Now that the Democratic primary campaign is all but decided in favor of Joe Biden, the wailing of Bernie Sanders’ supporters that the whole process was fixed is hard to ignore. I don’t believe a word of it.
I have supported Bernie since I lived in Maine and he was running for Vermont’s seat in the House in the 1990s. I supported him against Hillary Clinton and I supported him again this time, even buying his book, which is very similar to one of his stump speeches. I was unexpectedly hopeful when he won Nevada, and looked like the front-runner for the nomination, a Jewish man who called himself a democratic socialist and advocated fundamental changes in our politics and economy. I didn’t think he could accomplish all that, even if he won the nomination and the Presidency, but he was pushing our national politics ever closer to my own vision of a just society.
Then came South Carolina and then Super Tuesday and the next Tuesday, and it was all over. Joe Biden won nearly everything convincingly. All the other candidates dropped out. It was not surprising that most then endorsed Biden. Elizabeth Warren, the other candidate in the “progressive lane”, did not endorse anyone, perhaps a reflection of her spat with Bernie over whether he said last year that a woman couldn’t win, which in fact turned out to be true.
I don’t think that the big majorities who voted for Biden picked him because they thought he was more likely to beat Trump, but because they liked the idea of him being President more than they wanted Bernie.
Bernie himself has not yet admitted the obvious. His campaign manager, Faiz Shakir, sent me a message last week about the poor electoral results, which began, “And while our campaign has won the battle of ideas, we are losing the battle over electability to Joe Biden.” Bernie won the battle of ideas in my head, but not in the heads of a majority of voters. I don’t think that the big majorities who voted for Biden picked him because they thought he was more likely to beat Trump, but because they liked the idea of him being President more than they wanted Bernie.
The evidence about the “war of ideas” is not easy to interpret. Some of Bernie’s ideas that were decried as too radical by his more moderate competitors were surprisingly popular with Democratic voters. The exit polls on Super Tuesday by NBC News showed that majorities of Democratic primary voters in Texas (57%) and California (53%), and pluralities in North Carolina (48%) and Tennessee (47%) expressed a favorable opinion about “socialism”. Majorities of Democratic voters in 4 southern states supported Medicare for All: Mississippi (62%), Tennessee (53%), Virginia (52%), and Alabama (51%). Half of Missouri Democrats said that the economic system “needs a complete overhaul”.
That support for progressive positions did not turn into support for Bernie himself, the personification of those policies. We need much more information about what went on in voters’ minds to understand that. But the claims of Bernie supporters that the intervention of high-level Democratic operatives, such as the Democratic National Committee, working hand-in-hand with the big media networks, made sure that the less dangerous Biden won don’t convince me. There is no evidence for such a conspiracy.
Common Dreams argued before Super Tuesday that Michael Bloomberg, representing the whole crooked Democratic “establishment”, was going to buy the nomination, except he couldn’t. Change.org circulated an online petition calling on people to demand “DNC: Stop rigging the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination and convention”.
I don’t think that most primary voters were influenced by possible DNC machinations, and the outcries about fixing the convention with moderate superdelegates is irrelevant. Bernie just lost to Joe in our very democratic primary process. He could not have expected his moderate competitors to endorse anyone but Biden. The voters have spoken.
I don’t know if Bernie would have done better against Trump in November. All the head-to-head polls that tried to predict the ultimate outcome are out the window, now that the coronavirus crisis changes everything.
The Sanders campaign says it will continue into the New York primary a month from now. I think Bernie should ease out of the race, now that it’s hard to have a race and the decision is already clear. I do appreciate that his campaign messaging has now shifted to urging his supporters to donate to a variety of organizations which are helping people affected by the pandemic. His campaign manager Shakir said Bernie would “continue his fight to ensure we are protecting working people, low-income people, and the most vulnerable communities, not just giant corporations and Wall Street in any response to the virus.” His campaign website offers a detailed response to the crisis. This message lists many such organizations which could use help. I hope he does that, because we need strong voices pushing our politics toward more economic and biological justice.
Bernie Sanders was always a longshot. He has shoved the national political discussion leftward and will continue to do that, but his presidential possibilities, if they ever existed, are gone. It’s time for progressives, even democratic socialists like me, to go all in for Biden. He’s not our dream, but he’s not a Trump nightmare.
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