Once upon a time, there was a guy named Barack Obama. You may have heard of him. No one outside the great state of Illinois had any idea who Barack Obama was until 2004, when he delivered the (brilliant) keynote address at the Democratic National Convention. I lived in his district in Illinois at the time, and I spent a couple of hours on the phone after that speech telling everyone I knew that Obama would be the first black President so that I would get credit.
“You wait,” I said. “2012 or 2016. He’ll be President.”
You may see my mistake already. In 2007, when Obama first declared that he was running for President, I was, with no trace of hyperbole, one of his biggest fans. How do I know? Because, again, virtually no one outside of Illinois knew who he was, and as someone in his district as a state Senator and Illinois Senator, someone who knew where his house was, I’d been following his career for a while.
And I wasn’t sure he was ready to be President. Somebody else was running. You may also be familiar with her: her name was Hillary Clinton, and her nomination was widely believed to be unstoppable. (There was also John Edwards, but for the purposes of this conversation he’s irrelevant.)
I started off as a Clinton supporter, who felt that Obama would be a good President, would certainly grow into the job, but didn’t think he was ready. It was the campaigns that convinced me otherwise. Clinton displayed a startling talent to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, and Obama’s team out-hustled and out-thought hers at every available opportunity. Obama won Iowa, and got crushed in New Hampshire. For the most part, especially early on, most of his victories were at caucuses. Why was he winning the caucuses? Because he out-organized Clinton, and eventually he was winning enough that that inevitability argument got punctured, and it was only a matter of time after that.
You may have heard something about superdelegates, and you may think it’s unfair that Secretary Clinton is so far ahead in delegates right now. You may have even used the word “corrupt” to describe the system.
How many superdelegates do you think Barack Obama started off with?
How many do you think he had by the end of the primaries?
You are aware that these people are able to change their minds, right? From what I’m hearing, Bernie Sanders supporters tend to be young people, a phrase I can no longer apply to myself. It is possible you are not aware of these things. Superdelegates have been a part of the process for a long time, and convincing them to vote for you is part of running for the Democratic nomination. If Bernie Sanders was not aware of them already, and if he does not have a plan to (eventually) win their support, he is doing this wrong. It is not as if these rules were decided behind his back, or were hidden from him somehow. And, again, if he wins contests, they’ll come around.
“But the people are behind us!” you say. Well, some of them. Some of the white ones, anyway. The rest of us haven’t had a chance to vote yet.
Speaking of voters of color.
You may be under the impression that Barack Obama was able to coast to these victories mostly on the strength of the black vote. You may not be aware that the initial knock against Obama was that he was not black enough to court black support.
Go read that article.
Not only was Obama mixed, not only was he young, not only was he relatively unknown, not only was his middle name Hussein when we’d been fighting against Iraq for most of the previous administration, but he was running against Hillary Clinton, the wife of a man who was declared by no less a black luminary than Toni Morrison herself to be the first black President. There is a good argument to be made that the Clintons do not deserve that support, but the fact is especially in 2007-08 black voters loved Bill Clinton and Hillary was widely believed to have inherited that support. Obama was not supposed to be the candidate of black voters. Clinton was.
Your candidate, Bernie supporters, is also perceived as having a problem with minority voters. I’m using the word “perceived” intentionally, because insofar as the problem is real, it’s fixable. But he’s going to have to acknowledge it, and he’s going to have to do it now. Black voters– and Latino voters and Muslim voters and Asian voters and and and and and– are not monolithic and they’re not dumb. They’re not going to vote for Hillary Clinton because they liked Bill. Obama proved that. Sanders can too, but he’s going to have to try.
Whining about a corrupt system and superdelegates is not going to get your man the nomination. Whining about women voters going to Hillary is not going to get your man the nomination.
Whining, in general, is not going to get Bernie Sanders nominated for President.
Hillary Clinton is a lot of things. Unfortunately for her, one of her previously displayed qualities is the ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. She is not inevitable. She is beatable. But the Sanders people are going to have to put in the work, and they’re going to have to engage with voters of color and with women voters in a serious way, and they’re going to have to convince the superdelegates– who are, in case you don’t know, mostly Democratic elected officials— that he’s the right man for the job. Convincing the superdelegates might be difficult, seeing as how Sanders has only been a Democrat for, what, a year or two? One of Clinton’s strengths is that she’s perceived as much more able to have coattails– to bring in other Democratic elected officials behind her, to alter the balance of power in the House and the Senate so that some of these nice things both candidates want to do become possible.
Is Bernie going to be able to do that? Is he trying?
He probably ought to start.
See y’all in South Carolina.