Not to beat a dead horse or anything, but have you noticed how many people who call themselves social democrats or democratic socialists seem to be terrified at the prospect of Bernie Sanders winning the Democratic presidential nomination? It reminds me of a line from the musical 1776, “Maryland would welcome independence if it were given, but is highly skeptical that it can be taken. Maryland says nay.” It is as if they are only dedicated to this ideal as long as it doesn’t risk anything — as long as it doesn’t require a fight. And I’m afraid that it does require risk and a fight.
I understand the counterargument: if the Republicans get in, it will be a catastrophe. But this is how we find ourselves far, far to the right after 40 years of this kind of thinking. The Democratic Party establishment decided that it lost the 1972 election because George McGovern was too liberal. That’s such a vague claim as to be meaningless. There were a lot of reasons he lost, of course. A big one was that the south turned against the Democratic Party because of the civil rights laws passed under Johnson. Another was that McGovern was painted as weak on crime and “those people.” None of that should have caused the Democratic Party running to go running to the right on economic issues.
But in 1976, they ran a very conservative man for his time, Jimmy Carter. He barely won. Then in 1980, he lost by a lot. This was followed by Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis. All of those elections were classic economics-trumps-all elections. They were the Republicans’ elections to lose. Similarly, Bill Clinton didn’t win in 1992 because he was conservative but because the economy had tanked. All these moves to the right, have only pushed the Republicans further to the right. So the whole idea that the Democratic Party must move to the right only means that when Republicans do get into power they are even worse than they were before.
Matt Bruenig asked a really good question recently, What is the Left Supposed to Do Electorally? He considered Jeremy Corbyn in the UK primarily, but also Bernie Sanders. Here, all good Democrats know that Ralph Nader cost the Democrats the election in 2000. (I don’t know; that may be a myth; but it is what all good Democrats know.) So Sanders is not running a third party candidacy, and has been very clear that he will support whichever candidates the Democrats nominate. But running inside the party is apparently only acceptable if the leftist loses, as we are seeing with Corbyn. “Similarly, if Sanders manages to win the Democratic primary in the US, you can be sure the same centrist Democrats screaming at Nader to run in the primary will immediately sour on the idea of left-wing primary challenges.”
I truly do not know where I stand in this election. I support Sanders because he is the closest fit to my major issues, which are economic. But if I think he has little chance of winning the general election, I will not vote for him. I am a pragmatist. But I haven’t seen any information to indicate that this is the case. If I think that Hillary Clinton has a 55% chance of winning the general election and Bernie Sanders has a 45% chance, then there is no question: I’ll go with Bernie. If Bernie has a 10% chance, I’ll go with Hillary. But it is worth some risk to get the extra gain that is Bernie Sanders.