burning the bern

Via Flickr

Via Flickr

The Bern got trounced in New York’s messy, dysfunctional Democratic primary on Tuesday. With the delegate math being what it is, the punditocracy feels comfortable enough to start releasing Sanders campaign obituaries. Fair enough—politics being slow boring of hard boards and all that jazz.

Yet when folks aren’t too busy punching leftward they are sometimes correct to note that, struggle-willing, Feel The Bern’s style of leftward economic populism is probably the future of the Democratic Party:

The Sanders campaign should be seen not as a failed gambit but as a road map to the future of the Democratic Party. If a candidate can combine Sanders’s economic populism with the ability to articulate that message in the South, then the future will belong Sanders, and Clinton’s triumph will be seen as the last gasp of the centrism that dominated the party in the long aftermath of Reaganism.

Yglesias agrees, as do others. In the meantime though, pretty much everyone agrees that reforming the party for future non-conservative governance will necessitate organizing for down-ballot victories.

Here’s Yglesias on that point:

An enormous test for both Sanders and his supporters will be whether he can help direct his financial fire hose toward down-ballot candidates for whom it really might be a difference maker. He’s already started backing a handful of insurgents who broke with state party leaders to endorse him, but the cause of state and local politics deserves to be taken seriously on its own terms and not just as a proxy in the national fight.

Democrats in power now need to prioritize taking over statehouses, period, for 2020 redistricting leverage in nothing else (I’m sure they’d also like to enact some legislative priorities). But in addition to mobilizing for meaningfully progressive policies in towns and cities, the more radical among us need to ensure that those local, state, and national legislators are well to the left of national party machine operators. It’s a relatively straightforward strategy, though by no means easy to execute.

Too bad this will mostly be framed by What Will Sanders Do conjecture, because I think the greater question concerns what the party itself will do. Because while I can imagine it having been much worse it’s not as though Dems have been especially accommodating of Sanders campaign. What happens if, after next Tuesday’s round of voting, Bernie does what the blogetariat suggests and directs his astounding fundraising efforts solely toward local and state electoral battlegrounds? Do party leaders applaud his actions, and furthermore assist in a grand team effort to rebuild the apparatus of a non-national left-liberal structure?

I think it far more likely they do the opposite and ridicule him for not primarily raising money for Hillary Clinton and Hillary Clinton alone. For not following her path in ’08, but this time campaigning for Hillary Clinton, and Hillary Clinton alone. For not opening up his enviable database of new voters and young independents to the Democratic National Committee, to the purpose of electing Hillary Clinton, and Hillary Clinton alone.

In the process of doing so, I imagine, they’d be quite successful in turning off many of Bernie’s more activist followers from being active for them later on down the road. Nobody enjoys organizing for an organization that sneers at them.

It’s a standard criticism of the left to focus so myopically on flashy candidate-driven movements, and not the more ephemeral coalitions that are required to win in purple districts. Yet that has been the path well-trodden by the political powers to be as well. If the electoral lesson of the last twenty years has been Democrats losing down-ticket every two years for not showing up, and for leftists not showing up at all, then it’s a lecture everyone needs to hear. So for every question poised to Bernie Sanders for building a future powerbase pundits need to be calling out the DNC, and Hillary Clinton, too. If, that is, they can pause long enough from spending entire days hippie-punching their Mentions feed. Which, you know, good luck.


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