Sanders Wants to Reform the Democratic Party. Will He Play His Ace to Do It?
Sanders shows he knows he has an ace. Will he play it?
by Gaius Publius
Sanders has more leverage than he's ever had in his life. He has the right vision and the right goal. He's also holding the right cards — all he has to do is play them. In particular, he has an ace. Will he play it if he loses to Clinton?
To understand what I just wrote, listen to the short video clip above. It's 3½ minutes of the candid interview Sanders gave on a recent episode of The Young Turks (full interview here).
"What Do You Do If You Lose?"
I want to direct you to two answers from Sanders. First, to the question, What do you and your movement do if you lose the nomination?
Q: If you were to lose, and the Democratic Party comes to you and says, "Take this movement, that is full of energy and against the Establishment, and make sure they vote for the Establishment candidate," what do you say?Answer (at 0:53; my emphasis):
Sanders: What we do together, as a growing movement, is we say, "If we don't win — and by the way, we are in this thing to win, please understand that — [what's] the Democratic Establishment going to do for us?"Shorter Sanders: We want to remake and reform ("revitalize") the Democratic Party. That's his goal, and it's been his goal all along. Notice that this means that he knows he's running within the Party and against the Party, meaning against its current leadership, simultaneously.
For example, right now, you have a Democratic Establishment which has written off half the states in the country ... and they've given up on states in the South, the Rocky Mountain area.
Are they going to create a 50-state party? Are they going to welcome into the Democratic Party the working class of this country and young people, or is it going to be the upper middle class and the cocktail crowd and the heavy campaign contributors, which to a significant degree, it is right now? ...
In other words, if I can't make it, and we're going to try as hard as we can until the last vote is cast, we want to completely revitalize the Democratic Party and make it a party of the people, rather than just one of large campaign contributors.
That's two points, not one — first, he's running against the Party, and second, he knows he's doing that. This is what I've been calling "Open Rebellion" — refusing to play "Follow the Neoliberal Leader" — taken to the next level. It's a direct challenge to the culture and methods of corruption that thread throughout the Party like green mold through Gorgonzola.
A nice fresh chunk of Gorgonzola cheese. In Gorgonzola, the richly threaded mold is a feature (source).
This is open rebellion at the very highest level. It's not a challenge in the Senate against Antonio Weiss, for example, or against the Citibank Rider. It's not a challenge in the House to Pelosi's support of Fast Track and TPP, the next job-killing neo-liberal trade deal.
This is a challenge to the Party for control of the presidency, of the entire Executive Branch of government. No wonder people are so enthusiastic about supporting it. And no wonder the Democratic Establishment so desperately want Sanders gone. As has been documented many times before, the leaders of the Democratic Party want two things — first, to control the Party; second, to win elections. And in that order.
They may not all be happy with Hillary Clinton, but not one of them wants to deal with a Democratic Party and presidency controlled by Bernie Sanders.
Sanders Has an Ace. Will He Play It?
I mentioned that Sanders has an ace he can play if he loses the nomination. I also suspect he knows it, based on his answer to the next question. Would he play it?
Here's the question:
Q: [If you come in second, let's assume you're not going to ask for an appointment, something for yourself.] If you're going to ask for policy positions, what are the policy positions that you would want?Before you read the answer, think about what the question really asks. This is tantamount to the following:
If you come in second, what policy changes do you want in exchange for your support?And that's his ace. The Establishment wants his supporters, badly. Sanders can withhold his support, or trade it for something. What's that something? Here's his answer (at 2:36):
Ok.If you read that list again, you'll see how stunning it is. Three things to notice:
I want Secretary Clinton if she is the nominee, to come out for a Medicare-for-all, single-payer health care system. I want $15 an hour as a minimum wage. I want to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure — Flint Michigan is not the only community in America that doesn't have safe drinking water. Our roads, bridges, rail system is in disrepair.
I want a vigorous effort to address climate change. I mean, I am very worried. I talk to these scientists. This planet is in serious danger. And you can't cuddle up to the fossil fuel industry. You've got to take them on.
And also what is resonating, and I think very important, making public colleges and universities tuition-free, Wall Street tax on speculation to pay for that, ending all these corporate loopholes.
Those are some of the demands we make.
- He calls these "demands," not requests.
- He wants Clinton the candidate to endorse them, presumably on the campaign trail, not just the Platform Committee in a document that can later be ignored.
- Clinton is on record as running against most of these policies.
- a Medicare-for-all, single-payer health care system
- $15 an hour as a minimum wage
- rebuild our crumbling infrastructure
- a vigorous effort to address climate change
- no "cuddling up to the fossil fuel industry"
- making public colleges and universities tuition-free
- Wall Street tax on speculation
- ending all these corporate loopholes
If he really "demands" that Clinton herself campaign in September and October on these policies as a condition for his continued support, he's basically saying, "I want to handcuff you to my policies every time you speak." Which makes it a whole lot harder for her to reverse herself in office and not be toxic in 2020.
That's why this is his ace. Because if he really suggests he would withhold his support from her if she doesn't meet these conditions, she's helpless.
If he makes this demand in public, and she's seen to reject him, she will lose a significant percentage of his supporters; this could easily cost her the election. Yet if she accepts and campaigns on Sanders' platform, the leverage on her for the next four years will be much greater. The "liar" label is already an albatross, deserved or not. Betraying a set of explicit Sanders-forced campaign pledges could turn the albatross into a boat anchor.
Bottom line —Clinton's best shot at capturing the enthusiasm and the votes of Sanders supporters is to get Sanders' vigorous support after the convention. If he really does intend to play hardball with his endorsement, as the above indicates, he's in a very strong position, even in defeat. If Sanders follows through with what he told Cenk Uygur, Clinton could have a very difficult choice to make after the convention.
"But ... Republicans!"
Of course, Sanders understands that a Republican would be worse than Clinton as president. So at some point he will endorse her even if she refuses his demands, and many of his followers will agree, again, to vote the "But...Republicans!" party ticket.
But in fact, if he makes the above demands and she publicly refuses — even if later he does support her (and he will) — she would still lose a large percent of his supporters simply because they are supporting his policies first, and only secondarily his candidacy. Again, she's helpless if he makes this demand. That's a very nice card to have in your hand if it's the very last card in the game.
The 2016 election is not just the most consequential of our lives. It's also the most interesting. Stay tuned.
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