Saturday, January 16, 2016

The breathtaking stupidity of #BernieOrBust

I love Bernie Sanders. Through three decades of political junkiedom, he is my favorite public official other than former Minnesota senator Paul Wellstone. Few politicians exhibit the authenticity and empathy that oozes out of Bernie’s every pore. No elected official speaks as passionately about the economic struggles of everyday Americans and the corrosive impact of corporate money on our ailing democracy. Bernie has my vote in the Democratic primary and I will enthusiastically volunteer for him if he becomes the Democratic candidate this fall.

Yet I find the #BernieOrBust crusade to be one of the most breathtakingly stupid political movements ever conceived.

Though many BernieOrBusters are not old enough to realize it, we have been here before. During the 2000 presidential race, Ralph Nader and his most ardent supporters repeatedly claimed that Al Gore and George W. Bush were so similar that it wouldn't make much of a difference who won. This assertion was accompanied by talking points that reduced an election with enormous human stakes down to bumper sticker slogans which were childlike in their simplicity. Gore and Bush were "two heads of the same beast" or "Tweedledee and Tweedledum." Rather than vote for "the lesser of two evils," Naderistas counselled that one should "vote your hopes, not your fears," though there was never a remote chance that Nader would become president and the fears of a Bush Administration were more than justified.

Based on Bush's record as governor of Texas, astute observers knew that the Nader talking points were nonsense and that a Bush presidency would be a nightmare for progressive
values. They were also acutely aware, through the application of basic math, that Nader's candidacy could siphon enough votes from Al Gore to put George W. Bush in office, which is exactly what happened thanks to Nader's vote totals in Florida and New Hampshire.

The results? The appointment of ultra-right officials who were determined to undermine their agencies' historic missions. A systematic reversal of liberal-learning Clinton-Gore policies. The worst environmental record in ages. Clinton's hard-earned surplus pissed away
on tax cuts for the rich that increased inequality and failed to grow the economy. The erosion of the wall between church and state. A slew of right-wing judges who genuflected before the corporate interests that Nader routinely flogged during his presidential run. The abandonment of international treaties, a unilateral invasion based on lies, and alienation from the international community. And staggering incompetence, from the lack of action taken before 9/11 (despite numerous warnings of potential attacks) to the failure to adequately plan for the occupation of Iraq to the gutting and privatization of FEMA, which failed New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, to Bush's failure to pre-empt the economic crash of September, 2008 despite clear warnings in 2007 that the housing bubble could burst. By any objective measure, Bush's presidency was a colossal disaster not only for America but for the progressive movement Nader claimed to champion.

Anyone who lives in a contested state who refuses to vote for Hillary Clinton in November of 2016 threatens to make the same stupid and reckless mistake that Nader's Florida supporters made in 2000.

No, Hillary hasn't won the Democratic nomination yet, and she was heavily favored in 2008 too, but the Bernie Sanders of 2016 is not the Barack Obama of 2008. His quest to become the Democratic standard bearer is a long shot, whether you look at polls, endorsements, betting markets, or the prognostications of data god Nate Silver, who gives Bernie a 5-10% chance of winning.

To justify not voting for the likely Democratic candidate this fall, BernieOrBusters peddle the notion that there is a major policy chasm between Bernie and Hillary, that Hillary is essentially "Republican light," but it just isn't so. During their time in the Senate, Hillary and Bernie voted together 93% of the time; far from being "Republican light," Hillary was the 11th most liberal senator, placing her to the left of 75-80% of the Democratic caucus and all of the Republicans. Over the past several months Clinton has released a long list of progressive proposals that offer a stark contrast to her Republican rivals, including policies dealing with the reform of Wall Street and drug laws, childcare, assistance to caregivers for the elderly and disabled, voting rights, prescription drug imports from Canada, LGBT rights, universal Pre-K and college debt, progressive taxation, autism, drug and alcohol addiction, Alzheimer's disease, gun control, and healthcare for veterans

Hillary would also appoint radically different judges to the Supreme Court than any of the GOP candidates, which is an especially crucial issue now that four SCOTUS justices are 80 and older, including cancer survivor Ruth Ginsburg. Among many other toxic decisions, the current 5-4 Republican majority has given us Citizens United, unraveled the Voting Rights Act, kept millions of poor Americans from receiving healthcare coverage, and now threatens to deliver a death blow to unions. If the replacement for any of the four liberal judges is chosen by a Republican president, expect more of the same and worse, including the end of Roe v. Wade and a return to the glory days of back alley abortions.    

