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Playing by the Rules


I have been trying to finish a multi-part blog post for so long now I’ll never blog again if I don’t pop in in the middle of it.  So, hello!  If your Facebook feed is anything like mine, you hear a lot of complaints like the ones by Sanders supporters in this article: Sanders is being cheated in this election.  In my feed, I saw  Wyoming’s delegate apportionment cited as evidence that Clinton was “buying the election,” right next to this extremely useful corrective from Josh Marshall, which argues (and I agree), that the structurally anti-democratic features of the primary race are on balance beneficial to Sanders.  Sanders supporters who are convinced the game is rigged against them are not exactly even-handed when they choose which features of the race to complain about.  When the Sanders campaign explicitly argued that superdelegates should flip to him, even if Clinton led in both the popular vote and in pledged delegates, there were crickets from people who a few weeks earlier were howling about the superdelegates’ affront to democracy.  If the situation were reversed, and Clinton were performing better in caucus states, and Sanders in primary states, we would not hear the end of it.  If Sanders supporters who are lodging these complaints have a deep passion for representative democracy in the primaries, the existence of caucuses should be their first target.

But I don’t just want to point out hypocrisy.   If Hillary Clinton wins the primary, it will be because more people voted for her.  Even if she loses the primary, more people likely will have voted for her.  There are a lot of financial barriers to viability as a candidate, but in a two-person race, when each candidate has money for advertising and GOTV, a Clinton victory will be a sign of the will of the majority of the Democratic electorate.  The complaining about rules (especially when blind to the ways the rules are tilted towards their guy) and the insistence that this primary is a rigged game is a distraction from the fact that they live in a big, diverse country, with a lot of different constituencies, and other people have different opinions from them — even people who might share their values in a lot of ways!  The work of electoral politics is organizing the people who agree with you and persuading the people who don’t.  It’s hard.  I lived in Wisconsin during the recall Walker movement and participated in the protests. After the recall it was common to hear Madisonians complaining that the recall failed because of money in politics.  I found this assertion baffling.  In that particular election, the left-wing critique of Walker could not have been louder or better covered in the media.  There were thousands of mobilized people who could be organized for GOTV.  The recall failed because a majority of the Wisconsin electorate, people with their own intelligence and consciousness and values, decided they supported Walker.  The activity of the protests did not persuade them otherwise.  The right lesson to take from that experience was: our strategy did not achieve our goals.  What do we need to do differently?  The right lesson was not: it’s not fair! And similarly, the Sanders campaign has done remarkably well, but perhaps in the end, not well enough, at least for the goal of getting Sanders the nomination; it still will have accomplished some valuable left-wing muscle flexing either way.  People who are crushingly disappointed by that should be able to recognize that other Democrats just have different opinions than they do, and if they want a presidential nominee from the left wing of the party, they’re going to have to have to be better organized and more persuasive.  I fail to see how complaining that a fairly won election was rigged gets any closer to that goal.  It’s actually just insulting to the people voting for Clinton, whose votes are as valid as anyone else’s.  

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