Now that Bernie Sanders has endorsed the not-Trump Democratic candidate, it’s time to sort through the debris of Sanders’s own campaign.
Kshama Sawant [ht: ja] has authored one of the most insightful responses—and I mostly agree with her critical analysis of Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party and her understanding of how the Sanders campaign challenged mainstream political discourse in the United States:
Bernie’s campaign has shaken the foundations of U.S. politics with its bold challenge to the corrupt political establishment and the domination of Wall Street and the super rich over society. Tens of thousands of people became politically active for the first time, and a broader discussion about socialism has been put back on the agenda. But the issues Sanders ran on, like a national $15 minimum wage, opposition to the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), and Medicare for all, will in no way be advanced by his capitulation to Clinton.
And, yes, “Bernie’s endorsement will be used in an attempt to prop up that same rotten establishment, including the corporate-owned leadership of the Democratic Party which has fought against him at every step, and which just booed him in the last week.”
But, even though I share her dismay in Sanders’s announcement that he was endorsing Clinton (I felt physically ill as I watched it) and his plans to campaign on her behalf to defeat Donald Trump (although I think whatever campaigning he does will be more for “his” issues and his opposition to Trump than for Clinton herself or even many of the mainstream down-ticket candidates), I don’t think Sawant gives enough credit to Sanders nor does she appreciate what his campaign achieved. Her statement that “Sanders [sic] endorsement of Clinton is a fundamental failure of leadership” is simply too harsh.
As I see it, precisely because Sanders ran for the Democratic nomination, he was forced to conform to one of the unwritten rules—that he accept his defeat and endorse the winner. Not to do so would have delegitimized anyone coming after him, from local politicians and national legislators to presidential candidates who are willing to take up the banner of socialism within the Democratic Party.
Of course, there’s still the issue of whether Sanders should have run for the Democratic nomination. Sawant certainly believes he shouldn’t have, that it was a fundamental mistake not to run an independent campaign.
Again, I disagree. The fact is, at least at the national level, the Democratic Party, for all its faults (and there I’m in substantial agreement with Sawant and many other critics), is the place where many people can learn and hone their political skills. Hundreds of paid staffers and thousands of volunteers, most of them young, acquired the kind of knowledge and experience—about their fellow citizens, contacting and mobilizing voters, organizing a political campaign, and so much more—precisely because they participated in a broad-based, national political movement. And millions of their fellow citizens, members of the 99 percent, were able to recognize themselves in the multitudes who came out in support of Sanders.
Those multitudes, in turn, were able to hear their issues defined and enunciated on a national level, issues that were then amplified for millions of others, including those who (for whatever reason) didn’t vote for Sanders. Those ideas—about the corruption of the democratic process, the need for universal healthcare, the trade deals that only benefit large corporations and wealthy individuals, the need for publicly funded higher education, as well as socialism itself (or at least one version of it)—are now a material force that won’t simply disappear.
To simply conclude that Sanders is a sell-out, that he never should have run for the presidential nomination within the Democratic Party, and instead should have become involved in one or another small party or movement on the “real” Left, represents a denial of the issues that were taken up at the national level and the millions who obtained a political education in the process.
Nothing can take those away—not Clinton’s victory nor the left-wing denunciations of Sanders.
As I see it, we shouldn’t lose sight of those achievements even as we pick through the debris of Sanders’s campaign after Tuesday’s endorsement.