In addition, while a Republican administration would do everything in its power to dismantle the progress of the last seven years, President Clinton would protect and expand upon the Affordable Care Act and the rest of the Obama legacy.  

For these reasons, and many, many others—including Clinton's unique qualifications for the office due to her intelligence, work ethic, experience, and public policy knowledge—Bernie recently said that she "will be an infinitely better candidate and president on her worst day than the Republican candidate on his best day." Swing state lefties who plan to stay home this November if Bernie doesn't win the primary, or waste their vote on a write-in candidate, need to remember that social progress is made by coalitions, not noble gestures.

More political writing by Dan Benbow:  

                          Justice Delayed: "Kill the Messenger" vindicates Gary Webb

                                              21st Century Republicans, Part IV

                                "Inequality for All" and the Elephant in the Room

                                     Memorial Day in the United States of Amnesia

                                              Romney-Ryan's Road to Perdition

                      The Master of Low Expectations: 666 Reasons Sentient Citizens are 
                                Still Celebrating the Long Overdue Departure of George W. Bush


  1. Bernies my guy. BUT I will vote for whomever is the Democratic nominee. Here's why.
    A republican president will do more long lasting damage with Supreme Court appointees than Hillary could do in a four, or even eight, year term. Don't throw your vote away and leave us all with President Trump, or Cruz, or Rubio, or Bush. Please.

    All of you, and I mean ALL of you, who plan not to vote if Hillary is the nominee... Or not to vote if Bernie is the nominee...Or write in your favorite candidate...
    And all that goes with it...
    Gay marriage, ACA, abortion rights, equal pay.... You name it. That is the legacy you give your children's children's children.

    1. Exactly. Purists - almost as bad as extremists.

    2. Thank you for your voice of reason, Dan, Su, Miles, and all. I have been amazed by the shortsightedness of Bernie's supporters in this regard. Hillary is my candidate, but I will support Bernie if he ends up with the nomination.

    3. William WarburtonMay 1, 2016 at 4:25 PM


  2. Good point, Su, about SCOTUS. That's huge, as are appointments to the lower courts, which take 90% of the cases or more.

    I think you're jumping the gun to assume that Hillary would do "lasting damage." She is not Bill--she has always been more liberal--and has rolled out a long list of progressive policies, listed above. If anything, she would lock Obama's progress in place, rather than take us backward, and may fight for certain forward-thinking priorities more than Obama.

  3. As Patrick Henry once said, "Give me liberty, or give me death!" (the all or nothing attitude is pretty American)

    1. You're right, Anonymous. A lot Americans are very self-centered (politically infantile)and reject any presidential candidate who doesn't kowtow to their narrow ideological preferences, forgetting the simple fact that no leader can please everyone, all the time, in a diverse country of 320,000,000 people.

  4. Democrats have a golden opportunity to retain the Presidency, win back the Senate and make. a big dent in the Republican majority in the House of Representatives. Complacency and petty jealousies are the only threats to this golden opportunity. And, we can't let these trivial matters adversly affect our opportunity to possibly make a permanent change in the American political landscape.

    1. Perfectly said. Obama has made big gains, but they won't be cemented into place unless Hillary wins the White House. If Trump gets in, he will dismantle the ACA and many other of Obama's progressive policies and plunge us into darkness.

      Focusing on the big picture--instead of one's meaningless personal purity--is of the essence in major league politics; it's no coincidence that the highest concentrations in sectarian movements are young people with little grasp of the human consequences of their actions.

      And you're right about the Senate. The Repugs are defending more than twice as many seats, and the turnout should be favorable to the Dems, making a Senate takeover a real possibility (and easing the way for good judges in 2017 and beyond).

  5. I voted for Nader. Thank god I lived in Arizona and not Florida, so my sin was not consequential. Thank you for this essay; peoples' memories are short and/or they just don't know any better.

