When Bernie Sanders announced his presidential bid, I saw several comments from people who may have supported the third party campaigns of people like Ralph Nader in the past respond by asking when the people who supposedly prefer primary challenges to third parties would start criticizing Sanders for challenging Hillary Clinton. The upshot of these statements is that those who oppose third party bids are actually Democratic Party hacks who just want to protect their beloved Al Gore or John Kerry or Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton or whoever the party centrists select.
I can’t speak for anyone else, but for myself, who is a very strong critic of anything to do with third parties on the left, this is absolutely not true. I think Sanders’ run is great. Here’s the thing about Bernie Sanders as opposed to say Ralph Nader–he is neither consumed with his own ego nor an idiot who doesn’t understand American politics. Rather, he is challenging Hillary Clinton in a way that is going to force her to move to the left on real issues, through the primary process. That matters a lot.
Relatedly, I strongly endorse almost everything in this Bhaskar Sunkara piece on Bernie Sanders.* Sanders is no revolutionary socialist. He’s really pretty comparable to a good Great Society liberal like Hubert Humphrey or Ed Muskie. But by running for president within the Democratic Party instead of a pointless, quixotic third party campaign, he gives voice to the Democratic Party base that may be OK with Hillary Clinton as the nominee but would sure like her to be significantly farther to the left. By making socialism not a dirty word but rather an appealing option to DLC corporatism, Sanders represents a threat. It’s not that I think Hillary Clinton believes in her soul that her husband’s policies of mass incarceration need to be reversed or that the Trans Pacific Partnership is really flawed. I don’t care what she feels. I don’t look to politicians for sincerity. I care what she feels she has to do in order to motivate the base to vote for her and support her in her presidency. Bernie Sanders is making her do more work there. And she won’t be able to completely repudiate those positions once in office.
The Bernie Sanders campaign has its limitations. It’s not bringing socialism to the United States. But if we recognize what it is doing, it has real significance and should be wholly supported by the entire Democratic base. In an increasingly polarized nation, the centrist voters the Clintons were made to appeal to are almost nonexistent, Beltway writers notwithstanding. She should have to work to win over a Democratic base that is moving to the left. The more work she has to do, the more likely she will govern to the left.
In the end, politics is not about which candidate you want to have a beer with or the left-wing version of this, which is about which candidate seems to hold your feelings deepest in their heart. It’s about the expression of power. A legitimate run by Sanders finally shows the Democratic Party that the party left not only wants change but actually understands how politics work and how to enforce discipline. It shows that the left has organized enough to pull the party left. And that would be a big win for progressive forces.
Of course, we know from real leftists like Jane Hamsher that Bernie Sanders is an unacceptable corporate sellout who needs to be primaried himself so…..
* I don’t agree with the whole “transcend the Democratic Party” point because replacing it with a Socialist Party isn’t ever going to happen and to try and do so would suck out the energy to create concrete gains for working people. But understanding that right now the way to do that it effectively to infiltrate the Democratic Party nomination process is good enough. Plus he’s a socialist editor of a major leftist journal so what is he supposed to say?