The Bernie-or-Bust movement is essentially a campaign strategy launched by some Bernie Sanders supporters— in defiance of the expressed wishes of the Senator himself who signed a pledge to back the eventual Democratic Party nominee— to “leverage” (read: blackmail) a Bernie Sanders nomination from the Democratic Party by threatening to balk at supporting the Democratic Party nominee in the General Election, thereby swinging the election to the Republicans.
There are several problems with this. First of all, it’s largely an empty threat. If strategies like this ever worked, we would have seen it work at least once in modern political history. Any lesser known candidate with a sizable portion of the electorate could blackmail the party proper into securing the nomination using this strategy; yet it never happens. It never happens because it requires a kind of political discipline that is largely unknown in our two-party system. The party establishment can feel fairly secure in their knowledge that most Sanders supporters will look at the heinous, hideous alternative that the GOP is offering, and fall in line behind the Democratic nominee.
But, wait, what about the pledge? That’s why the pledge won’t work. No matter how sincere the Sanders supporters are in making that pledge, the Democratic Party operatives will still see it as an empty threat, because in the past, supporters of any candidate who did not win the nomination always fell in line. The Democratic Party operatives have no reason to think that the Sanders supporters are any different. If anything, they will perceive the Sanders supporters as being so liberal that the GOP nominee will be anathema to them, and they will assume the Sanders supporters will be all the more likely to fall in line.
The other reason that the Bernie or Bust pledge will fail is because it’s such a remarkably bad idea, no one in the party establishment will take it seriously. Those taking the Bernie or Bust pledge are political adolescents and it is very hard to take them seriously just because they are such fawning newcomers to the political process.
We had in recent memory a situation in which those progressives/liberals/whatever who maintained there was no difference between the two parties and refused to vote for the lesser of two evils threw their support behind a third party candidate in order to express their feet-stamping, breath-holding outrage at the (admittedly frustrating) two-party system. How did that work out?
How it worked out is that we were treated to eight years of Bush and Cheney, pointless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, torture, Abu Ghraib, 9/11 (which I do not believe was orchestrated by the Bush administration but certainly could have been prevented by it), the USA PATRIOT act, the surveillance state, and the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Are our memories really this short?
To be fair, some Bernie Sanders supporters have never been involved in politics before, and they see Bernie Sanders as a refreshing alternative to a process that has turned their stomachs. I get that. But the first job in the 2016 election is not to exact ideological purity from the office of the presidency. The first job is to do whatever it takes to resist the proto-fascism the Republicans really want. They want to sell out the entire election process to the Koch brothers and deport 11 million “anchor babies” in defiance of the 14th Amendment, creating a constitutional crisis. The Republican contenders have been to a person openly racist, and many of them openly misogynistic. They have tapped into a nationalist, populist zeal for white nativism that is incredibly frightening. Sanders supporters are given to hyperbole— “there is absolutely no difference between the two parties,” they maintain, “and Bernie Sanders is the only man who ever lived who could possibly fix a broken and hopelessly corrupt political system”— so I hope that when I add something that sounds like hyperbole, but isn’t, they will listen closely. What the Republicans have tapped into in this election cycle is so ugly that it is reminiscent of 1933 Germany to me. (Yes, I know, Godwin. Godwin notwithstanding, I think the parallels are actually very disturbing.)
In 2016, I predict that we will have to resist a GOP nominee who is uniquely and unprecedentedly loathesome. They are stoking fires that are incredibly dangerous. On the fronts of immigration and gay marriage, we have Republican candidates saying the constitution essentially doesn’t matter. They could create a constitutional crisis and bring down the very fabric of our system of governance.
That’s what I call a Bust.
I am voting for Bernie Sanders in the primary, but I will support the Democratic nominee in the General. I am not playing games or risking the profound Bust that the Republicans would foist upon the country. We may never fully recover from the damage that Bush and Cheney did to this country. I am not going to risk seeing those wounds made even worse, difficult and repugnant though it is to imagine what “worse” would look like.
Bernie-or-Busters, you need to grow up.