From the beginning I questioned the seriousness of Bernie Sanders’ proposals. Long before the disastrous New York Daily News interview, it seemed obvious to me that he was better at pointing out problems than he was at crafting actual solutions.
Then came the debates. Sanders’ explanation for any barrier to progressive change was the corruption of big money – that was true for both Democrats and Republicans. Discussion became almost impossible. Anyone who didn’t agree with him was an establishment sell-out.
As it became increasingly clear that he was going to lose the nomination to Hillary Clinton – despite doing better than anyone thought he would – the excuses began. It was because Southern states with African American voters went early in the process. Then it was because of closed primaries. Initially the campaign railed against the superdelegates. All that was reversed in an attempt to justify Sanders staying in the race based on the idea that he could flip them to support him instead of Clinton. None of that made any sense and his message got lost in complaints about the process.
Through all of that I wanted to give Sanders the benefit of the doubt. I wanted to believe that he was in this race to promote the progressive ideas he has championed his entire career, and that when the results were all in, he would do what Clinton did in 2008…support the nominee and come out of the convention in Philadelphia as a unified party.
Believing that wasn’t a pipe dream. During his time in the House and Senate, Sanders has demonstrated the ability to work within the system to advocate for progressive change. For example, in 2009 he proposed single payer in the Senate, but pulled the bill when it was clear that it didn’t have the votes. He then went on to fight for positive changes to Obamacare (i.e., community health centers) and eventually voted for it.
But the time for giving Sanders the benefit of the doubt might have ended. Paul Waldman explains it well.
If he and his people want to actually exercise some influence, they’ll have to start thinking about mundane things like presidential appointments, executive branch regulations, and the details of complex legislation. Victories in those forums will be partial and sporadic. From our vantage point today, is there anything to suggest that’s an enterprise he and his people will be willing to devote their efforts to? What happens if Clinton offers Sanders something — changes to the party’s platform, or input on her nominees? Will his supporters say, “This may not have been all we wanted, but it’s still meaningful”? No, they won’t. They’ll see it as a compromise with the corrupt system they’ve been fighting, a sellout, thirty pieces of silver that Sanders ought to toss back in her face. That’s because Sanders has told them over and over that the system is irredeemable, and nothing short of its complete dismantling is worthwhile…
To be honest, at the moment it looks like there’s no going back. Sanders could come out tomorrow and tell his supporters that even if they don’t get their revolution, it’s still worth working for every bit of positive change they can achieve. But that would mean disavowing everything he’s told them up until now.
In other words, the Sanders campaign has developed a closed feedback loop. No matter the outcome, it reinforces the premise. It is hard to see how that changes.
My one remaining hope was that perhaps the candidate himself could break out and convince at least some of his supporters to take a more constructive path. Martin is right, they’re not all Bernie Bros. That hope was beginning to die when Josh Marshall pulled the final plug.
For months I’d thought and written that Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver was the key driver of toxicity in the the Democratic primary race…
But now I realize I had that wrong.
Actually, I didn’t realize it. People who know told me.
Over the last several weeks I’ve had a series of conversations with multiple highly knowledgable, highly placed people. Perhaps it’s coming from Weaver too. The two guys have been together for decades. But the ‘burn it down’ attitude, the upping the ante, everything we saw in that statement released today by the campaign seems to be coming from Sanders himself. Right from the top.
We are reaching the end game here. The question for me isn’t so much about what Clinton will do – she is putting her energy into winning the remaining states and has already begun to pivot to the general election. What remains to be seen is what happens to the progressive movement in the Democratic Party. If Sanders insists on “burning things down,” will it survive?