Yesterday the chances of Bernie Sanders becoming the Democratic Party’s nominee for the Presidency went from ‘improbable’ to ‘essentially impossible’. Unfortunately for those of us who would like to see socialism in America the choice for president will likely be between a corporate sell-out that is often seen giving oral sex to hedgefunds and the fossil fuel lobby, or an actual fascist. Nobody predicted anything like this election but given the strengthen of Sanders’ campaign I would like to offer the Senator some advice before Clinton is actually mathematically guaranteed the nomination.
For the entirety of the campaign, many in the mainstream media have been calling on Bernie Sanders to drop out of the race. This is often because of the neoliberal consensus that dominates US political discourse and Clinton is essentially the embodiment of that ideological outlook. However, unsurprisingly, I believe that they are wrong to insist this. Sanders should remain in the race for as long as possible, irrespective of delegates. On first glance you’d be right in thinking: ‘Will, are you high? Why keep campaigning if he can’t win the nomination?’. There is method to the madness I assure you.
US elections work in a very simple way: the bases of the two main parties are further from the ideological centre-ground that has traditionally won elections, and therefore candidates have to run away from the centre-ground in the primaries before running back in the general election. This is what happened in 2012 with the GOP where Mitt Romney managed to get the support of evangelical Christians and some members of the Tea Party even though he was a pillar of the establishment. It is what has happened this time around with Clinton. If you ignored everything about her record and only went on what Clinton said in this election cycle, you could mistake her for FDR; she’s against free trade deals, she’s against the Drug War, she’s in favour of breaking up the big banks and wants to raise the minimum wage. Obviously she doesn’t believe any of this but she has been forced to pretend that she does because of Bernie Sanders.
So how does this relate to Sanders staying in the race? Once candidates have won their party’s ticket they start pivoting back to the ideological centre-ground, which has historically been this socially liberal centrism that insufferably tries to portray capitalism as compassionate. If Sanders remains in the race, Clinton has to keep the Left on economic issues which would not only be good for the American people, but it would be good for her as these ‘crazy left-wing policies’ are overwhelmingly popular. If Clinton goes into the Democratic convention essentially reciting Sanders’ platform, it will be incredibly difficult to end up as a centre-right corporatist by the time November comes around.
Not only would Sanders staying in the race force Clinton to remain to the Left of all her previous positions, it would continue to detoxify the word ‘socialism’ which can only be beneficial in the long-run. Bernie Sanders has galvanised a huge proportion of the Democratic Party to identify with a political term that for so long in America has been seen as synonymous with Soviet-style communism. In the 1990s the term that Republicans made toxic was ‘liberal’ but because people used it in common parlance the word lost its venom. Sanders should continue for as long as possible with the same stump speech but say the word ‘socialism’ as often as possible. With this slight alteration ‘socialism’ as a concept will become less taboo and will enable other left-wingers to challenge the establishment in due course.
There is also a more practical reason why Sanders should stay in the race. Sanders has energised young people and working people in a way that Clinton has not. By continuing his campaign Sanders will keep these voters happy and listing to a Democratic candidate. His appeal among these voters will result in these voters supporting Sanders as a candidate, even if he is not going to win the nomination.
The key thing in this respect is what this does to the Clinton campaign. If Sanders can make a valiant effort to win a number of states and get a huge amount of supporters from demographics that Clinton does not, Clinton may be forced to offer Sanders a position of influence in order to keep the party together. With Sanders supported by a significant number of people that really do not trust Clinton, the only thing that Hillary could do to pacify them and get them to turn out on election day is to choose a left-winger as her VP pick. This may not be Sanders himself but someone like Elizabeth Warren would a decent choice.
As well as increasing party unity it would bind Clinton to left-wing ideas that she claims to support. If Clinton appoints another corporatist Democrat as the Vice Presidential pick many supporters of Sanders will look at the ticket and feel completely alienated by the Democratic Party. A Trump GOP nomination would bring some of them to the polls to support the Democrats but many Sanders supporters are already talking about supporting Jill Stein of the Green Party.
Obama is essentially a corporatist Democrat. The last time a corporatist Democrat, Bill Clinton, was in the White House many more left-wing Democrats saw the Democratic Party’s nominee in 2000, Al Gore, as too centrist. As a consequence many people in swing states like Florida and New Hampshire supported Green Party nominee Ralph Nader. Support for Nader in states like Illinois, New York, and California had no real impact on the election but in Florida and New Hampshire it had the impact of swinging the election for George W. Bush. I’m not saying that the prospect of a Donald Trump presidency will put the electorate in that kind of position, but the threat remains possible. Not putting Sanders or Warren on the ticket would be idiotic, and taking the risk may be fatal for the Clinton campaign.
I want Bernie Sanders to be the President of the United States, but I cannot honestly say that I think it is possible any more. Having said that, I would strongly advise the Vermont Senator to take the millions of dollars that he has in campaign contributions and keep touring the country to promote his message. By doing so socialism will become less toxic, Clinton will be forced to stick with more left-wing economic policies, and Bernie may end up on the ticket thus unifying and energising the Democratic base to take out Donald Trump. Sanders role as a candidate may soon end, but that doesn’t mean he can’t continue controlling the American political discourse.