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.