Bernie Sanders suspended his campaign yesterday. For those of us who were active in the campaign, it was obviously a great disappointment. Still, to be even a small part of a movement that will assuredly have a lasting effect on American politics, and on people’s perception that government can be an instrument of equity for working people, not just a conduit for pumping tax dollars to billionaires and multinational corporations, continues to be edifying.
The question “where do we go from here?” inevitably arises. It became very clear in this cycle that the DNC does not want anything to do with us and, frankly, we want nothing to do with them. The fissures appeared in 2016, but we still made nice, for the kids if you will. This cycle the gloves came off, and the relationship between progressives and the establishment has become toxic and abusive.
The future of the progressive movement lies in a third party. The DNC has proven that it can’t be reformed. In the past four decades, it has moved so far to the right it can’t possibly be turned back. The upside is there is now a wide lane open to the left. Poll numbers for policies like Medicare for All and a Green New Deal are overwhelmingly positive, and still the DNC chooses to ignore them, calling them “radical.” (Hint: they aren’t radical if a large majority of Americans support them).
In the long term, a third party, preferably the Democratic Socialists of America, can capitalize on that gap, the popularity of these policies, and the pervasive view that, not unlike the GOP, the DNC has become hopelessly corrupt. Rather than trying to change the DNC from within, let’s take them on head-to-head. The most obvious places to gain a beach-head would be in “deep blue” liberal districts, where the DNC incumbent is to the right of Ronald Reagan, or traditionally “red” districts with lots of working poor.
In the near term, the question of what to do in this cycle remains. Will progressives vote for Biden, or some third party? To listen to Bernie Twitter, the overwhelming view among activists is Never Biden. If 2016 taught us anything though, it is that most Bernie supporters will pinch their noses, vote for the DNC nominee, and in turn, we will all be blamed when he or she loses. Of course, the DNC’s inevitable loss will have nothing to do with their mediocre centrist candidate, whose message resonates more with Wall Street than Main Street — once again it will be the despised Bernie Bros who are to blame. (One really must wonder whether, for the DNC, beating Bernie was more important than beating Trump).
The decision of whether to vote for the DNC nominee or a third party is one that each progressive must make, and either way, it will bring opprobrium, so we may as well just buckle up and get ready for that. There are good arguments on both sides. Chomsky supports voting for the lesser evil, as a moral imperative. On the other hand, Larry O’Donnell said “If you want to pull … the major party that is the closest to the way you’re thinking — to what you’re thinking, you must, you must show them that you’re capable of not voting for them.”
The reality is, though, a lot can happen between now and November. The DNC convention has been moved to August due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Joe Biden is obviously not prepared for a national campaign, they can’t hide his cognitive decline forever. The “adults” in the DNC must realize he’ll lose to Trump. So, if they indeed are intent on winning, they’ll have to field a candidate who didn’t enter the primaries at all (e.g. Cuomo or Clinton), avoid riots, and try to generate enough wow-factor to ride into November, despite the troublesome nature of this move in terms of democracy.
In short, its too early to decide. Deciding whether to vote for a non-progressive DNC nominee, progressives should consider two things: fairness of the process, and political concessions.
In terms of fairness, the DNC went out of its way to tank Bernie’s campaign, and at the same time make it look fair. This is where the difference between procedural and substantive due process is important. The polls were open and people could vote, so at least the primary seemed fair, from a procedural standpoint. Substantively, though, the MSM’s thunderous consent machine had a persistent degrading effect on our movement, and Obama’s Super Tuesday surprise won the day, at least in the short term.
In terms of political concessions, I will be paying very close attention to what the DNC does to try to bring in the progressive movement. As the victor, it is up to them — not us, to unify the party. If they make real, lasting structural changes, such as permanently eliminating superdelegates, making primary elections open, and the results accountable — then they may start to build enough trust to make progressives believe our voices are worthwhile and wanted in the Democratic Party’s big tent. The more likely event, though, is that the DNC will do what they did in 2016: before the election, demand our blind, unconditional fealty; and after the election, when the DNC nominee inevitably loses, wail, rend their garments, and heap curses on us wicked, divisive Bernie Bros, for having had the temerity, ever, to have suggested there might be an alternative. This will have the opposite effect.
As for 2020, the ball is in the DNC’s court. As for the future, when we progressives our done licking our wounds, the anger that makes the establishment hate us so will soon enough rise anew. That energy would best be directed at building a third party, not trying to mend our toxic, abusive relationship with the DNC.