Thursday, April 28, 2016

Should We Care What Bernie Wants?

With wins in four of five states that made up the “Acela” (or I-95) Primary on Tuesday night, Hillary Clinton is on the verge of history – the first woman to secure the nomination of a major political party for President of the United States. Of course, this singular achievement is already being poo pooed by the press, who are either mourning the loss of what ratings come from portraying a contest that was never that close as competitive or simply reflecting their decades-long antipathy toward the former First Lady. Either way, attention has quickly shifted to a narrative framed on her need to acquiesce to still-unknown demands that may be made of her by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders to secure his endorsement and, in theory, the support of his followers. 

It is particularly presumptuous of Sanders to make demands considering he himself has only been a member of the party (sort of) for less than a year and acknowledged running as a Democrat purely for political expediency. But that aside, I am not sure what he could ask for that is not already in the neighborhood of what he seeks. On many of the issues of importance to him - Wall Street reform, taxation, college education, and others – Secretary Clinton has put forth proposals that are broadly in line with his thinking with the added benefit of being substantive and workable, not an idealistic fantasy where Republicans in Congress would somehow kowtow to the whims of a Democratic Socialist in the White House. 

That he would not get Secretary Clinton to adopt his ideas chapter and verse is no sin and should not be a requirement to secure his blessing. He lost, which means his views were considered and rejected; he does not get a second bite at the apple at the threat of taking his toys and going home. And Sanders may want to rethink any requests about the nominating process. The delegate apportionment rules that he bemoans have actually benefitted him, keeping him in the race by granting him delegates in large states he lost badly (see, New York, Pennsylvania, Florida, Texas, Virginia) while providing oceans of positive media coverage for wins in low turnout caucuses in places like Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, and Alaska that did little to move the needle in his delegate deficit. Sanders has gained a lot of mileage out of his victories even though of the ten states with the smallest turn out, he prevailed in all ten and his percentage of pledged delegates slightly outpaces the percentage of the total vote he has received. 

Even if Sanders asked that the number of super delegates be reduced or eliminated altogether, it would not help his cause because Secretary Clinton has also won a majority of the pledged delegates. Naturally, Sanders would like a system tailor-made to benefit him that would allow independents to vote in Democratic primaries (I do not get this – why would non-members of a political party be allowed to have a say in who Democrats (or Republicans for that matter) choose to lead their party?), reduce or eliminate super delegates and maybe increase the prominence of caucuses, but you only get to make the rules if you win the game. The truth is, for all the media sturm und drang, Clinton has held a consistent lead of between 10 and 20 percentage points in the total vote against Sanders since the primary season started in earnest.  

Indeed, if Sanders is truly interested in helping to advance his agenda, he would be best served by helping down-ballot Democrats flip the House and take control of the Senate, but he has been resistant to supporting “the party” until very recently and even then, his efforts on behalf of other Democrats has been limited to some fundraising letters and a passing nod to a handful of candidates. Mobilizing his volunteers and fundraising, helping to recruit progressives at the federal, state, and local level, and working with party leaders to little “d” democratize the way the party raises money will have a far more salutary benefit than arguing over a plank in the party platform that nobody is going to read anyway. 

Of course, this is not to say that Mrs. Clinton should not be gracious, but saying that is superfluous. Her campaign has run almost no negative advertising against Sanders and while the Secretary has thrown some sharp rhetorical elbows, they have been well within the rules for political campaigns. She has taken pains to publicly congratulate Sanders on his wins and extended an olive branch to his supporters in her victories. There are always going to be dead enders, people who, no matter how hard you try to appease, will not go gently into that good night. And so I say that Hillary should waste no time trying to mollify the Susan Sarandons, Rosario Dawsons and Shaun Kings of the world. They are much happier in their ideological purity than the belief that cementing the gains made under Presidents Clinton and Obama is more important than the risk of Donald J. Trump taking up residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. For the overwhelming majority of Democrats and independents who voted for Bernie Sanders, logic and reason will prevail. 

Follow me on Twitter - @scarylawyerguy 

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