For Sanders, It Was Worth the Wait

By withholding his endorsement, Sanders is able to put some of his political agenda on the table.

Amber Phillips, writing for the Washington Post’s The Fix, identifies four reasons why Bernie Sanders didn’t endorse Hillary Clinton before today. These can be summarized as: some combination of vanity and a desire to stay relevant, to appease his diehard fans, because he was pissed off, and because he wanted to use his leverage to get some concessions from the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton.

I can’t really get inside the head of Bernie Sanders and determine how angry he has been or how much he wanted to create some simmer down time for his revolutionaries, but it seems to me that only the last consideration (above) really matters. I know people were getting impatient for Sanders to endorse, but I don’t see why he would go to the trouble to run a long campaign and then concede at the first opportunity without maximizing his leverage.

It seems to me like he did the rational thing, and the least that his supporters had the right to expect. And it worked pretty well, as far as I can tell.

By withholding his endorsement — and the progressive cred that comes with it — Sanders theoretically had leverage to exact actual policy changes from Clinton.

He did. Democrats met this weekend in Orlando to piece together their party platform for November. The result was newsworthy: “The Democratic Party shifted further to the left in one election than perhaps since 1972,” wrote my colleague David Weigel, “embracing once-unthinkable stances on carbon pricing, police reform, abortion rights, the minimum wage and the war on drugs.”

Sanders was not able to get Democrats on record opposing President Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. But he did get the party to support a $15 an hour minimum wage, carbon pricing, more regulation on fracking (Sanders wants to ban it), a pathway to legalizing marijuana and Clinton to support a public option for health care.

The Sanders camp got “at least 80 percent” of what they wanted, Sanders’s policy director Warren Gunnells told reporters. “I think if you read the platform right now, you will understand that the political revolution is alive and kicking.”

Sanders didn’t win everything (including the biggest thing.) But he did win far more than anyone — including himself — ever thought he would.

People can quibble about how much of this was a result of Sanders and his supporters and how much would have come out of Clinton’s camp without any pressure, but I think it’s fair to say that the platform bears the stamp of the Clinton/Sanders campaign. I don’t think that this was inevitable.

It’s true that the platform is non-binding and therefore that this victory is of limited utility, but moving a political party in an ideological direction takes time and establishing markers in the platform is one way of demonstrating that there’s a consensus for your priorities.

In any case, there isn’t much else a losing candidate can extract unless they can force themselves onto the ticket or secure some cabinet position(s) for their political allies.

For many people on the left it is an article of faith that Hillary Clinton is a neoliberal who is eager to ease up on the banks, outsource the rest of our jobs, privatize everything that’s not tied down, and bargain away everyone’s retirement security. There isn’t much in the platform to support those impressions. It’s true that it’s the most left-leaning platform in memory, and I don’t see much discomfort about it among the Clintonistas I’ve been observing.

I’m pretty sure that Bernie Sanders will make this same point today in New Hampshire when he finally endorses Clinton and spells out the reasons why he believes she should be our next president.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.