Sen. Bernie Sanders says that he became a Democrat to start a revolution in the party, which is fine. And he ran a good race, but he has lost by every measure, and now his supporters are mostly moving on to Hillary Clinton. Sure, a dedicated core still holds out for convention theatrics and even a third-party bid, but they are being revealed as a small, if vocal, fringe element that Clinton doesn’t necessarily need in order to win this November. Furthermore, the revolutionary energy Sanders brought to the race has now been subsumed within the Clinton campaign through her new partnership with Elizabeth Warren.

Which is pretty much what I have thought might happen, and have been predicting with increasing certitude, since February.

Progressives who disdain ‘identity politics’ are telling you how little they understand America. In my experience, such people are overwhelmingly white and usually male, but tend to not understand why most white males prefer conservative answers for their economic distress.

[…] The Sanders campaign has developed a reputation for angry, aggressive partisans who repel potential allies with their rude behavior and purity tests. While it’s tempting to dismiss these incidents as the result of well-meaning youthful exuberance, we have seen such behavior before in progressive politics. Remember how Occupy ‘changed the conversation’ by giving us a handy phrase for discussing income inequality, but then passed away into irrelevance without making any substantive changes to the system which creates inequality?

There will be no revolution until the radicals who demand it recognize the absolute necessity of winning and holding hard political power. One of the reasons why some people embrace fringe candidates is to relieve themselves of this responsibility for actual governing; in some ways, it’s easier to be in the outgroup, preening in your moral superiority, than to make hard choices that affect real people. This kind of radicalism chafes against the politics of the possible. It is never satisfied with compromise.

Matters became clearer in March, as the Sanders campaign reacted to their Super Tuesday II losses by shifting to a strategy that was decidedly un-democratic. Far behind in aggregate ballots, states, and delegates, Sanders flip-flopped on one of his major criticisms of the party by targeting the superdelegates with appeals to overturn the will of Democratic voters.

Remember when caucuses were supposedly rigged by the establishment to suppress democracy and hold a Hillary coronation? That was two Super Tuesdays ago. Now, caucuses are a key part of the Sanders strategy because they are easier for an insurgent to win than primaries. As in the Clark County convention, winning caucuses is just a matter of filling the room with your people. Contrary to his original theory of the election, Sanders has done better with lower turnout, while the energy and enthusiasm of his supporters has paid the most dividends in the smallest, least-democratic elections.

The Senator’s lack of policy acumen, his refusal to wear electoral coattails, and his shortcomings as a candidate came into stark relief at about 9 PM Central on the day Clinton won New York and became mathematically certain to win the nomination.

Berniedom is melting down across social media tonight. As I click around to look at their feeds, it’s clear that denial rules the moment. Despite an utter lack of evidence, Clinton’s huge delegate lead is now adjudged fake, while her massive wins are somehow considered fraudulent, just because people desperately want to disbelieve they are real. And guess who’s appealing to those folks? Donald Trump is giving his victory speech right now, and one of the first things out of his mouth was the hope that Sanders will get so mad at “unfair” treatment by the Democratic Party that he forms a third-party run.

Despite the way his performance worsened by going negative against Clinton, at the end of May the Sanders campaign seemed more interested in hostage-taking than movement-building. Little wonder that his fundraising nosedived.

Remember when Sanders told us that he would break Republican intransigence with a mass-movement and a big demonstration of people power? Remember the massive surge of new voters he was going to bring into the process? Those rhetorical pipe-dreams are now manifesting as a screaming mob of malcontents, convinced in their self-righteousness that they are saving America and freedom at whatever cost. They will destroy democracy in order to save it from itself.

Finally, as the last states weighed in at the beginning of June, the amount of leverage that Sanders held over both party and nominee was already diminishing.

I understand that Sanders wants to finish the race strong, even if he doesn’t win, just like 99.99% of marathon runners do. And that’s totally fine; I’m all good with letting every vote be counted. But there are no more pledged delegates to be won. That’s all there is; there isn’t any more.

[…] (B)y going out like this — with a big loss in the vital state of California and the last vote in DC promising to be a lopsided defeat — Bernie Sanders ends the campaign in a considerably weaker bargaining position than if he had negotiated his surrender after New York. He’s burned a lot of political capital along with that giant pile of grassroots money.

