Bernie Sanders had a shining moment last week at a massive rally in Philadelphia at the Temple University Liacouras Sports Center. The high point came when he mentioned that his opponent, Hillary Clinton, had implied that he was “not qualified” to be president — a charge that she has continued to make in a tense campaign for the April 19 Democratic primary in New York state.
As 10,000 people in the stadium erupted in an enthusiastic chorus of boos, Sanders declared that in his view it is Clinton who’s “not qualified” for the presidency. He cited her $15 million in “donations” from Wall Street banks, her vote to support the Iraq War, and her support for “almost every trade agreement” sent to Congress during her years in Washington.
If Sanders had at that point said, “Well I’m nonetheless going to endorse her for president if she ends up winning the nomination in this primary campaign,” I am certain he would have been shouted down. He didn’t though. Instead, he made that submissive statement two days later in a CBS interview with the execrable Charlie Rose, who pressed him and pressed him (but who has not pressed Clinton similarly) to renounce his claim that Clinton is “not qualified” for the White House.
Sanders caved, and said “of course” he would endorse her candidacy if she were the Democratic nominee.
Right there in that moment, Sanders lost half his support — at least the die-hard support from people who were ready to stand in freezing rain if need be on April 19 in New York or April 26 in Philadelphia to vote for him, and to come to Philadelphia in sweltering July to take the streets and demand that he get the Democratic Party’s nomination.
Those fighters are not going to go to the mat for a guy who, if he has the nomination stolen away — which is what is happening — just gives his blessing to a candidate he has rightly described as a craven shill for the nation’s corporate elite, including the criminal elite who run the Wall Street banks, and walks away from the primaries.
People on the hard left have claimed from the beginning that the Sanders campaign is just a scam — a plan to “sheep-dog” progressive Democratic and independent voters into voting for someone — Hillary Clinton — who no progressive in her or his right mind would support: a serial war-monger, a former board member of Walmart, an ardent backer of her husband’s tough-on-crime legislation that made the US into the incarceration capital of the world, and a supporter of globalization and the trade treaties that have gutted jobs in the US. I don’t think this was a conspiracy on Sanders’ part. If it were, he would not have called her out as unqualified last Wednesday in Philadelphia (twice actually, at the Temple U. rally and later at a press conference with leaders of national unions that had endorsed him) for being a corporate tool. But I do believe that if he is serious about his campaign being all about promoting a “political revolution” to get money out of US politics, he cannot support Clinton — a candidate who’s all about sucking up to corporate power in hopes of getting corporate money. (Of course, it could be that Sanders is in a kind of box. If he says outright that he will not endorse Clinton if she wins the nomination, then if he goes on to win, many angry Clinton backers won’t support him. Perhaps he feels it’s better to fudge on that if and until the issue really has to be addressed.)
Sanders, in his cave-in to Rose, was actually technically correct in saying that Hillary Clinton is “qualified to be president,” and Clinton is technically correct in claiming as she is still doing that Sanders is “not qualified” for the post.
The truth is that every president of the United States, especially since the end of World War II (and maybe back to Abe Lincoln or George Washington), has been bought and paid for by corporate America or more broadly the ruling elite. In other words, part of getting elected to the White House is a willingness to sell one’s soul for corporate financial backing. Clinton has demonstrated her “qualification for the job” by pursing corporate money quite aggressively, even skipping out of states in tight primary races, like the recent one in Wisconsin, to attend big-ticket fund-raisers in major cities. Sanders, meanwhile, has demonstrated his lack of qualification for the presidency by refusing to go after corporate money, and instead relying on small donations from ordinary people made on the internet.
In one sense, Sanders has already fatally damaged Clinton by highlighting her cravenness in pursuit of ruling-class swag. Everyone in America knows she’s Corporate America’s sweetheart, and those who vote for her will be doing it holding their noses. Thanks in great part to Sanders’ surprisingly successful campaign against Clinton, there is already a large number of progressive voters who will simply not vote for Clinton at this point if she is the party’s candidate for president.
Indeed, the notion that Sanders could in some way help Clinton by endorsing her candidacy after the convention ends is absurd. He has already so thoroughly exposed her corruptness that an endorsement by him now would be worse than no endorsement at all. Besides making him look ridiculous, it would invite reporters and Republican opponents to press him endlessly to explain how he can endorse someone whom he knows to be in the pocket of the banks, oil companies, drug companies and defense contractors.
