While the primaries are not yet over, the media and most of the country are already acting as though Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is the official nominee of the Democratic Party. While it’s true that she has a lead of 303 pledged delegates and the overwhelming majority of early super delegates, Sanders can still, though not easily, win the party nomination if he performs will through the rest of the campaign.
Regardless of that outcome now, Bernie Sanders has started something in America I don’t think even he predicted when he entered the campaign 10-months ago. He entered promising a political revolution and he wasted little time delivering on that promise. Most wrote off his campaign as dead out of the gate, his refusal to take money from Super PACs, his refusal to take money from billionaires, and his refusal to fall lockstep with the Democratic elite.
Sanders campaigned on his desire to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, to make health care available to every single American as a right, not a privilege, to send more young adults to college than ever before, and his biggest promise of all, to take on Wall Street and the big banks.
He quickly laid out the differences between himself and Clinton. She campaigns on a slightly higher minimum wage but wants states to make the decision on their own to go to $15. She gladly accepts money from Wall Street bankers and Super PACs, and she believes healthcare should be affordable for some, but not everyone. She has said she likes the idea of universal healthcare, but just not yet.
Sanders, in turn, created a working class movement. He embodied, for many, the working class struggle the socialists of this country have been fighting through for generations. Sanders, a self-proclaimed democratic socialist, quickly gained the support of socialist groups who don’t have a history of backing mainstream party candidates. Socialist Worker, a socialist website, and newspaper threw their weight behind Sanders, The Democratic Socialist of America, Socialist International, and others joined them in endorsing Sanders. While they don’t necessarily agree with all his positions, as he is not an anti-Capitalist and instead thinks the system can be repaired and fixed with regulations. They did, however, believe that he was the best bet to push them closer to the major reforms they believe the working-class deserve and desperately need.
Yet, many of these groups, and according to some polls, nearly 30 percent of Sanders supporters have no intention of supporting Hillary Clinton should she become the party nominee. This poses a problem for the Democratic Party has Clinton’s electability has been called into question by the Sanders campaign, and his supports for some time. With the rise of Donald Trump on the right, the Democrats have carefully chosen a candidate who can beat him, no questions asked, and the party elite has decided to fully back Clinton. Even President Obama has been cited as telling donors they need to start backing her now.
However, many polls show that Clinton will either lose to Trump, or only beat him by one or two points, and with at least a four percent margin of error in most polls, that makes Clinton a risky choice. Sanders polls much higher against Trump, beating him easily well outside the margin of error.
If Sanders was to leave the campaign trail and Clinton takes the nomination, it is not unrealistic to think that those voters, called Berniecrats by some, will not back Clinton and will instead look for a third-party candidate like the Green Party’s Jill Stein, or some may feel so disenfranchised they won’t vote at all.
It won’t come as a surprise to most that this is not the case. Al Gore lost the state of Florida and the presidential election to George W. Bush by just over 500 votes. Given that Nader, a liberal, won about 97,000 votes in the state, many blamed his campaign for the loss. This may seem to make sense at face values but falls apart under more scrutiny. Exit polling shows that only one percent of Democrats voted for Nader, but that 13 percent voted for Bush. Another even more important fact is that nearly 50 percent of Democrats didn’t even vote in the states 2000 election. That is far more voters than 97,000. Had that 50 percent done their democratic duty of voting, Gore could have won the election with ease. Also, the party could have done a better job of exciting the voters and perhaps not lost 13 percent to Bush.
What the Democratic Party needs to come to terms with is that the 30 percent of Sanders supporters and the collection of socialist groups backing Sanders were never really the Democratic Party’s voters to being with. Had Sanders not run, these voters would not have been rallying with the Democrats, and why should they?
The majority of Sanders supporters were against things like the Iraq war and the Patriot Act from the very beginning, something Clinton voted in favor of. While they may be thankful Clinton has changed her position on those votes now, the damage of her yes vote is already done. Her apology is too little, too late. Clinton is seen among this crowd as a war-hawk, someone who favors forced regime change over diplomatic solutions. Someone who has proposed no-fly zones over Syria, even though experts have warned this will only strengthen ISIS. This is the not the kind of voter Sanders is attracting and they see little to no reason to fall in line behind Clinton should she become the nominee.
Sanders has ignited a political revolution, but it is not a revolution that can continue to live inside the Democratic Party, it has to break free and be its own revolutionary party, detached and opposed to the Democratic Party.
Jill Stein believes she is part of the plan, she said in an interview with The Huffington Post that while she said she liked much about Sanders and his campaign, it was his reliance on the Democratic Party that eventually did him in. She said if we want a revolution, it cannot come from inside the Democratic Party.
“The Democrats won’t do it for us,” she said. “We have to establish a political vehicle.”
Revolution will not take place overnight, Stein knows this, Sanders knows this, and the revolutionary socialists in this country know this. It will take a lot of work, but they seem willing to put that work in. These revolutionaries can build upon the work of Sanders and build a much larger force for change. This will remain true even if Sanders is successful and goes all the way to the White House. Sanders’ promises are only the beginning and he would be unlikely to get them all passed through congress, but a revolutionary party can continue the momentum to election past Sanders’ presidency. A revolutionary thinks long term, not in the short term.
Sanders supporters today have no obligation to support Clinton but they should feel an obligation to support change and to support a true political revolution. How that takes place will remain to be seen, it may be with someone like Jill Stein, it may be with the formation of something new. It will, however, need to take place or Sanders’ bid for the White House will be all for nothing.