A quick history lesson for Bernie Sanders supporters

bernie_2.jpgOnce 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.

I’ll wait.

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.

15 thoughts on “A quick history lesson for Bernie Sanders supporters

  1. I try not to be petty and use name-calling (that seems to be quite covered in the rabid extreme GOP fanbase), but I have to admit I’ve been referring to him as Saint Bernie. The noise I hear on him in social media tends to be that he’s the Best Goddamn Thing in the World Ever, and that one shouldn’t even trust Hillary to take your dog for walkies.

    Or as I said to someone a few days previous elsewhere…I think the thing that bothers me most about the “Feel the Bern” movement is that he’s pretty much selling the same message Obama sold in ’08 and ’12. I’m not complaining about that, far from it — it’ s just that after eight years of Obama’s frustrated and thwarted attempts at following through with it (no thanks to the Republicans, but that’s another gripe entirely), I’m extremely curious as to how Sanders would do it differently, if at all. He’s promising the same things Obama did, and either the Republicans are going to double-down and remain obstinate and petty unless they get their way, or they’re going to give him a pass and potentially reveal that the past eight years may have been a lesson in passive-aggressive racism. And I really don’t get the Hillary hating. I truly don’t. I mean, aside from the ridiculous “I can never trust her ever again because of EmailGhazi”, or the fact that many of the haters are pretty much treating the Sanders/Clinton race with the same football hooliganism as that Bengals/Steelers game. Or, you know, because she’s a woman.

    Sorry to steal your bandwidth…I’ve just REALLY grown tired of everyone telling me to Feel the Bern.

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    1. Adam Dreece

      As a Canadian, I don’t have a horse in this race, but I’ll say this. Most of what Sanders is proposing could actually help steer the US back to productive balance. Only in the US can be seen as extremism, which is a whole different conversation. Sadly, again from an outsider’s perspective, I have absolutely no confidence that he’d have a supportive Congress and Senate if elected. Change has to be more than wanted and voted for, it has to be fought for twice as hard AFTER the election, because it seems that those senators and congressmen who get voted in or re-elected quickly forget everyone except their major donors, unless the people are screaming in their ear every 15 minutes. (5 in Texas, kidding)

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      1. Oh, I totally agree. He’s a decent guy, don’t get me wrong, but I just don’t think he’s the right one for the job. The GOP will be all over him, and I don’t think he’s strong enough to break through that wall.

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    2. I have to stridently disagree with you here. Likewise, especially the women among us, I am growing tired of being called traitors, anti-feminist, boy-chasers, and slated for hellfires for not backing Hillary. I don’t hate her in the least and think she’s a good candidate, but the criticisms of her run far deeper than you suggest. My chief criticisms of her are that she is beholden to Wall Street (if not, release the transcripts of her speaking engagements) and, yes, within the coat-tails argument, is that she is willing to really stretch a compromise and, it would SEEM, go against ideals. I don’t care about the e-mails (in the negative sense), I don’t care (in the negative sense) that she’s a woman, I don’t care about Benghazi (and it doesn’t detract from her viability as a candidate for me). I do, however, care about this election and don’t like that the phrase “smear campaign” keeps coming up whenever someone mentions Hillary’s speaking engagement to finance groups and the like. Also, it’s not as if Hillary is the only good (or even better) female candidate available now or potentially coming down the pike for the democrats and/or progressive parties [despite the seriousness of my intent, I have to inject a joke at this point; as Yoda says, “there is another,” ergo, Hillary is not the last, best hope for a female president]. It seems a sort of fatalism and foregone conclusion that many are saying so. In sum, neither do I want all men to vote for candidates based on whether they are male (or identify as such); I also do not vote only for candidates who have female genitalia or identify as females. In the end, either Sanders or Hillary Clinton is exponentially many times better a presidential candidate than anyone in the Republican party.