As July begins, most Sanders voters have migrated to Clinton, closing ranks in her general election coalition faster than Barack Obama’s did in 2008. Out of hostages to take, Sanders’s thunder has been stolen as well. The Senator from Massachusetts has proven to be the key endorsement for her nomination — as I predicted she would.

Clinton wants to create an expectation that she will protect the CFPB and hold administrative doors open for [Elizabeth] Warren, who is the key endorsement in this race. To beat Donald Trump, who shows no sign of slowing down on his way to the Republican nomination, Clinton can’t just focus on bringing minorities to the ballot box. She needs to draw some white working class voters, too. Sanders and Trump are both doing well because they appeal to what David Atkins calls the “smash everything” coalition that is all done watching factories downsize and jobs get shipped overseas. Clinton needs to create an expectation that she will protect workers, but that will be hard to do, since the Clinton name is still associated with NAFTA and other Third Way compromises of the American worker that took place in the 90s. To win some working class votes, she needs to tell those people who to blame for their problems, and she needs Warren by her side telling that story in tandem.

Since Warren practically asked Clinton to run in the first place, I don’t expect it will be terribly hard to convince her.

I was surprised to be wrong about one point in the above self-quote, by the way: it turns out that Clinton can in fact mathematically win the presidency solely by motivating people of color to the polls. In fact, despite the dead heat being presented by opinion polling, she holds a commanding general election position right now, winning all seven ‘swing states’ tested by Ballotpedia, which suggests that a huge November victory is within reach for her now. The shift is entirely due to Democrats rallying behind Clinton, who now has Warren at her side in coordinated colors to form an electrifying tag-team.

By contrast, what successes does Bernie Sanders have since he lost California, to which he had pinned so much hope? The much-hated Debbie Wasserman Schultz is out as DNC chair, but that decision was Clinton’s to make, and it was in her interest.

DWS is a friend of the Clintons, yet also a shrewd politician, so she won’t take it personally if Clinton disavows her payday loan lobbying. Although I don’t expect Clinton to heed my counsel, in this election atmosphere, Clinton should want to be seen taking a Democrat — any Democrat, but especially a connected, high-level Democrat — to the woodshed for messing with key Obama administration achievements, not to mention Elizabeth Warren’s signature agency.

Thanks to his efforts, Sanders’s friends have managed to improve the Democratic Party platform. Yet with the possible exception of the $15 minimum wage, this is only a limited rhetorical win that further maintains the fiction of Cornel West’s relevance. Party platforms do not bind candidates; political manifestos are not widely-read documents. Sanders has used up his ‘asks’ from Clinton for what seem like paltry gains in the grand scheme of American political power. No wonder so many of the dead-end ‘Bernie or bust’ crowd seem dissatisfied.

So yes, it is “condescending” for Sanders to speak of Clinton as if he was still a viable candidate in a two-person race. He’s not. Nor will there be a satisfying floor fight in Philadelphia: organizers will hold a vote, Clinton will win it, the balloons will drop, and that will be the end of the matter.

The only question, then, is what Sanders will leave behind. While there are many promising efforts in his wake, none of them bear his personal imprint, and I remain skeptical about them as genuine organizing efforts. You can find ten thousand people ready to say they want to run for office in America, sure — you can probably find ten thousand people to jump in a lake as well — but what resources will you give them? What kind of candidate vetting, preparation, and networking will take place to build real campaign machinery for this glorious progressive political vision to be realized? We have no answers, and I suspect we will never have them, which would be an awful shame.


2 thoughts on “Bernie Sanders Letting His Revolutionary Flame Go Dim”
  1. Bernie Sanders isn’t nearly the skilled politician he and his more fervent followers believe. Yeah, okay, fine, it’s vastly easier to say that from this side of the computer screen, but Sanders should have known when to fold and didn’t.

    Sanders is just that guy who won’t leave a social event (yes, I’m trying to avoid using the word “party”) even after all the other guests have gone home.


    1. I was completely winnable a year ago. Sanders convinced me he could not be president. It wasn’t conspiracy or a vagina that led me to this realization, it was Sanders himself.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *