You’re Not Listening

So I recently got back in touch with an old college friend with whom I had disconnected.  He is a published author and deeply entrenched inside-the-beltway guy working for a progressive think tank in Washington D.C., and he’s supporting Hillary Clinton.  After reading several of his tweets and getting re-acquainted with his recent work, the sharp contrast between the world in which he lives and the Bernie Sanders communities in which I’ve been rubbing elbows has become readily apparent to me.  What could not be more obvious to me is that we have two camps, both proclaiming themselves to be “progressive,” that are very much not listening to one another.

Fortunately, we have me, and I’m all too happy to serve as a go-between.  So here is what I wish each side could hear about the other.

To My Friend, the Inside-the-Beltway Guy:

You’re not listening.  Politics is not just theory.  I realize that it is a cliche to point out how beltway types can lose touch with the on-the-ground rank-and-file vox populi, but some cliches are true, and that’s one of them.  I know that all the political calculus has added up to what should be a clear win for the establishment candidate.  I know that a longshot self-proclaimed democratic socialist from a small state should not theoretically be able to defeat someone who has occupied the national political stage since 1992.  Because of the theory, it is very easy to scoff, and to continue to scoff, at the longshot, take cute potshots, and ignore his following.

However, I am here to tell you that these people are serious, they’re committed, and a crap metric ton of them are already professing that they will not under any circumstances vote for Hillary Clinton.  That should worry you and yours.  If enough of them do not fall in line in the general, they could throw the election for the Republicans.  And there are a lot more than the few hundred votes for Ralph Nader that made the difference in the 2000 election.

The Bernie-or-Busters are trying to extort the party into nominating Sanders with exactly this threat.  It won’t work, of course, but the important thing I need to impress upon you is that they are not bluffing.  They will write-in Sanders’s name, or vote third party, or stay home, and they will throw the election to the Republicans.

And I understand that you cannot give in to the threat.  You have your job to think of, and your job, as part of the establishment is to defend the status quo of the establishment.  You are deeply invested in Hillary Clinton and it would, of course, be nonsense to expect you and yours to give in to the Bernie-or-Busters.

So I have a proposition.  Please, please tell Hillary Clinton and her campaign that it is imperative that she put Sanders on the ticket if she wins the nomination.  There is ample precedent for this.  Reagan in 1980 was forced to put George Bush on the ticket in order to accommodate the moderates (particularly after being rebuffed quite publicly by Gerald Ford).  More recently than that, Obama put Biden, previously a rival for the nomination, on the ticket in 2008.  Hillary Clinton may not like Sanders particularly.  They’re obviously not besties.  Hillary may have a long list of payoffs she needs to make, with the plum prize of VP already promised to one of them.  Regarding payoffs, that’s what Cabinet positions are for.  For the love of god, if she gets the nomination, she must put Sanders on the ticket.  That will assuage just enough disappointment among the Bernie-or-Busters that perhaps, just perhaps, they will not throw the election for the Republicans.

And I know you’re thinking that the s-word— “socialist”— is electoral kryptonite, which is another reason why, according to the calculus, Sanders can’t win, and why you’re so firmly entrenched behind the establishment candidate.  That’s why putting Sanders on the ticket is a win for you.  Nobody votes for vice-presidents.  If they did, George H. W. Bush would never have been elected president in 1988— Quayle was that bad.  Nixon would never have been elected in 1968; Agnew was that bad.  Ike would never have been elected in 1952; Nixon was that bad.

Please consider it, and telling all your establishment pals supporting Hillary so that eventually it makes its way up the food chain.

To the Bernie-or-Busters:

You’re not listening.  You’re not going to be taken seriously by the political establishment.  Your tactic is just a stunt.  If it had a chance to work, we would have seen one example of a losing primary candidate leveraging his or her support against the possibility of electing the opposite party.  It never happens.  The establishment has to take your threat seriously, and they think it’s an empty threat.  They think you’re bluffing.  I’ve heard you— I know you’re not.  But they think you are.

The more loudly you proclaim your progressive bona fides and the bona fides of Bernie Sanders as the only true progressive in the race— and I agree with you on that— the less likely your threat is going to be taken seriously.  Counter-intuitively, the establishment will see how truly committed you are to progressive ideals and assume that the GOP nominee, whoever he or she (but probably he) might be, will be such anathema to you, will be so odious, so loathsome, so intolerable to you, that you will quickly fall into line behind the Democratic nominee.  That’s what they think you’ll do.  (And many of you, despite what you think you’re feeling right now, probably will.)

That’s why your stunt has no chance of working.

We are living in a world in which 43% of polled Republicans could conceive of a scenario in which they would support a military coup of the United States government.  If Bernie Sanders does not get the nomination, you can pout, you can cry, you can stamp your feet, hold your breath, and defiantly write in his name against his expressed wishes (as the good senator is pledged to support the Democratic nominee)— or you can use your vote intelligently, like a grown-up, and do the most expedient thing you could possibly do to resist the rising tide of proto-fascism currently represented by today’s GOP, and support the Democratic nominee, whomever he or she may be.

By all means, continue to support Bernie Sanders, as I am doing.  He is the candidate whose values most closely reflect my own; I do not think the “democratic socialist” label is going to be the electoral kryptonite everyone makes it out to be once Sanders is rolled out to the American people properly and his ideas are given a fair shake.  I have been following Bernie Sanders ever since he was a weekly guest on the Thom Hartmann show back in the days of the old i.e. America radio network (may it rest in peace).  Some call him the most honest man in government.  Having followed him all these years, I am no bandwagon jumper, and I am hard-pressed to disagree with that assessment.

All I am asking is that both the inside-the-beltway types and the Bernie-or-Busters start listening to one another and start facing a certain amount of reality.  You need each other.  Otherwise, the bad guys are going to win.

Is anybody listening?

-Robert Gross

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