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Political Revolution and the Third-Party Imperative

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"You've had your fun with Bernie. Now it's time to get serious and support Hillary."

That's the harangue Bernie Sanders' supporters have been hearing from mainstream Democratic Party leaders and their apologists in the media. It's bound to intensify in the wake of the virtual tie in the Iowa caucuses on February 1 and his projected win in the New Hampshire primary contest. When Dem leaders look at Mr. Sanders, they shudder over the prospect of a repeat of George McGovern's crushing loss to Richard Nixon.

Like Mr. McGovern in 1972, Mr. Sanders is running a populist campaign on a (mostly) progressive platform. The Democratic National Committee is run by corporate-money centrists who believe the only way to defeat a billion-dollar-plus GOP campaign is to field a corporate-money centrist with a billion-dollar-plus war chest. Whatever his public appeal, the corporate PACs and One Percenters who write big campaign checks won't fund a Sanders campaign and he won't take their money. Pundits like Paul Krugman and politicians within the party are scolding those who threaten to spoil a Clinton coronation.

Barney Frank gave away the game in July when he published an essay in Politico revealing that Dem leaders consider Mr. Sanders a nuisance and an interloper. Mr. Frank shuddered at the thought of contested primaries, a half year before they began.

"Bernie will win the nomination if enough of us vote for him!" cry the faithful. Maybe, but the Democratic Party establishment has ways to work its will. It enacted a superdelegate system after the McGovern disaster to minimize the influence of rank-and-file Dems and ensure a nominee approved by party leaders. If he survives the primaries, Mr. Sanders will need a supermajority at the convention to take the nomination.

Bernie Sanders has surpassed the efforts of previous progressive challengers like Dennis Kucinich. His record as U.S. Senator is excellent on many issues, good on some, and wrong-headed on military spending and certain areas of foreign policy. He opposed the invasion of Iraq but subsequently voted for war funding.

My purpose here isn't to assess Mr. Sanders or his campaign. A critique of his platform is hardly going to lure Sandernistas away from him. Mr. Sanders' informed supporters already know of his weaknesses on some issues. They're remaining loyal to their candidate in the face of DNC hostility towards him.

Will the Sanders insurgency grow or will everything snap back to business as usual in the coming months? What will Bernie Sanders' supporters do if the Clinton Juggernaut crushes him between now and mid summer? They'll be faced with a choice: migrate over to the Clinton camp or find a way to keep alive the political revolution that Mr. Sanders claims to represent throughout the rest of 2016 and thereafter. If Mr. Sanders is bounced from the race, all the best things he stands for will be banished from public discussion in the contest between Ms. Clinton and the Republican nominee.


Post-Bernie Contingency

Political revolution can't be reconciled with support for Hillary Clinton, given her history as First Lady, U.S. Senator from New York, and Secretary of State. The only reasons to vote for her are either lesser-evil pragmatism ("We can't allow a GOP victory") or delusion ("I believe that, deep inside, Hillary is really on our side"). Mr. Sanders himself has promised to throw his support to the Dem nominee.

It's true that a vote for Ms. Clinton will help prevent a Republican from moving into the White House. But the effect of perpetual lesser-evil voting is that Democrats know they can perpetually take one's votes for granted, regardless of what they do in office. The insistence in every election on support for the lesser evil instead of other options has made voters who call themselves liberal and progressive complicit in the country's bipartisan slide to the right.

Bernie Sanders' defeat should be an epiphany, a final nail in the coffin for the idea that change is possible as long as the political landscape is limited to two corporate-money parties.

Sanders supporters often tell me "If Hillary is nominated, we'll work to get her elected in November while keeping Bernie's political revolution alive."

It's more likely that Medicare For All, restoring Glass-Steagall, and other goals of the political revolution will get kicked to the curb. (Medicare For All and Glass-Steagall are hardly revolutionary, but that's another story.) Liberals and progressives have a dismal record in pursuing their own agenda when Dems get elected. Bill Clinton's election in 1992 turned liberal advocacy groups into groupies who fawned over him while he betrayed them one by one. Barack Obama's victory in 2008 killed the mass antiwar movement.

No movement helps itself by retreating into support -- or passive acceptance or nonvoting acquiescence -- for a candidate who's hostile to the movement's agenda.

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Scott McLarty has served as media coordinator for the Green Party of the United States and for the DC Statehood Green Party. He has had articles, guest columns, and book reviews published in Roll Call, CommonDreams.org, Z Magazine, Green (more...)
 

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