Ship of Fools

If you’re like me, and you know a number of “Bernie or Bust”-ers on social media who still insist that under no circumstances will they vote for the “corporatist” Hillary Clinton if she defeats Bernie Sanders for the Democratic presidential nomination, ask them to consider this scenario:

1) Clinton wins the Democratic nomination, and the overwhelming majority of Sanders supporters decide to abstain from voting on November 8 (presumably, there will be a not-insignificant number of Sanders supporters who will vote for presumptive Green Party nominee Jill Stein, but for purposes of this argument, let’s say almost all of the Bernie-backers back out of the general election). In an effort to pacify peeved progressives, Clinton selects as her running mate a Sanders-style star who happens to be an actual member of the Democratic Party—say, Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown.

2) Donald Trump wins the Republican nomination, and immediately announces that Ted Cruz is his running mate.

3) A significant number of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents find themselves unable to support a Trump-Cruz ticket, and decide to set their issues with Clinton aside and vote for the Clinton-Brown ticket on November 8. Their votes, combined with the votes of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, make the allegedly “corporatist” Clinton the 45th president of the United States.

Under this scenario, will the Bernie backers who sat out the election—the ones who think the Democratic Party has been contaminated by “corporatism,” the ones who believe Sanders is the only morally pure choice for President—have any clout whatsoever in American politics? Will they be able to have any real influence on the Clinton-Brown administration? Will they be able to encourage Vice President Brown to publicly break with President Clinton on policies progressives find fault with? Or will they just be dismissed as whiners who blew a chance to have a claim on the new President?

This is the problem with the “Bernie or Bust” movement. By declaring that they will refuse to vote for a non-Sanders Democratic presidential nominee, these folks are declaring, in essence, that they are not seriously interested in moving the Democratic Party in a more progressive direction.

Wouldn’t it make more sense for the “Bernie or Bust”-ers to accept a Sanders primary loss with grace, commit themselves to preventing a Republican reactionary from seizing the White House, and then declare that Clinton owes a part of her victory to those who had initially supported Sanders? Wouldn’t they be able to influence Clinton’s actions on education, energy and economics? Wouldn’t they be able to pressure Clinton to govern as an undisputed progressive?

Harsh as this might be to say, it’s clear that the “Bernie or Bust” movement has officially replaced the Tea Party movement as the most illogical and incoherent force in modern American politics. By proclaiming that Clinton is too dishonest and dirty to deserve support, these folks are saying that the right wing was right all along about Hillary (and Bill). That’s a sensible message?

It’s also clear that the “Bernie or Bust” crowd—which regards Bill Clinton as having sold out the Democratic Party to economic elites in the 1990s—must also loathe former Vice President Al Gore as much as the right wing does, but for different reasons. After all, Gore was at Clinton’s side when the 42nd President supposedly abandoned the middle class. Gore supported the much-maligned North American Free Trade Agreement. Gore was associated with that progressive bogeyman known as the Democratic Leadership Council. Presumably, the older members of the “Bernie or Bust” bunch were the same ones who regarded Gore as insufficiently progressive in 2000, and defected to Ralph Nader.

The inconvenient truth is that the “Bernie or Bust” crowd is indistinguishable from right-wing fundamentalists in their loathing of compromise and their refusal to recognize that sometimes people can make bad decisions in good faith. Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton and Al Gore are neither evil nor corrupt. Neither is Bernie Sanders, for that matter…but what does it say about those who only recognize morality in the latter, and malevolence in the former?

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.