Jul 15, 2016

Why Did Bernie Endorse Hillary? Here's One Explanation.

By Tim Hjersted / filmsforaction.org

He's playing the long game. If Sanders had gone third party, split the votes and then Trump got elected, it would have divided the left and set back the momentum and gains the Sanders/progressive movement has made another 10 years. The center of America would blame the progressive movement for Trump's victory and align with the centrist, corporate dems for fear of the GOP gaining more power. This electoral force, keeping the "White Man's Party" out of the oval office, was already a main driver behind older Black voters, among other demographics, choosing Clinton in the Primary, despite Sanders being more politically aligned with their aspirations (see this).  

Idealists may love a martyr, but in this case, 'standing for principle' does not make up for the disastrous real-world consequences which would harm our movement's long term goals. Bernie is doing what he thinks is best for achieving his long list of policy goals over the next 8 years. As activists, Bernie and the movement has more leverage to influence Hillary than Trump. It is simply a smart and practical decision for the long-term growth of our movement.

Being a martyr, you get to feel good about yourself and how you 'stayed pure' but you walk 100 steps back from your goal when Trump and other far right politicians get elected and they don't give a shit about your protests against climate change, police brutality, universal healthcare, income inequality - the list goes on.

By supporting Hillary and not going third party, he retains and builds on his leverage with the party, while the socialist/progressive gains we made in the last year are allowed to continue to build up power and momentum. There are also the short-term advantages for the coming Democratic convention, which have been written about elsewhere. 

By 2020, perhaps the movement will be strong enough to launch a third party or Democratic challenge to Hillary, and by that time, if we stay focused and all don't scramble back to our homes in despair and defeat, we can continue to organize for down-ballot progressives to win seats from the city to state levels. With that kind of bottom up power, we can continue to advance our goals.

There is more to this game than who is president, and protesting Hillary will be more effective than protesting Trump.

Anyway, folks asked for some 'silver linings' to this on the Films For Action FB page. Here are a few. I came to these conclusions asking myself, "are there any silver linings to this? Why would Bernie do this, knowing full well he (or she) hasn't changed from the day before?"

I'm sure if people entertained the thought (instead of adamantly sticking to the premise that 'he betrayed us') they could think of reasons themselves. He didn't betray us or his own progressive goals, which he's been fighting for his entire life. Short of winning the presidency, he's taking the next best route, as he sees it. 

I think it's totally fair to disagree with Sander's strategic decision, but accusations like "he betrayed us" and "he sold out to the establishment" malign his core intentions, which attempts to demonize him simply because of a strategic disagreement. Other folks have accused Sanders of engaging in a conspiracy to protect the establishment all along, being a "sheepdog" for Hillary this entire time. 

This kind of thinking isn't ideal because it will more than likely distort your perception of reality and make the more difficult conclusion harder to accept: People simply have different philosophies about the best way to acheive our shared (progressive) goals. 

Ultimately, as he has stated before, Sanders' goal isn't to win an election, it's to transform America. It's to win victories for the long list of policy changes the movement has rallied behind. Winning elections is a part of that, but it's just a means to an end. Winning hundreds of down-ballot seats for progressives will ultimately have a bigger effect on the country than who wins the presidency, and between the choice of Hillary and Trump, Hillary offers a better strategic environment to achieve the movement's goals. Sanders has already negotiated concessions from Hillary on a host of issues with his current approach, and if Hillary betrays these promises, the political fallout will be huge.

Ralph Nader comments on this in the interview below:

When people ask me how I decide how to vote, I ask them: Who would you rather protest against?

Personally, I'd rather protest the president more likely to be influenced by that protest. Trump's mandate will come from his supporters and he will not give 2 cents what kind of leftist protests show up outside his door.  The same was true during Bush's presidency when the largest worldwide protests against the Iraq war fell on deaf ears. 

Some folks may be in shock to hear that the most influential modern anarchist, Noam Chomsky, agrees with Sanders' philosophy on change. Here is an extended excerpt from Chomsky and  John Halle's breakdown on the strategy behind voting for the lesser evil:

Another point of disagreement is not factual but involves the ethical/moral principle addressed in 1), sometimes referred to as the “politics of moral witness.” Generally associated with the religious left, secular leftists implicitly invoke it when they reject Lesser Evil Voting on the grounds that “a lesser of two evils is still evil.” Leaving aside the obvious rejoinder that this is exactly the point of lesser evil voting-i.e. to do less evil, what needs to be challenged is the assumption that voting should be seen a form of individual self-expression rather than as an act to be judged on its likely consequences, specifically those outlined in 4). The basic moral principle at stake is simple: not only must we take responsibility for our actions, but the consequences of our actions for others are a far more important consideration than feeling good about ourselves.

While some would suggest extending the critique by noting that the politics of moral witness can become indistinguishable from narcissistic self-agrandizement, this is substantially more harsh than what was intended and harsher than what is merited. That said, those reflexively denouncing advocates of LEV on a supposed “moral” basis should consider that their footing on the high ground may not be as secure as they often take for granted to be the case.

