Ted McLaughlin over at Job’s Anger wrote, Is Bernie Sanders Really a Democrat? In it, he speculates that for many Democrats, Sanders never having been a Democrat may be a big reason why they don’t support him. In general, I am very much in agreement with McLauglin. But on this, I think he’s wrong. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say that I hope that he’s wrong. There are a couple of reasons for this.
The first issue is just that I’m not a Democrat out of some sense of tribal loyalty. I’m a Democrat because it is the liberal party in the United States. If we had a parliamentary system, I would almost certainly be a member of a party that better reflected my beliefs. I have huge problems with the Democratic Party — mostly due to its right turn starting in the 1970s and really taking off in 1992. But there are two choices in the United States: the Democrats and the Republicans. The Republicans are hopeless. The Democrats have potential, and they have been moving in the right direction for the last decade.
But the name doesn’t mean anything. If the Republicans decided to push for a $15 minimum wage, universal healthcare, reproductive freedom, and an end to foreign wars, I would drop the Democratic Party faster than a hot frying pan. This isn’t a tribal thing for me. And I don’t think it is a tribal thing for most Democrats. That’s almost what defines us as a party. We aren’t authoritarian followers. What’s more, we have a long history of accepting new people who moved into our party. Even though I was none to thrilled with him, we had no problem accepting Arlen Specter back into the party.
We also need to look at Bernie Sanders’ voting record. He is a more consistent Democratic voter than many actual Democratic politicians. That is the kind of support that matters to me. If we want to take it to extremes, we could say that by this logic Joe Lieberman was more supportive of the Democratic Party than Sanders. But the truth is that Lieberman voted against the party often on really important issues. And then, the moment the party in his state said it didn’t want him to be its candidate for Senate, he dropped the party.
I understand that most Democrats don’t like Lieberman and don’t see him as a supporter of the Democratic Party. But he proudly claimed the name “Democrat” for 17 years. And what did it mean? Ultimately, nothing. So if calling yourself a Democrat means something, it is very little. And let’s not forget that support goes both ways. People run as Democrats and thus get various kinds of support — including money — from the party. In that regard, I would have to say that Sanders has given more to the Democratic Party than he has taken.
There may be Democrats around who won’t vote for Bernie Sanders because he hasn’t called himself a Democrat. And that’s fine. I don’t think it is very meaningful, however. And I want the Democratic presidential nomination to be about much more important issues than this. And I know that McLaughlin agrees with me. And I think that Sanders has already made Clinton a better candidate than she would have been without him. So we can add that to ways that Sanders supports the Democratic Party.
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet…