I saw a television interview with Bernie Sanders yesterday. He was asked what he thought about a significant group of his supporters who call themselves “Bernie Or Bust” and who state that if Bernie is not the Democratic candidate for President or if he does not run as an Independent, they will not vote for another candidate. The interviewer asked if he would tell these supporters to vote for Hillary Clinton if she is chosen over him.
Bernie answered like a politician. He said that he is focused completely on being the Democratic nominee, and that is all that matters to him for now. But by his answer he left open the possibility, at least in the minds of his supporters, that he might either tell them not to vote for Hillary if she is chosen or that he might still consider a run as an Independent if he is not.
I have spent a lot of time recently reading the Facebook posts on Bernie’s supporters’ pages. They are filled with an endless stream of insults, curses, denigration and hate for Hillary. And their views of Bernie are quite amazing idealizations, fantasies and projections, giving him an almost messianic stature that bears no reality to the man himself or even to the powers of being President.
Trump fans manifest similar but different idealizations of their candidate. Both groups want their man to change the world – albeit very different worlds – and vest him with the power to make all the changes that are promised.
The Bernie Or Bust people don’t care that splitting the progressive vote would almost certainly lead to Trump’s election. Nor do most of them seem to ask themselves why Hillary supporters would vote for Bernie if he ran as an Independent and flouted the very party that he has been trying so hard to lead. Those who do ask themselves the question say that, what the hell, the system is screwed up anyway. So why not just let it fall to pieces – as it might do if Trump takes office? Maybe something better would arise out of the ashes. It’s a new kind of nihilism.
I suspect that many of these followers are young people who do not depend on that “system” for Medicaid or Medicare coverage, Social Security pensions that arrive on time, disability income payments, unemployment insurance money, Veterans benefits, or the many other parts of the government that millions of people rely on to be stable and predictable.
Bernie says that he is a different kind of politician. I know that he knows what would happen if he does not get the nomination and runs as a third party candidate. I also see that, even though he knows what that result would be, the massive support and admiration he has been receiving may be tempting him to play to his fan base. I can almost visualize a Bernie cartoon with an angel in one bubble above his head and a devil in another: the angel urging him to listen to his own knowledge and experience, and the devil telling him to listen to the clamor of voices and go for it.
Our politics have become divorced from ethics. To my mind, if you run as a candidate to represent a party in a democratic election, you make an implicit promise that you will accept the results of the election, and you have a right to expect the same from the other candidates. If you are not willing to accept the results, you are in effect asserting that your personal victory is more important than the collective decision of all the voters.
So it is ironic that after many months of complaining about the role of super delegates at the Democratic National Convention in July, the Sanders campaign – now lagging well behind Hillary in both pledged delegates and in the popular vote – is hoping that these same super delegates will suddenly ignore the choice of the majority of Democrats and vote for Bernie. And their rationale is: “Don’t look at the result of all the primaries and caucuses – look at how well Bernie is polling against Trump. Please, dear Party leaders and super delegates, slap the voters in the face and proclaim Bernie our leader.” And all this with no sense of irony or paradox.
They claimed that Hillary could only get the nomination by the votes of this group of party insiders (and that would be so unjust) but also now want that same group to vote for Bernie, regardless of the majority of votes cast in the primary elections.
It’s time for Senator Sanders to clean up this deliberate confusion. A simple statement that he urges his supporters to back whoever wins the Democratic nomination is all that it would take.
May 25, 2016