I was thrilled when Senator Bernie Sanders announced his candidacy, thrilled in a way that I had never been about politics. Of course, I had been political for some time, anyone unfortunate enough to be my Facebook friend would know that. I had fought hard for President Obama’s second term (by which I mean about five posts a day. No campaign contributions or anything silly like that.) But much as I admired, and still admire President Obama, Sen. Sanders was someone who seemed to believe in all the things that were important to me. I want single payer insurance, I want less defense spending, I want to hold Wall Street accountable. The Democratic Party was never left enough for me, the incremental change was way too incremental. I had been finding it hard to keep defending the DNC to my more idealistic friends. Bernie was like the cavalry, he was riding in to save my faith in American politics.
I attended the first Sanders rally in Dallas. Up until that point I had only ever been an armchair politico, so I have nothing to compare it to but the crowd was massive and electric. It filled the ballroom of the Sheraton hotel and spilled out, almost filling the lobby. When he spoke people screamed with utter joy as he breathed fresh life into suffocated liberalism. The Millennials in the room especially, finally felt like at last the timidity of progressivism and empty rhetoric was done and now there was going to be some real action. We are a generation so over McCarthyism and its absurd paranoia. We have seen the banks ruin the world economy take their bonuses and get away with it. We are third wave feminists who understand intersectionality and structural inequality. This was our guy, one hundred percent he got us.
It’s been a long and somewhat depressing road since then. Media ends every of the few sentences it utters about Sen. Sanders with words like “unlikely” and “longshot”. The DNC seems dead set on its choice of candidate, electorate be damned. We, who are still in the Bernie camp, know that our devotion is not diminished, that despite near constant undervaluing, that crowd in Dallas and thousands like it are still in love with the ideas of the senator from Vermont.
But that’s just politics and we accept the will of the system with grace- except, wait no of course we don’t; enter Bernie or Bust.
I’ve had qualms about criticizing the movement up to this point, mostly because my primary complaint against it is an aversion to eating one’s own. Petty infighting is for republicans, not democrats. We’re supposed to be the party of cool headed reason. I wanted to pretend that we could all get along, that despite our differences we’d all be able to back the candidate that won the establishment contest and therefor stood the best chance of defeating the rightwing in November.
But the posts on the Bernie Sander’s for President Facebook feed (which I’m sure do not reflect the opinions of the man himself) have become more and more venomously anti-Clinton. Bernie supporters there have painted themselves into a moral corner, if Secretary Clinton is the candidate of the established leftwing, in order to vote progressive, they would have to vote for someone who they have spent months calling a liar, a criminal, and a corporate shill.
Still I would have refrained from joining in and only further frothing the water of our drowning political respectability, if I hadn’t made the mistake of trying to understand the movement by reading articles purporting to present with that cool liberal reason a defense of Bernie or Bust. My understanding from my reading is that Busters feel justified in not voting or voting for Trump because they’ve had enough and it’s time for a political revolution. It’s a bad argument and all peacemaking aside, I cannot let a bad argument go unchallenged.
I’ll start my rebuttal by simply stating that democracy, any democracy, has always been and ever shall be a system of choosing the lesser evil. It’s is in the very architecture of the philosophy. A government which is truly representative of and responsive to the will of the people will never comprehensively match the will of any one person. Compromise is everything and it’s something we’ve certainly forgotten, John Boehner’s out of a job because we forgotten it. Protection against the supremacy of one ideology over all others is the reason why the majority of the power in our government resides in congress and not in the presidency. It is diffused across 535 people. 535 people who, if they were doing their job correctly, would be participating in a lot of comprise all the time. But rather than caring about those contests which actually matter a lot more we put all our energy into the big name prize fight because it feels like a bigger victory and it’s easier to keep track of the players.
The stakes always feel so high in a presidential race because the height of the rhetoric. It puts us in a fever of fear. I thought Mitt Romney would be the worst thing to ever happen to this country… boy, if I had only waited a few years I could have saved up all my Nazi metaphors for someone supported by actual Nazis, instead of wasting them on the Affordable Care Act.
Maybe I’m older and wiser, but it all just feels so theatrical and self defeating this time around. Constantly portraying the people with whom we disagree as the worst and most evil of all human beings makes compromise impossible, hinders discourse which could sharpen our ideals, and just plain obstructs everything. That’s the attitude that makes us vote for a “winner” rather than someone who’s says and believe things that matter. It’s also the attitude that hands midterm elections to the Tea Party voters who are will to show up, rather than the liberals who’d rather sit around and complain that voting is pointless and will only feel their point is justified when the people they took no part in electing fail to represent them (Hint: it’s because they don’t). I really, heartily, disagree that kicking your feet and holding your breath until the candidate that is your absolute favorite wins counts as political stance. Not voting is not a statement, it is the opposite of a statement, it is pouting in a corner because you don’t want to play. Nobody cares about the kid in the corner, they’re just going to keep right on playing.
