Today Bernie formally endorsed Hillary, as expected. Reading between the lines of his “Forever Forward” email, it looks like Hillary made some platform concessions to sweeten this sour deal. She supported reduction of student debt and increases in medical coverage. Apart from that, Hillary’s people appear to have blocked all forward movement on the platform, and look entrenched against party rules changes that would favor an insurgent candidate.
Jill Stein, candidate of the Green Party, published her opposition to the endorsement, also as expected. Hillary is a candidate of the billionaires and warmakers, and so forth, she pointed out. Very true. But Stein’s statement that “Together we can beat both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump” is delusional. There is no political body that can beat both Clinton and Trump in November 2016. Sanders’ political arithmetic is unassailable: if we don’t vote for Hillary, we help elect Trump.
Now we come to the interesting part. Bernie’s campaign, as he points out in his email, mobilized tens of millions of people around his ideas, and shook up the conventional wisdom by winning 23 primaries. Is that all over now? An ordinary election candidate would cash in their chips and go home. But Sanders is not such a candidate, never has been. In his words:
This movement of ours – this political revolution – must continue. We cannot let all of the momentum we have achieved in the fight to transform America be lost. We will never stop fighting for what is right.
OK, but how? Sanders has spent almost all of his political life as an independent, outside the Democratic Party. He entered the party for good pragmatic reasons, namely to evangelize for his ideas within the ready-made major party primary channels, constricted and biased as they are. Bernie’s choice has been successful beyond all expectations. As Tom Gallagher and others have pointed out (and as the Green Party has experienced), launching a third party from zero is an agonizing proposition. However, at this time Sanders is not starting from zero. Hardly. He has (or until recently had) a professional staff, a highly effective fundraising setup, and a network of experienced and enthusiastic activists nationwide. He has tremendous political goodwill. He has all the ingredients of a major party. Not a splinter, not a teensy fraction, but a major third party. Bernie Sanders could launch a major third party.
The most intriguing words in Bernie’s email of this morning are these:
In the coming weeks, I will be announcing the creation of successor organizations to carry on the struggle that we have been a part of these past 15 months.
What could he mean with that intriguing plural, “organizations“? It looks like he is defusing speculation that he has a new party in mind, while leaving the door open to making exactly that move. It’s a position that may give him more leverage in the ongoing Democratic Party rules debates. The question is, does he mean it?
How many defeats on the platform and on the rules must Bernie swallow before his patience snaps and he breaks away? It’s one thing to endorse Hillary; that’s a bitter but life-saving pill for November. But it’s another thing entirely to stay within the Democratic Party; that’s suicide for the Bernie revolution. If he stays in the Democratic Party, there’ll be nothing left by 2017, much less for the election in 2020.
I repeat here a post I put up on Facebook on June 30. In my opinion, Bernie has made the correct first move to endorse Hillary. Now it’s time to drop the other shoe and break out of the Democratic Party.
(June 30, Facebook):
Reading the latest stuff from and about Bernie (or at least some of it, life’s too short to read all), I find a totally absurd and ridiculous project forming in what remains of my mind. This thought of mine is the whelp of two contradictory political urges. Namely.
One: It’s going to be necessary to endorse Hillary in the November election. Although she’s a truly weak and terrible candidate, deserving of the high negatives that her polls show, she’s still a pile better than the presumptive Republican candidate. Think Supreme Court nominations, women’s rights, civil rights, for starters. By way of historical analogy, this is a moment for a broad anti-fascist alliance. Splitting or depressing the Democratic vote and enabling a Trump presidency would be an unforgivable mistake that generations will regret. So, I plan to hold my nose (as I’ve done several times in the past) and vote for the presumptive Democratic Party candidate.
But Point Two. For the Bernie “political revolution” to remain in the Democratic Party in the hope of reforming and/or capturing it is a strategic mistake of the first order. The Democratic Party is a party of the one per cent. Owned lock stock and barrel by the billionaires. It will crush, chew up and swallow any and all leftist insurgencies. For the Bernie revolution to survive after the Philadelphia convention, it has to get out of the Democratic Party. Break with it. Form a New Democratic Party.
Have you ever heard a more absurd political notion? Break away from the Democratic Party, form a New Democratic Party, and in the first national election the new party faces, endorse the candidate of the Old Democratic Party? Why, that’s a crazy idea!
It’s the craziest political idea I’ve ever heard, except for the alternatives. Don’t endorse Hillary, split the Democratic vote, enable a Trump presidency — that’s crazier. And stay in the Democratic Party, watch the Bernie revolution get crunched and snuffed, go home from Philadelphia depressed and homeless — that’s clinically suicidal.
A New Democratic Party has lots of useful work to do besides the November presidential election. Such a party would commit wholeheartedly to the Sandernista platform, and not merely as window dressing (as is the case with the two major party platforms) but as an action agenda. Such a party would at this time work primarily on downticket races, from Senate to local contests. It would engage in community service work, much as the Panther party and others did and do. Such a party would provide a political home for the millions of young people of all ages who carried the Sanders campaign from total obscurity to the front ranks of political life today. The energy and creative spirit of these millions would drive the party’s work to a level above and beyond what any recent third party has been able to dream of.
OK. It’s a crazy idea. But if I’ve learned anything from kicking around this political scene since the sixties, in this crazy environment sometimes crazy ideas are the only sane ones.