By Patricia Lee Sharpe
He began as the leader of a touchingly innocent Children’s Crusade to restore America to the people who have been systematically fleeced by a self-serving business elite. The needed revolution would be hard to achieve, he said, because an electoral system built around self-governing political parties was rigged to favor the ins over the outs. And Sanders was indeed an outsider, a life-long “Democratic Socialist.” Then he betrayed his principles by becoming a mere “Democrat” in order to run for president—thus, simultaneously, undermining his claim that the system was rigged against insurgent candidates.
In state after state, despite complex rules designed, understandably, to ensure a political party’s ideological coherence and assure voters that nominees will govern in a manner consistent with that ideology, Sanders was able to run for the presidential nomination of a party he had scorned for a lifetime. If this isn’t openness, what is? Ditto for the Republican Party. Like Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump whined constantly about a party apparatus rigged against him. Yet he, unlike Sanders, was able to garner the votes he needed for nomination. Looks to me as if democracy is working well. If anything, the filters may be too unrestrictive, but they are also complex and obscure, which gives insiders a strong upper hand and outsiders an easy excuse for crying foul.
So Bernie gave Hillary a run for the money, so to speak. Less admirably, as time went on, and it looked as if he might actually have a chance at the nomination, he got down in the gutter with Trump and fought dirty, not only demonizing Hillary Clinton and misrepresenting her views, but encouraging his supporters to see her as a criminal so deep dyed that it may be hard for many of them to vote for her in the general election. In fact, by the time he’d lost the popular vote and the competition for pledged delegates, he’d handed Donald Trump so many harsh anti-Clinton talking points that we’ll be able to blame him for saddling the country with a bigoted, egotistical, misogynistic, fear-peddling demagogue, if it comes to that. What’s to admire here?
The primaries are over now, and Hillary has won fair and square, according to the rules currently in place. Even so, Bernie refuses to concede. To imagine that a huge percentage of super delegates will switch their votes from the winner of the popular vote to the loser is either delusive or devious, but Bernie’s game isn’t persuasion. It’s compulsion. He’s going to take his fight for control of the Democratic Party’s agenda to the floor of the convention, and he’s using his idealistic young supporters as hostages in the process.
I’m surprised that his young supporters, so independent in other ways, aren’t protesting that no one owns them and no one can bargain with their votes, especially considering the consequences. Should Bernie continue his petulant demand to have his own way despite his rejection by Democratic voters, he may very well give us a president with a policy of ethnic and religious cleansing. In that case, history will not treat Bernie Sanders well.
Meanwhile, paradoxically, it’s clear that the Sanders candidacy has succeeded in accomplishing much of Bernie’s original mission. It has pushed the Democratic Party to left, an orientation that many Clinton supporters celebrate. Sanders should be happy and his supporters should be proud. It’s not yet too late for Bernie to be gracious in defeat and to be hailed as an important leader in an ongoing crusade against an arrogant Wall Street. Even if his disappointed supporters won’t ever see a President Sanders, they will have that important consolation. And they might also ponder this: Hilary Clinton may be more hawkish than Bernie Sanders, but you can trust her with the nuclear football. That alone should keep anyone from not sitting out the general election.
And yes, now that the primaries are over, it’s an appropriate time to consider changes in party rules—and state regulations re open or closed primaries, both of which have supportable rationales, although cross-voting, whatever its virtues, undermines the integrity of ideologically coherent political parties. Equally or more important, I suggest, would be a strong push to enact comprehensive federal voting rights legislation to ensure that every American has equal and easy access to the polls, during the primaries and during the general election.