A third criticism of LEV equates it with a passive acquiescence to the bipartisan status quo under the guise of pragmatism, usually deriving from those who have lost the appetite for radical change. It is surely the case that some of those endorsing LEV are doing so in bad faith-cynical functionaries whose objective is to promote capitulation to a system which they are invested in protecting. Others supporting LEV, however, can hardly be reasonably accused of having made their peace with the establishment. Their concern, as alluded to in 6) and 7) inheres in the awareness that frivolous and poorly considered electoral decisions impose a cost, their memories extending to the ultra-left faction of the peace movement having minimized the comparative dangers of the Nixon presidency during the 1968 elections. The result was six years of senseless death and destruction in Southeast Asia and also a predictable fracture of the left setting it up for its ultimate collapse during the backlash decades to follow.

The broader lesson to be drawn is not to shy away from confronting the dominance of the political system under the management of the two major parties. Rather, challenges to it need to be issued with a full awareness of their possible consequences. This includes the recognition that far right victories not only impose terrible suffering on the most vulnerable segments of society but also function as a powerful weapon in the hands of the establishment center, which, now in opposition can posture as the “reasonable” alternative. A Trump presidency, should it materialize, will undermine the burgeoning movement centered around the Sanders campaign, particularly if it is perceived as having minimized the dangers posed by the far right.

A more general conclusion to be derived from this recognition is that this sort of cost/benefit strategic accounting is fundamental to any politics which is serious about radical change. Those on the left who ignore it, or dismiss it as irrelevant are engaging in political fantasy and are an obstacle to, rather than ally of, the movement which now seems to be materializing.

Finally, it should be understood that the reigning doctrinal system recognizes the role presidential elections perform in diverting the left from actions which have the potential to be effective in advancing its agenda. These include developing organizations committed to extra-political means, most notably street protest, but also competing for office in potentially winnable races. The left should devote the minimum of time necessary to exercise the LEV choice then immediately return to pursuing goals which are not timed to the national electoral cycle.


1) Voting should not be viewed as a form of personal self-expression or moral judgement directed in retaliation towards major party candidates who fail to reflect our values, or of a corrupt system designed to limit choices to those acceptable to corporate elites.

2) The exclusive consequence of the act of voting in 2016 will be (if in a contested “swing state”) to marginally increase or decrease the chance of one of the major party candidates winning.

3) One of these candidates, Trump, denies the existence of global warming, calls for increasing use of fossil fuels, dismantling of environmental regulations and refuses assistance to India and other developing nations as called for in the Paris agreement, the combination of which could, in four years, take us to a catastrophic tipping point. Trump has also pledged to deport 11 million Mexican immigrants, offered to provide for the defense of supporters who have assaulted African American protestors at his rallies, stated his “openness to using nuclear weapons”, supports a ban on Muslims entering the U.S. and regards “the police in this country as absolutely mistreated and misunderstood” while having “done an unbelievable job of keeping law and order.” Trump has also pledged to increase military spending while cutting taxes on the rich, hence shredding what remains of the social welfare “safety net” despite pretenses.

4) The suffering which these and other similarly extremist policies and attitudes will impose on marginalized and already oppressed populations has a high probability of being significantly greater than that which will result from a Clinton presidency.

5) 4) should constitute sufficient basis to voting for Clinton where a vote is potentially consequential-namely, in a contested, “swing” state.

6) However, the left should also recognize that, should Trump win based on its failure to support Clinton, it will repeatedly face the accusation (based in fact), that it lacks concern for those sure to be most victimized by a Trump administration.

7) Often this charge will emanate from establishment operatives who will use it as a bad faith justification for defeating challenges to corporate hegemony either in the Democratic Party or outside of it. They will ensure that it will be widely circulated in mainstream media channels with the result that many of those who would otherwise be sympathetic to a left challenge will find it a convincing reason to maintain their ties with the political establishment rather than breaking with it, as they must.

8) Conclusion: by dismissing a “lesser evil” electoral logic and thereby increasing the potential for Clinton’s defeat the left will undermine what should be at the core of what it claims to be attempting to achieve.

Folks on the left have disagreed with Chomsky and Sanders on this (see this), and I think it's fine to disagree.

What I disagree with is the people trying to demonize Sanders, Chomsky and other activists for those disagreements.

Personally, I support everyone on the left doing what they want to do, from Bernie to Jill Stein, from anarchists to progressives. Folks find that shocking. That's how I roll.

Ultimately, I don't care who people vote for. I care if they become activists.

As it turns out, both sides of the debate agree on that. 

"If you give me a fish you have fed me for a day. If you teach me to fish then you have fed me until the river is contaminated or the shoreline seized for development. But if you teach me to organize then whatever the challenge I can join together with my peers and and we will fashion our own solution." - Ricardo Levins Morales

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