Bernie Sanders threw in the towel today in his epic campaign to win the Democratic Party’s nomination for president, standing on a stage in Portsmouth, New Hampshire beside the woman he had spent the whole primary season denouncing as a tool of the corporate elite and especially of the Wall Street banking cabal, and saying he endorsed her as the party’s candidate for president of the United States.
The event marked the sad, if widely predicted, end to what for a brief time had electrified millions of young and working class voters: a major party candidate for president openly calling himself a socialist, proudly harking back to his days as a radical civil rights activist instead of trying to hide his past and his arrest record, and unabashedly condemning the greed, corruption and lust for power of the nation’s ruling elite.
I confess to having been inspired by Sanders’ quixotic campaign myself, and while I’m disappointed that he has ended it in such a dismal and humiliating manner, I’m not sorry he ran. Thanks to Bernie Sanders, the word “socialism” is no longer a pejorative in American politics. It is a political philosophy to which millions of young people are now drawn. That is something that can and will be built upon. For at least two generations it was not possible to call one’s self a socialist and be taken seriously in the United States of Capitalism. Of course, Sanders didn’t achieve this breakthrough by himself. His campaign built directly upon the struggles of the Occupy Movement, which in 2011 gave us “We are the 99%!” and made it clear that it is the 1% of the nation’s wealthiest people who basically own and run the country.
Bernie Sanders took that movement’s legacy and ran with it, literally, taking the country by storm and winning 22 states’ primaries along the way – and he probably would have won and maybe did win more had elections and counting been fairer (a month after that state’s primary was held they were still counting ballots in California!).
The deck was clearly stacked against Sanders’ campaign by a Democratic National Committee leadership that was solidly committed to Clinton and used every trick in the book, from scheduling primary debates at inconvenient times for viewers, like during the Superbowl, to shutting down the Sanders campaign’s access to voter contact records for a time, by a media that never ceased to disparage Sanders, first with red-baiting, then with false stories implying ignorance or incompetence, and finally, in an orgy of pro-Clinton PR, publishing reports that Clinton had “clinched” the nomination while Californians and voters in six other states were still casting their ballots in the last primaries of the season. Throughout the campaign the major corporate news organizations all continued reporting that Clinton had over 500 “super delegates” in her delegate total, an almost unassailable amount for Sanders to overcome, though in fact those delegates were not bound to vote for Clinton at all, but were elected Democrats, lobbyists and wealthy funders who had simply stated their preference for Clinton. By doing this, the media made it appear that Sanders never had a chance from the get go, though he actually came amazingly close to Clinton in pledged delegates without ever taking any corporate payola to fund his campaign.
Sanders, by deciding to cave and endorse Clinton – he argues questionably that he has to in order to prevent the possible election of likely Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump – has gravely diminished what he accomplished. As many left critics of his campaign long warned, by endorsing Clinton he will no doubt succeed in urging many of his millions of supporters to “hold their noses” and vote for Clinton in November, and will also demoralize others who may retreat into apolitical cynicism and not vote at all. But I suspect that at least 15-20% of his supporters – and that’s 2-3 million people – will be inspired to move on to a new kind of activism, backing the Green Party and its likely candidate for president, Dr. Jill Stein, as I plan to do.
Stein, who in recent months repeatedly offered to step aside and let Sanders seek and obtain the Green Party’s nomination to run for president in the general election against Clinton and Trump (he never responded to her phone calls or messages, including an open letter published in many alternative media outlets), took no time in bashing his endorsement of Clinton, tweeting: “It sounds like the only good thing Bernie can say about Hillary is that she’s not Donald. That’s what most of her supporters like about her.”
In an article in Counterpunch magazine, Stein praised Sanders for the campaign he ran in “undemocratic primaries,” which she said had shown clearly “how a grassroots campaign, armed only with a progressive vision and small contributions from real people, can win over the majority of Americans.” But she went on to write that by endorsing Clinton, he had become just “one of a long line of true reformers that have been undermined by the Democratic Party.”
I wrote on several occasions about Stein’s offer of the Green Party’s nomination, and predicted that had Sanders taken that route, instead of endorsing Clinton, he probably would have taken the majority of his 13 million primary supporters – millions of voters representing about a quarter of the total needed to win a national election in a two-way race – along with him, as well as winning the support of probably a majority of the nation’s independent voters, possibly winning the presidency and destroying the Democratic Party in the process, and win or lose establishing the Green Party as a mainstream opposition party instead of the protest vote vehicle it has been stuck as for decades.
I doubt that without Sanders and his minions and his proven ability to draw huge amounts of cash from his supporters, the Green Party, with Dr. Stein as its candidate, will be able to achieve that kind of result, but then who knows? We’re talking about a rather bizarre and unprecedented election year, with the two major parties both about to nominate the least trusted, least popular candidates in the history of polling (last time I looked, Donald Trump has a 67% distrust level among voters, and Hillary Clinton was at 53%, with even half of Democrats saying they don’t like her). If Stein as the Green candidate (the Green party’s contested convention is set for the first week of August), can get up to 15% in the polls so she would have to be included in the several presidential debates in the fall, where she can make her positions clear to the American people, it’s possible she could do really well against that pathetic level of competition, especially now with Clinton exposed as, if not an indicted criminal, then an unindicted one whom a majority of Americans think should have been charged for trying to hide her money-grubbing sale of her office as Secretary of State from the reaches of the Freedom of Information Act by using a private server to conduct her State Department “business.”
Sanders is now history. No one will remember his Clinton endorsement speech, which was tepid at best. (He said she was the “best candidate” but that was with a choice between her and Trump. And he reminded people that he and Clinton still “disagree on a number of issues,” a point that the Republican campaign will be certain to make from now through Election Day.)
Endorsement, such as it was, in hand, the Clinton campaign will have to decide now whether to ignore Sanders or to risk embarrassment by wheeling him out now and again to try and kindle some enthusiasm for her lackluster candidacy among his disappointed former backers, something that will inevitably be a pathetic failure. Nobody who was inspired by his full-throated attack in the primaries on the corruption of politics by big money will listen to him now that he has sold out to the corrupt big money candidate. He may as well go back to Burlington and write his memoir, though odds are whatever he publishes will end as a lot of dusty remaindered books piling up in discount bins next to the inspiring biographies of Michael Dukakis and John Kerry. Booed by Democratic members of Congress when he first returned to the Capitol earlier this month after ending his campaign, Sanders is unlikely to be given any real power when he returns in the fall to his seat in the Senate, either. Not that he’d get much anyway if Republicans continue to hang onto control of that chamber.
Demonstrations planned for the streets outside the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia, which would have had some real excitement to them if there were still a chance that Sanders might jump to the Green Party in the end, are likely to be more desultory affairs, limited as they will be to protesting Clinton’s ascendancy to the role of official party nominee for president. Sanders will get to make his final speech of the campaign on national TV, but it will be an anticlimax without his being able to rip into the corrupting big money that has bought the party’s candidate.
The focus for the left must now be to make the Green Party as powerful a factor in this election year as possible, exposing the corruption and venality of both major party candidates and their down-ticket lackeys, and demanding that the media report on the Green platform which – unlike the platforms of the two establishment parties – does stand for something important.