The problem then is not that by endorsing Clinton, Sanders would be helping to elect her. If he endorses her, nobody will believe a word he’s saying! The problem is that he will have betrayed and effectively destroyed the very “political revolution” that he claims has been the raison d’état of his campaign.
There will, at the end of the day, be no movement at all after the tens of millions of dollars raised, the millions of primary votes cast, and all the speeches and rallies, if Sanders just endorses Clinton and then goes back to Vermont to becomes the same obscure independent senator from a small rural state that he was before this campaign began. He will be a historical nobody, and his movement, his “political revolution,” will be lucky to make even a historical footnote in any history of America in the 21st Century.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Sanders’ supporters don’t want him to endorse Clinton. They want him to keep fighting, and he can. First and foremost he has to state clearly that Clinton and her corporatist ilk have had their day, that she does not deserve the presidency, and that he will continue to denounce her and her opponents as tools of the rich even if he loses the nomination. He has a crucial opportunity to make those points — a debate in New York on Thursday, just days ahead of the critically important New York state primary. He’s already saying that while her “experience” may be “qualify” her to be president, her “judgment” does not. He should hammer that point home, and stop promising to back her if she wins the nomination, something he will clearly be asked about in the CNN-run debate.
But meanwhile, he should also be considering another option in case she does win the Democratic nomination: running against her outside the Democratic Party.
There are several ways he could do this. With the name recognition and support and credibility he has already won, he could mount an independent campaign — getting on the ballot where he can manage it, or running as a write-in candidate (the name Sanders is not hard to spell!) where he can’t. He has already demonstrated that he will not have difficulty raising money, raising over $150 million from ordinary people — nearly double what Clinton has managed to cajole out of her obscenely wealthy corporate sponsors.
Better yet, he should enter into negotiations with the Green Party, which is already on the ballot in at least 35 states. The Greens have languished as a party for decades, unable to receive more than one or two percent of the vote in any national election, if that, and unable to elect even one national candidate to Congress. They clearly need a game changer to become a significant political force. Sanders needs ballot access. Does anyone besides me see the makings of what Donald Trump would call a beautiful deal here?
If the Green Party were to offer its presidential nomination to Sanders (it would involve their own candidate, probably Jill Stein, stepping aside or perhaps accepting a vice-presidential spot on her party’s ticket, Sanders would be able to make a credible run against the massively unpopular Clinton and against whoever ends up being the Republican candidate for president. If the GOP steals the nomination from Donald Trump, and he makes good on a threat to run as an independent, which is very possible too, all the better — then there’d be a four-way election and Sanders, as the most popular figure among the current pathetic crop of candidates, would have a reasonable shot at winning a plurality and maybe even a majority of votes in the general election.
What would the Greens get out of such a deal? Major party status overnight! Something that might well carry over into the next off-year and even the next presidential election and on into the future.
A Green Party campaign by Sanders would be great for Sanders and his revolution too. The Greens could hold out for a commitment by Sanders to rein in the military, cutting its budget and its global footprint — a move that most Americans would support, but something he has avoided making in his campaign for the Democratic Party nomination.
Sanders will have to be pushed to make such a momentous decision — both to keep hitting candidate Clinton as being unqualified because of her unseemly pursuit of corporate backing, her craven support for job-killing trade deals, and her penchant for war-mongering around the globe, and to run against her if she manages to steal the Democratic nomination in July. That is the job now facing his enthusiastic backers. At mass rallies, they should demand it: No endorsement of Hillary Clinton! In private, they should press him to begin discussions with the Green Party, whose members should also press party leaders to consider the idea of backing Sanders as the party’s candidate this year. There’s really no downside for Sanders. He won his last election to the senate from Vermont by a landslide in 2012, and taking a stand like this would only boost his reputation in his home state if he wants to run again in 2018.
There will not be another opportunity like this for the left in years, if ever. Sanders has clearly struck a nerve with an angry and frustrated American public. If he doesn’t falter and doesn’t cave in to Clinton and the Democratic Party leadership, his vaunted political revolution could become a real thing. If he does falter, it will prove to have been nothing but smoke and mirrors.