The Bernie or Bust pledge makes Bernie Sanders the idol of a movement, not a facilitator.
No one could have predicted that the 2016 race was going to create so much controversy in the Democratic party. At times, it seems like Bernie Sanders and Clinton supporters belong to different parties as opposed to the same. And given the reality that some Sanders supporters are disaffected independents, it might as well be half way true.
But at the center of the controversy, is the “Bernie or Bust” pledge. This pledge, which was started by Citizens Against Plutocracy, has the purpose of creating “leverage on Democratic primary voters and insurance against corrupted super delegates ‘pledged’ to another candidate before one primary vote is cast”. In short, it is a tactic that was created to counter the rigged Democratic Party process by holding hostage other Democratic voters with this threat: “If Bernie doesn’t get the nomination, say hello to President Trump!”
In the beginning I toyed around with this idea, mostly because of my political beliefs. Money in politics has been an issue that I have been deeply interested in since I was a freshman in college and watched “The Golden Rule: The Investment Theory of Politics”. This documentary opened up my eyes to the corrupt influence that money has on campaigns, how business elites have undermined democracy through their oversize political-economic influence, and the human rights catastrophes that naturally follow when big business has too much power in any political system.
A corrupt political system is the root of the some of the greatest injustices of our nation. The fact is that the influence of money in politics has often stood in the way of progress. Whether it be in healthcare, reforming the criminal justice system, gun control, predatory lending practices, or even the much dreamed of “world peace”, the biggest adversaries of progress have always been corporations who profit from an unjust system.
So when Bernie Sanders comes along, a politician who has never received money from those same business elites that undermine our democracy, against a candidate like Hillary Clinton, who has deep ties with this same system, it is obvious for a person of my political persuasion who the better candidate is. So for a time I considered writing in Bernie Sanders if he did not win the nomination, or even better, vote for Jill Stein.
But I am not a person who is thick headed (which I have sadly found to be the case of many “progressive” Sanders and Clinton supporters), and I listened to fellow progressives and considered the possibilities of defecting and raising the possibilities of a GOP victory. And the truth is, that there is much at stake in 2016. Addressing the issues of climate change, woman’s rights, LGBT rights, education affordability, gun control, immigration, criminal justice reform, and that vacant seat on the Supreme Court will all be put under peril if a Republican becomes president because of a Democratic party exodus.
Of course, the Democrats may not be perfect on many of these issues. For one, Clinton still has a nuanced view on fracking when scientists have clearly reached a consensus that it is dangerous for the environment, and hence for human kind. But whatever progress we have achieved under President Obama will only be held back under a Republican president. Even if a Clinton presidency doesn’t fight enough for the radical progress that many of us want, it will be much better than a stone age Republican Presidency.
This brings me back to the most important issues I care about: money in politics and income inequality. The fact is that both are made worse by the other. The more inequality there is, the more influence the rich have on a political system to create laws and deregulation that will further harm those who are at the bottom. And with all due respect to Clinton’s progressive credentials, when she has received so much money and support from that same system, it is hard to believe her willingness to address this issue.
Bernie Sanders is the one candidate who has always been consistent on money in politics, which makes him the ideal candidate for people like me. But at the same time, we have to recognize what the Bernie Sanders movement is actually doing. Yes, electing Bernie Sanders as president is the implied objective, but this movement is bigger than just electing him to the White House. Through his whole campaign, Sanders has continued talking about the need to start a political awakening, and making “Not me, Us” one of the center tenets of his campaign message. All his campaign ads and speeches are about “bringing people together” to fight for a better tomorrow with a progressive president who will spearhead this movement.
While Citizens Against Plutocracy has made clear that having this revolution is necessary to reform our political system, the Bernie or Bust pledge sends out a message that our political call for reform depends on the presidency of Bernie Sanders. And as I have written before, the reform that many of us want will not come through the “messianism” of a leader, but through the mass awakening that Bernie Sanders is calling for. And the Bernie or Bust pledge makes Bernie Sanders the idol of our movement instead of a facilitator.
So if Bernie doesn’t win, why should those who care about a corrupt political system vote for Hillary? When it comes to campaign finance reform, who will be the better facilitator? Clinton or Trump?
Many might say: Why not Trump? After all he has called out Wall Street and has never received money from them. If there’s a better option to taking on the system than Bernie Sanders, it would be Trump. Right? But that is far from true. Trump is as big a weasel as you can get. The only reason he has talked about income inequality and taking on Wall Street is because he knows that the working class has felt cheated by the system. As his recent abortion comments show, Trump is guided by what he needs to say. In terms of his principles and what he stands for, it is hard to say what he will fight for if he wins the presidency, other than his one consistent stance on targeting Muslims and Hispanics.
If Bernie doesn’t win, I will vote for Clinton because I want campaign finance reform. Cognitive dissonance? No. The following passage from “Third Parties Don’t Work: Why and How Egalitarians Should Transform the Democratic Party” by G. William Domhoff helped me feel less bad about voting for a Democrat like Clinton with deep corporate ties.
“Although most egalitarians think liberal politicians should just stand up for what they believe in, and take the consequences, they are better thought of as the egalitarian activists’ negotiators and diplomats within a democratic system.
Yes, they should have strong liberal principles, but they also have to know when to do battle and when not to, and when it is time to cut a deal. Their goal is to win the best they think possible for their side at any given moment, and to be back for the next round.
The crucial point for egalitarians is this: the liberals among politicians can only prosper when the egalitarian moral activists and their social movements have made better deals possible, either by causing the election of more liberals or by forcing the moderates and conservatives to accept a deal they don’t like in order to avoid losing the next election.”
Regardless of whether Bernie wins or not, it is important that those of us who want to reform the system continue pushing and fighting for this change to reform our political system. And while much can be questioned about Clinton’s flip-flops, the fact is that Clinton is still a Democrat, and the Democratic base is looking to a much more left wing future. Now that the conservative hijacking “Third Way” wing of the Democratic party is starting to fade, there is a surging young electorate and working class coalition that feels betrayed by the party and that shares more things in common with the Bernie Sanders message. Especially for the young voters, many of us who grew up with fewer opportunities because of the greed of Wall Street that almost destroyed our economy.
Which is why, despite her ties with our corporate political system, it is a better bet to have Clinton in the White House than any of the Republican candidates. Because if Democratic voters rise up and demand reform to a corrupt political system, no amount of money can get in the people’s way. Just ask Jeb Bush if all that Koch money helped him stop Trump.
And if Clinton and the Democrats hope to hold on to their base in the near future, and the new coming generations that will be able to vote withing the next 5 years, such as High Schoolers for Bernie Sanders, the Democrats will have to start evolving and give in to the change that many of these new voters are asking for.
Of course, this column is written as conditional on Clinton winning the nomination. Even though Bernie Sanders needs about 70% of the remaining delegate count to win the nomination, my hope is that Sanders can pull tremendous upsets in Wisconsin and my home state of New York. But if Bernie doesn’t win, remember that Hillary is still a Democrat, and the Democratic base is growing much more liberal and skeptical of our political system. And if Hillary wants to get a second term, she is going to have to answer to her base, not the corporations. Which is why our movement and call for reform needs to get stronger to change America, and it will not depend on one single person in the presidency.
Just remember one thing. Politics is born out of protest, and protest is born out of the people.