Does this mean that if you truly think that Secretary Clinton is not a progressive, that if you believe she is not just a concession within but an actual opponent to progressive ideals that I’m arguing that you should still vote for her just because she’s got the democratic label? No, of course not, there are other options, but we’ll get to that later. My point is that abstaining from politics by not voting is a direct misunderstanding of what democracy is and how it works. You do not win anything by sitting it out and waiting for the perfect good, you’re handing your rights of citizenship over to whatever takers remain, good or evil.
Which brings me to my second point, and I’ll try to tackle this one without undoing that great point I just made about not portray political rivals as pure evil. Threating to vote for Donald Trump because Hillary Clinton is not progressive enough is utter nonsense. It is cutting off your nose to spite your face in the worst way. Threatening to vote for someone whose key platforms involve hawkish military posturing and vilifying immigrants, someone who really strikes a chord with white supremacists (whether he disavows them or not), threatening to vote for that man because Sen. Sander’s is not the democratic candidate makes me question whether or not you ever believed in what Sander’s was saying in the first place.
Bernie Sander’s is an exciting candidate because he doesn’t just spout out a bunch of fluff about inequality; he seems to have a deep understanding of its structural roots. Sen. Sander’s is opposed to military expansion. He is for fair and humane immigration reform. He bullishly determined to level the playing field for the middle and lower classes with government investment into medical care and education, two expenses which cripple those classes with inescapable debt. How does any of that jive with Trump? If you want to stick it to Hillary so bad that you will vote for the man who suggested we halt the immigration of Muslims when heavily Islamic regions of the world are in the midst of the defining human right emergency of our generation, then forgive me but I don’t think you like Bernie like I like Bernie. People are drowned by the thousands in the Mediterranean Sea, but you want to prove some point about how unfair it is that super delegates exist.
This is a revolution, right? That what Busters say. This is the moment where we can wrestle out of the vice like grip of the two party system, let me tell you I am all about that. But I cannot see how a vote for Trump (real or in absentia) accomplishes that.
The one bright side to this nightmare of a preliminary has been the glimmer of hope that the Republicans might do what they probably should have done as soon as the Tea Party arrived. As the writing was definitely on the wall and Kasich and Cruz were more or less flailing in their death throws I was waiting for someone to say those three magic words “third party candidate.” I’ve heard it muttered a few times, but nobody is exactly shouting it just yet. It puts me in an awkward position, I’m really rooting for the libertarians to get it together. Me, a big government loving girl, rooting for those Ayn Rand obsessed anarchists to present a good case.
I’m worried like everyone not supporting Trump or Bernie or Busting that all this venom going around the Democrats could put Trump in the White House. The strategic thing to do would be to keep the progressive vote together and let the Republicans split. But if we’re really going to be idealistic about this, then let’s actually live up to those ideals. If this is going to be the election where we finally make it about the interests of the people rather than preserving behemoth parties then why is plan of action merely to trade one behemoth for another? There are other alternatives.
I can understand the frustration behind Bernie or Bust. But I don’t think the movement is living up to what it thinks it’s living up to. You want the ideals of Bernie not to fade out of mainstream public discussion, you care so much about what he stands for, and believe that Hilary is the antithesis of true progressivism? Then why are you not learning the name Dr. Jill Stein? Surely that’s the card up your sleeve? To completely ignore the real progressive alternative in this race makes Bernie or Bust seem less like they love the ideas of Bernie Sanders and more like they just really hate Hillary Clinton. This could be an opportunity to harness the excitement Senator Sanders and channel that it into some actual change, something for those of us more left of center to hold on to.
I get that he’s still in this and it’s not over till Debbie Wasserman Schultz sings. To suggest that the diehard Berniecrates go green at this stage in the game is a little soon. But at end of the day, if Bernie or Bust wants to defend itself as something more then an empty threat or a petulant whine, as a real contender for big change in politics then not voting or voting for Trump should not be their weapons of choice. That’s not a revolution, that’s a surrender. This is supposed to be about making our democracy more responsive to it’s people and we do that with multiple parties.
Maybe California will change everything, but maybe you should also look up Jill Stein