May 10, 2016

An Open Letter to Bernie Sanders Supporters

Bernie Sanders Rally Vancouver, WA March 20, 2016 - 42

To everyone who has been supporting Sen. Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign...thank you! Seriously, you kick ass! You have had a meaningful influence on U.S. politics in 2016, and nobody can take that away from you. Without Sanders - and you - we wouldn't have been talking about many of the issues his campaign brought to the forefront during the Democratic primary. Income inequality barely would have been mentioned, and we certainly would not have been entertaining the idea of a political revolution. It would have been establishment politics as usual. The fact that it wasn't, did that.

Not what you were expecting? You thought this would be one of the hundreds of "dude, its over" letters that have been appearing all over the Internet demanding that you fall in line and support the candidate the Democratic Party decided to nominate instead of Sanders, didn't you? Don't worry, you won't hear that here. At least, you won't hear all of that here. As a freethinker, the whole #VoteBlueNoMatter who thing strikes me as more than a little ridiculous.

Of course, it probably is over, isn't it? There isn't much I can say to protect you from that reality. It seems clear to almost everyone that Sanders is not going to be the Democratic nominee. It is only natural that you'd feel disappointed by this. I feel disappointed too. The fact that I did not think Sanders would win the nomination did not stop me from voting for him in the primary. I voted for him because I thought he'd make a better president than any of the other candidates running. It is a shame that we won't get to see how he would have fared against Donald Trump in the general election.

But instead of sinking into disappointment, I suggest we pause to consider just what you accomplished. Remember where the Sanders campaign started? Nobody took him seriously. The corporate owned U.S. news media had already decided that Hillary Clinton would be the Democratic nominee before Sanders even entered the race. And when he did enter the race, they ignored him. They refused to cover his campaign until you would not let them continue do so. Not only did his poll numbers climb nationally, but he won several states, had huge crowds at his rallies, and set new fundraising records. For a brief time, he even posed something of a challenge to the establishment-approved and media-anointed candidate. Again, you did that.

So what now? I suppose this is the question many of us who have supported Sanders are considering; however, there are at least two very different questions here. First, how will Sanders supporters vote in the general election if he is not on the ballot? Based on the polls I have seen, it seems likely that the vast majority (at least 70%) will vote for Clinton. The polls vary, but I do not believe I have seen any suggesting that more than 30% of Sanders supporters indicate that they will not vote for Clinton in the general election. On the other hand, I have seen a few that suggest that this number will be much smaller (~10%). Among those supporting Sanders who have indicated that they will not vote for Clinton, I imagine some won't vote at all, some will vote for other candidates, some may write in Sanders, and some will probably end up voting for Clinton regardless of what they said when polled.

I haven't made up my mind yet as to what I will do in the general election. Clinton makes me nervous for many reasons, not the least of which are her reported ties to the secretive Christian extremist group known as "the Family." At this point, I am leaning toward voting for a third party candidate in the general election as an alternative to Clinton. Of course, I can do that quite easily because the state in which I live goes overwhelmingly Republican in every election. You may have an entirely different set of considerations in front of you.

To be sure, some Clinton supporters are going to come after you if you express that you are considering not voting for their candidate. Some have already decided that you are a misogynist merely for preferring Sanders over Clinton. I guess it is easier to imagine that the only reason you don't like their candidate is her sex. As we move to the general election, they are going to call you a traitor and accuse you of helping to elect Trump. There is little they can do with a candidate who has such high negatives, so their general election strategy is likely to come down to convincing the public that Trump is Hitler. "Clinton: At least she's not Hitler" should be a fine campaign slogan. Some voters will even find it persuasive.

I'm not sure there is a right answer here, at least not one that will be right for everyone. I'm perfectly content to let the Clinton supporters call me names and try to blame me for Trump. This will end up making me less likely to support their candidate, but I suppose if it makes it easier for them to live with their choice, so be it. I'm not going to tell anyone how I think they should vote because what I think about how they should vote is irrelevant; each of us needs to make that decision for ourselves. 

On to the second question. What is next for the movement you helped to build around Sanders? I find this to be the far more intriguing question. Will this movement die out quickly like Occupy Wall Street did, or will it be the beginning of real change for our politics? I wish I knew. It is so tempting to think that the Sanders campaign will have a transformative effect on our politics, but I cannot quite bring myself to be confident of that. Especially not after so much of the energy generated around Obama's first election seemed to go nowhere. I worry that we will end up being distracted by whatever is on the horizon (e.g., a particularly nasty general election) and end up chasing some other shiny object instead of pursuing the goals that now seem so important. But I suppose that is up to us, isn't it?

Maybe that is the silver lining here. What happens next with regard to the political revolution Sanders and all of his supporters started is up to us. If we want it to continue, we can work to make sure that it does continue. Maybe there is hope of reshaping the Democratic Party into something that more closely resembles what many of us want. Maybe there is even another potential candidate on the horizon that will be able to tap into such a movement (e.g., Elizabeth Warren) in the not too distant future. Or maybe enough of us will finally get serious about the limitations of our two party system and create a viable third party out of what Sanders started. The possibilities are exciting. And thanks to you, some of them don't seem quite so farfetched.