and hands the election to the party with which it disagrees most. We’ve seen exactly this happen with the Tea Party. Tea Partiers worked within the Republican Party, got their candidates on a lot of ballots, and while they lost some key Senate races overall they’ve done pretty well for themselves. And now it looks like the movement will finally succeed in getting a non-establishment candidate for president. Trump (or Cruz) is likely to go on and lose the general, but he might not!

      This is how change happens. Taking your ball and going home, and I don’t understand why this isn’t more obvious, means you give up any influence you might have over the party you’re trying to change. The Democratic Party is just as – if not more – likely to break to the right in order to recover votes due to a leftist walkout as it would be to break left. We should emulate the Tea Party’s tactics if we want to get a Sanders-type candidate on the presidential ballot in 2020 or 2024. In fact, progressives have actually had some success going this route and getting progressive candidates down ballot. Senator Elizabeth Warren is a great example.

      I should write a post devoted to this topic. This comment is already too long and I’m tired from a long day of teaching! You’re right that Clinton and Democratic centrists need to work to keep progressives within the tent. It’s only fair that Democratic Party defenders like me explain ourselves, and only fair that progressives like me within the fold develop a strategy for achieving our goals. For now, let’s just say that any theory of change that doesn’t take as its premise two major parties competing for at least 50.1% of any given population’s vote is unlikely to be productive.

      Also, any theory of change that doesn’t recognize the preposterous number of veto points in the American system is wishful thinking. Obama’s been less than ideal at times, sure, but every single Democratic policy proposal has been dead on arrival since 2011 when Republicans took over the House. Not to mention the Supreme Court gutting one of the most effective provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, something Democrats actually managed to pass before Americans decided Republicans should hold another veto point in the House. Wondering how Obama betrayed us is counterproductive when it was Democrats who betrayed ourselves by not coming out to vote in 2010 (leading to the House flip) and 2014 (when Republicans took the Senate).

      I’ll think about those two premises and try to write about how they shape a progressive strategy for influence within the Democratic Party. Whatever our disagreements, thanks for pushing me to think more constructively!


      • Steve,
        I am in agreement with your point regarding the monster out of the closet. The problem is that this is a very strong sentiment being expressed by Sanders purists and other Democrats’. I don’t agree with it, but it’s a real issue that needs to be addressed in concrete terms by Hillary. I’m old enough and pragmatic enough to not be in this camp. It is incumbent upon us that do “see the light” reach out to this other segment of our party that needs something other than the alternative is much worse. Continually voting this way, and then being ignored when major policy decisions are made won’t last forever. One need only to look at what’s happening to the Republicans’ right now to see this. Granted, the dynamic is a bit different, but it is rather interesting that a good number of these angry white Republicans’ seem more receptive to Bernie rather than Hillary.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks for the follow up. I had made a mental note to acknowledge that we were on the same page regarding voting for Clinton should she be the nominee and just forgot to do that. You’re right about “the alternative is much worse” being a tough sell. Sanders enjoys an almost unfathomable amount of support from people who weren’t old enough to have first hand experience of the 2000 election. How do you take your experience of that disaster and put it into someone else’s brain? Or, for that matter, convince someone they agree with much of the Democratic Party’s platform because they just told you they agree with it when you list the particulars, but Clinton Wall Street Paid Speeches Emails! I’m having those conversations so any suggestions would be welcome!


  2. […] That leaves strategy, which is where spatial analysis can come in handy. Above we found 13 municipalities that, judging by their votes, wanted a Democratic Party president (above Map B) but a Republican House member (above Map C). Generally speaking, it is irrational to split one’s votes among candidates from the different political parties because the major parties promote entirely different policy agendas. Perhaps many of these voters were happy with Frelinghuysen’s constituent services, or perhaps they thought Frelinghuysen would shield them from tax increases under Clinton should she have won. But again, generally speaking, voters in our political era should understand that the Democratic and Republican parties stand for completely different policy agendas. […]


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