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      1. Hi Leigh! Perhaps my original irritation was a little one-sided. In the end, I too will be okay with either Bernie or Hillary winning, as they have proven themselves to be MILES better than what the Republicans have on the slate. My irritation was stemming from the seemingly one-sided white noise* where Bernie does no wrong and Hillary is damaged goods. I don’t hate Bernie, I’m calling him Saint Bernie satirically because of all this. I’ll vote for him if he gets the nomination, that’s for sure.

        *I mean ‘white noise’ purely in the aural sense, not the racial sense. Punditry tends to blur into a high itchy hissing in my head if I’m around it too long. 😉

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        1. No worries, Jon. I get you. I like Hillary, and will definitely be voting for her when/if it comes to that. She’s intelligent, got the experience, and all those pluses she brings to the bargaining table, so to speak. I hadn’t heard all the Saint Bernie stuff–I’m not as politically/current eventsy well-read as my husband, for example–but I can see how that would be irritating. Every politician who’s been around as long as either Bernie or Hillary has baggage, so to speak. By the way, this dialogue with you has been great; I wish more in our party were conducting such talks and not fighting one another. Absolutely agree with you–Woe is our country if the Bernie supporters don’t vote or vote for a GOP candidate in the election (or vice-versa, if Bernie wins the nomination). I always said I’d move if Dubya won, but never got the opportunity of a good job outside the U.S. I hope Pres. Cruz (or Trump; or Rubio; or Kasich) don’t make it an absolute necessity. Have a good Friday!

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          1. Have you seen the “Miss me yet?” GWB bumper stickers on any of the rusted-out pickup trucks around where you live? It amazes me that they found a way that that could conceivably be true. I’d take a third Dubya term– hell, I’d take four– over any of the yahoos currently running for the GOP nomination.

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            1. I don’t know that I have, but where I am, some of the thinking is like the exalted one (Reagan or Dubya) never left and, really, actually way beyond that, into separatist and New World Order territory with some. Luther, I agree with you; as bad as the Shrub was, I’d take him over Trump-Cruz-Rubio-Kasich-et al, especially if it were minus his chief thinking apparatuses (Cheney and Rove, that is). It will be interesting to see how this plays out; let’s hope for the best. And that we don’t have to move to Canada (etc.) if a Pres. Trump takes office.

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  2. Nicely put.
    I’m a big fan of Bernie (and have been since I first got to know who he was during my college days in the early 2000’s in Vermont). I’ll admit I’m a bit disconnected from a lot of the politics, and whoever wins the Democratic Primaries I will vote for, but I feel like Bernie shows me a level of integrity that I don’t see from Hillary. He is certainly “playing the game” but I feel like he’s playing it differently, a bit more old-fashioned (but in what I see as a good way). He’s not an untried politician, he just hasn’t been so centrally in the spotlight — and he is used to working with both sides, coming from a state that has a strong liberal base as well as a hearty conservative base. I have a lot of hope, and I’m sure his campaign is quite savvy in all that needs to be done — and I hope that the energy that’s building around him (as you said, some of it a young energy) can transform into great things — just like a lot of the young folks who supported Obama back in the early days ended up using that as a launching point to become more politically active and aware.
    Alright, I’ve pretty much politic-ed myself out. 🙂

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  3. Great blog! Hillary’s only path to winning presidency is if she picks bernie as her vp..that’s what the progressives are screaming about…and hillary better do this very soon…because if she doesn’t, bernie will pick elizabeth warren as his vp..and then hillary is done…it’s her choice

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      1. LOL!!! you don’t get it…let me repeat…if hillary doesn’t pick bernie or elizabeth warren as her vp…she will not win the election..I completely understand what you are saying…but she will not win unless she makes this move…that I promise…and I hate the republicans…I mean seriously – do you think the democrats will win in 2016 when the republicans have been breaking records for voting attendance while the democrats voting attendance has been dramatically down this year compared to the past 2 decades…the only way the democrats win in 2016..AGAINST THE REPUBLICANS…is with a hillary, bernie, and obama coalition…

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