A friend of mine in the “Bernie or Bust” camp says Hillary Clinton is not qualified to be President. This friend says that Clinton, among other things, is a warmonger and a binge-drinker.
I don’t want to lose a friend over a Presidential election, but I’ll say this: if Sanders supporters want this country led into war by a drunken sailor, then come November, don’t support the Democratic nominee, and help Donald Trump become President.
I understand the thinking behind the “Bernie or Bust” position. The 1% have co-opted our politics with their money. Neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton is sufficiently separate from the 1% to honestly and substantially fight the 1%’s grip on power. If the 1%’s money is the supreme evil in our politics, then one cannot justify voting for any representative of the 1%. Bernie or Bust!
I get it. But I can’t buy it.
I have never wanted to vote for Hillary Clinton. Maybe I’m still stuck in some psychological inertia from the 1990s, when I was a young and foolish Republican reviling Bill and Hillary Clinton because it felt good. Maybe my conversion to the Democratic Party (thanks to men of principle like Dennis Kucinich) hasn’t fully undone my Clinton aversion. But Hillary Clinton has made clear she does not believe in the radical change I have wanted since backing Kucinich in 2004 and 2008. She supports incremental change at best, tempered at every step by a centrism akin to Barack Obama’s and a far more compromising triangulation that promises less progress on health care and human rights than the Obama Administration has delivered.
Part of the error of my youthful Republican ways was wallowing in philosophical abstractions instead of dealing with practical policy. My abstractions still grab me every now and then, and they protest another Clinton Presidency. That the United States turns to the close relative of a former President as a main contender for the Presidency twice in sixteen years suggests democracy is misfiring. Two families controlling the White House for six out of eight consecutive terms. (You may hold me to these words if Michelle Obama runs for President.)
Cold political calculation also makes me doubt Hillary Clinton’s ability to win the general election. Much as I don’t like it, her status as former First Lady ought to be a huge electoral advantage. First Ladies have favorability ratings close to the Pope’s. Hillary Clinton piled U.S. Senator on top of her First Ladyship and still lost her first bid for the Presidency to a nerdy black rookie Senator from Illinois. This time she adds Secretary of State to her résumé, and she’s barely beating a cranky old socialist from Vermont. If Hillary Clinton couldn’t beat Barack Obama, and if what we’re seeing this spring is the best she can do against Bernie Sanders, can we really be sure she’ll inspire enough people to come to the polls for her against her pundit-defying billionaire neighbor from New York, Donald Trump? While Clinton has squandered sure-thing status against dark horses twice, Sanders has achieved much more with much less political capital. In an unpredictable political year, I would gamble on the unpredictable rise of Bernie Sanders before I would gamble on the oft-predicted coronation of Hillary Clinton.
But delegate math tells me I won’t get to roll those dice. Clinton is winning—not by much, not by as much as she ought to be, but by enough. Clinton will make the final speech in Philadelphia, and Clinton will lead the charge against Trump’s fascist wave in November. And in the face of that wave, we Democrats cannot sit out. We cannot pout about the absence of a true reformer on the Democratic ticket. We cannot splinter into protest votes for a Green here, a Libertarian there. We have to settle for four years of pragmatism and political dynasty. We have to settle for Hillary Clinton.
I do not want Hillary Clinton to be President. But she is qualified to be President, and Donald Trump is not. I disagree with many of Clinton’s policy positions, but to contend that a woman who spent eight years in the White House as the President’s closest advisor, then served eight years in the U.S. Senate, then was America’s chief diplomat for four years is not qualified to serve as President requires ignoring her record and her words and embracing flimsy Enquirer-level assertions, rumors, and conspiracy theories. To contend that Donald Trump is not qualified to serve as President requires only an honest reading of the actual words (by turns vile, contradictory, and false) coming out of his mouth.
Electing Clinton as we know her does not forward the revolution Sanders seeks. But electing Trump moves us backward.
Left to her own devices, Clinton will not help us get big money out of politics. But here we can use Clinton’s triangulation to our benefit. If we make clear that she owes her Presidency to millions of Bernie Sanders voters who do her a big solid, if we elect Senators and Representatives and state officials who support the revolution, she will have to bend her triangle toward the revolution to survive.
We can push for that bend now. We can send Bernie Sanders to the convention with as many delegates as we can muster with our remaining primary votes. We can make clear that her victory in November and her political capital in the White House depend on us, and that our ongoing support depends on her adopting more of the Sanders platform. We’ve pulled her our way on Keystone XL and on expanding Medicare to non-retirees; we can keep pulling on TPP, the minimum wage, and other issues affecting income inequality.
“Bernie or Bust” need not mean we tear up the convention and then quit. “Bernie or Bust” need not mean we act like Fox News, accept every bad rumor about Clinton as gospel, and pave the way for the Trump Presidency. “Bernie or Bust” is the ongoing threat that keeps Hillary Clinton under our thumb through November and for however long she leads the country.
We don’t have to put Bernie on the ticket. We have to put Bernie’s policies on the ticket. Donald Trump will never do that. Properly and constantly pushed, Hillary Clinton will. Even if she needs a couple stiff drinks after signing the latest Bernie Sanders bill into law, she’ll be our gal more than Donald Trump ever will be.
Friends, don’t stop shouting “Bernie or Bust!” But don’t make it an excuse to stay home in November, and don’t let it drag you into a Fox-Newsish disregard for fact. Shout “Bernie or Bust!” at the convention, at the Clinton rallies, and at the Inauguration. But make darn sure she’s the one hearing that shout next January.