    -Mitch Halfpenny

  6. The Bernie of Bust movement doesn't realize how much damage it has done. The petitions and harassment of the super delegates have alienated them as a group, not just individuals; they have worn out possible backers by their vicious personal attacks, not just on Hillary, but on anyone who stands up for her. I wanted the message to continue no matter what, but I've been worn down by the ugliness - I am no longer listening to him, nor want anything else to do with Sanders himself during this campaign. Any chance he had died on Tuesday in New York. I want to remember the message, not the whining and cruelty. I hope people who learn from this campaign that organization and group effort matters, carries forward the message.

  7. I happened to overhear some of these Bernie or Bust people (Bernie Bros?) the other day, and how they're actually planning on voting for Trump in the general election. Apparently they don't really believe that Trump believes anything he's said in the last year, and partially because they are adamant that Clinton has done things like deliberately rig the election in NY. I think I have rarely seen such naked misogyny wrap itself up in progressive righteousness.

    I too voted for Nader in my first election of 2000 (partially because I lived in a decidedly blue state). I suspect that perhaps the reason why Sanders is so popular among people under 30 is that they simply don't remember that election, and they don't remember what it was like before Bush and 9/11, and how much ground was lost.

  8. There is no doubt that Bernie supporters, who have memorized clips from the worst moments of Hillary's career - her shady role in the recent Honduran coup, her "it's time to view Iraq as a place to make money" comment, her closing ranks with Bill over his dalliances, etc - those moments in Hillary's career have become kind of a catechism for Bernie supporters - and yes, many, many Bernie supporters have spent so much time buried in layers of Hillary-hate, that they say, openly and proudly - that a Trump Presidency would be better than a Hillary one. Now, it's very hard to fathom the depth of stupidly of such a comment, shared with me by many in the Bernie-camp, but look at is this way: if you engage in daily "I Hate Hillary" rhetoric, you may not have time to browse through reports of what Trump has really said and done. Most Bernie supporters I know believe that Trump has said stupid things, but then walked them back. Most Bernie supporters feel this odd kinship with Trump's populism, kind of a perverse "brotherhood of everybody pissed off at the system," that gives them shared energy. Most Bernie supporters believe Trump might be OK, whereas Hillary is, most certainly, the Very Incarnation Of Evil. So those breathtakingly ignorant comments on Hillary posts that claim to be from Bernie supporters, and you think to yourself, "no way, these have to be Trump trolls." They are not from Trump trolls. Trump supporters have not cornered the market on brainless hatred. Listen to the workaday anti-Hillary invective coming from Bernie supporters, and you'll see what I mean.


    1. This is the key takeaway for me in your long and thoughtful comment. I can understand people sharing an anti-establishment spirit in a general sense, considering the failures of our political system to address peoples' everday needs, but in practice/policy Trump and Sanders are very, very far apart, and Hillary is much closer to Bernie. I expect people on the left--since the left has long been home to science and reason--to understand the distinction, but sadly many do not. Apparently the right does not have a monopoly on faith-based idiocy.

  9. How do we change the system if we allow the system to win? The DNC decided a long time ago that the candidate would be Clinton. They have done everything possible (right and wrong) to make that happen. How do we change this awful nominating process? How do we take it away from the rich and powerful and give it to “the people” if we let them get away with it, when it’s so blatantly clear?

    Jaye Logan

    1. Throwing your vote away on a write-in candidacy will not remotely change the system. It would either 1) have zero impact on the race or 2) help elect a Republican, which would only reinforce all of the worst elements of the system, as we saw in 2000. Read the piece you commented on for more details.

      Your assertion about the DNC is a misperception that reflects the all-too-common persecution complex of rabid Sanders supporters. Certainly many of the people at the DNC favored Hillary, but Democratic primary voters (i.e. "the people") chose the candidate, not a handful of DNC bigwigs. The voters have chosen Hillary by three million votes; in fact, if the popular vote translated directly to delegates, she would be even further ahead in the delegate count than she is now, which is still well ahead of where Obama was in 2008 (though oddly, there were no complaints about the process back then).

    2. p.s. this piece, from the non-partisan, data-crunching site, shows conclusively and in detail how the system was not in fact rigged against Bernie Sanders: