Some thoughts on Bernie Sanders
The California Democratic primary is in a couple of weeks. It's the last nominating contest of the season, and Hillary Clinton goes into it with a huge head-start. In order to match Clinton's pledged delegate count, Sanders needs to not only win California (which might happen), but win it by over 20% (which, to put it bluntly, would be an upset of cataclysmic and unprecedented proportions). And even if he comes close to her total number of pledged delegates, even overtaking that number by a little bit, he still has those unpledged delegates to think about, who have no reason to change their loyalty unless the voting patterns indicate a clear mandate in his favor. They haven't so far, and one state will not change that.
From a policy standpoint, I support Sanders. I voted for him, and I donated money to his campaign. But I have to be realistic here and acknowledge that his chances at this point are practically nil.
Sanders' detractors often pointed out (rightly) that his agenda is highly impractical, and that he would have difficulty building a political coalition to accomplish his goals. His answer was that, if he wins the nomination, and then if he goes on to win the presidency, those victories will ipso facto represent a public mandate for his policies, and that the lawmakers will follow.
While I still find that argument compelling, we must face the reality of the situation: That coalition and mandate do not currently exist. So let's talk about what to do about it. I think the whole "Bernie or Bust" thing is problematic because the whole purpose of a primary is to demonstrate which candidate has electoral support and viability. Sanders outperformed most expectations, but he will not perform better as a general election write-in candidate than he did as a primary candidate. I'm sorry, but he just won't.
So let's talk about what options are available to Sanders supporters and other politically progressive citizens. Regardless of what happens, or who you vote for in November (for the record, I'm planning on voting for Clinton, but probably bringing a clothespin into my voting booth), let's talk about how to actually build that coalition so that the next time we have a true progressive candidate like Sanders, there will already be a support system of elected officials to endorse that candidate and advocate for that candidate's "unrealistic" platform.
Who are the heirs to Bernie's legacy? This is why the "Bernie or Bust" meme is so problematic for me. We cannot pin all our hopes on this one guy who's all but lost the primary already. If you really want to support progressive causes, who's next? And, to be blunt, I must impugn Sanders himself here, for not endorsing or campaigning with more down-ticket candidates. Look at John Fetterman, the mayor of Braddock, PA, who was one of the first elected officials to endorse Sanders. Sanders never returned the favor and did not make any public appearances with Fetterman, who as a result lost the race badly. Or Tim Canova, who is running on a very Bernie-esque platform to unseat DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Even though Sanders has been extremely critical of Schultz (and his supporters even more so), he has not formally endorsed Canova. The primary is on August 30, so Sanders still has time, but I find it puzzling that he hasn't done this yet.
Sanders has endorsed three down-ticket candidates this cycle: Zephyr Teachout in New York, Pramila Jayapal in Washington, and Lucy Flores in Nevada. I'm glad that he's done this, and helped fund-raise for them, and made himself somewhat available to their campaigns. I assume they're grateful to him for offering his coattails (insofar as he has coattails to ride upon). But as we begin to shift our focus into General Election mode, and bid the Sanders campaign a wistful adieu, we should be thinking of ways to advance his progressive agenda... without him. And the first step in that process is to remove the focus from Sanders himself, and turning some of that spotlight towards other candidates—younger candidates, possibly more electable candidates, candidates whose races have not yet been made mathematically unwinnable—who will fight for the same things that we admire Sanders for fighting for. Three House races is not enough.
The Sanders supporters in my stream have described his candidacy as a "movement." Here's how it truly becomes one: by moving beyond the man who started it.