Monday, May 23, 2016

Letting Go of Bernie Sanders

As Bernie Sanders speaks beautifully and passionately not twenty-five miles from where I sit, as I close the mail-in ballot that carries my vote for him here in California, as I clear my schedule for some phone banking this weekend, I’m despondent because I’m thinking about the campaign and in my mind I have ceded defeat, as have many of us who were feeling the Bern. We all turn at different times; some have let go before me, some have yet to, and I am currently in the process. Some will hang on psychologically until the moment of nomination, perhaps even afterward. Much of the #NeverHillary arm of Sanders support is tipping the king as well and are already voicing their rationalization of voting for Jill Stein or Bugs Bunny, writing in Bernie Sanders or just staying home. Not me. Jill Stein is not even on the ballot in many states and as such is the purest kind of spoiler. Staying home abrogates your civic duty on down ballot elections and the Bugs Bunny thing, though adorable, is not helpful for anyone.

I was an avid Sanders supporter and will be until the end. The end of the primary, that is, and at that point I will load all of my eggs into the Hillary basket. I hope Sanders plays nine innings and maximizes his pressure on the DNC and the rest of the party apparatus to take the progressive arm of the party seriously, but I am also preparing myself for the change. The fact of Sanders having secured five appointments to the Platform Committee today validates his having stayed in it this long, just as his staying in through California and into the convention will likely garner still greater progressive influence. But the best way for the Sanders campaign to remain relevant in the coming administration is to ensure a Democratic victory in the fall, as Sanders progressives will mean next to nothing under a Trump presidency.

In my opinion, the Democratic side fielded two very different candidates this presidential campaign year, both of them excellent. Some number of my liberal friends will blanch at this, but if you look at Clinton’s senate voting record, you will see that her policy dispositions aren’t too far right of the candidate I was supporting. She is a hardcore policy wonk, from the nuts and bolts of legislation to the teeth pulling of appropriation to the final job of implementation, and her network is vast. There is no more prepared person in the country to be president and no more connected person in terms of having good working relationships with all of the major players on the world stage. Relative to her opponent, the comparison would be laughable were the consequences of a Trump presidency not so dire. No learning on the job needed with a Clinton presidency and the sigh of relief that world markets would breathe could be measured in the hundreds of billions.

A source of resentment for some Sanders supporters has been the clear advantage Clinton has had in terms of Democratic establishment support and preference. Isn’t that fair enough though? Sanders is an Independent and has been his entire political career. He stepped into the Democratic Party’s apparatus solely to launch this bid, and as is the case with any organization, its inevitable tilt is going to favor someone who has been involved in the support and maintenance of that apparatus for a long time. I have been a Sanders believer since well before he declared his candidacy and I fully expected the handicap to extend beyond name recognition and into the murky netherworld of party machinery. It’s the nature of David and Goliath schemes.

A fair way to think of it is that Sanders was up against a reticent party apparatus that was the practical equivalent of what Trump was fighting. Each ran into the headwinds of their own chosen party establishment. Trump’s victory over the Republican establishment was undeniable in spite of the advantages afforded the other candidates by virtue of its preference for them. Sanders was unable to compensate for the advantages that were afforded Clinton by the DNC. Membership has its privileges. Sanders needed to win conspicuously against all slings and arrows like Trump did, and he just damn didn’t

Still, our side presented a case clearly and fearlessly in the face of a daunting rival, and though we lost (or seem to have), we made a sizable impact that will not be ignored in the party platform and rules, and consequentially in down-ticket funds allocation. It is, as Sanders says, the beginning of a political revolution, and this has been a mighty shot across the bow. The best way to make Sanders’ accomplishments this primary season all for naught would be to participate in a boycott that would damage Hillary’s chances in November. A lot of my fellow Sanders boosters say they won’t support Hillary in the general election, but I don’t think that’s wise. Supporting Hillary Clinton in her historic bid for the presidency is an essential element of maximizing the impact of Bernie Sanders’ unprecedented campaign.

Hillary is a hawk, but her foreign policy connections and relationships are deeper than anyone on the planet, and her major moves in foreign policy will never be capricious. Trump would start a war just to watch stuff blow up or because some world leader rubbed him the wrong way.

The Supreme Court affects people in their most intimate places. To have its direction steered by a hand that is callous and dismissive of large groups would be a travesty of civilization.

Hillary is nothing if not stable. Trump is nothing if not unstable. Markets like stability. You do the math.

The reasons a Clinton presidency would be more just, safe and prosperous than a Trump presidency are myriad, and all three categories are very much in delicate balance. I’ve heard the give-up mentality of voting for Trump just so the pendulum swings, just so America gets what it deserves, just to set the rhinoceros loose in the art museum and see what happens, but I say let’s not find out. That’s not a serious and sober way to look at America, this year, right now, for the next four or eight years. Trump versus Clinton. There is no question as to which of these two individuals is qualified to be president of the United States and which is not. My preferred candidate did not prevail, but decent, thinking people need to consider the importance of this election. 

A friend of mine recently talked about holding his nose and voting for Clinton. The fact is that he would be pinching off the stench of a four decades-long career of fighting smartly and effectively for children and families. He would be sparing himself the reek of bravely championing LGBT concerns at home and abroad before it was politically expedient. Holding your nose and voting for Hillary lets you avoid the fetor of a career-long commitment to broadening access to healthcare in America. I guess that kind of courage and confidence in domestic and international affairs really makes you grab for the clothespins.

My fellow Sanders supporters and I swung for the fences and did the improbable this past year. We financed a national presidential primary on spare change and let the most powerful political organization in America know that there is a large, informed, motivated and engaged portion of the citizenry that is not happy with the status quo. We will be considered in this coming administration, but remember folks, only if Clinton prevails in November. It is important to demonstrate engagement through local activism and electing progressive candidates to state legislatures, city councils, school boards, dogcatcher positions and the like, while at the same time keeping the pressure on at the federal level; the best way for a Sanders supporter to do that right now is to see that Hillary Clinton is elected president in November, not Donald Trump.