Monday Morning Bernie Backing

The growing push to defeat Trump by any of the following means:

  • Taking the CIA’s warmongering on faith and blaming Vladimir Putin for everything,
  • Accusing the FBI,
  • Pressing for majority rule despite the electoral college,
  • Protesting voters being stripped from the rolls,
  • Objecting to intimidation at the polls,
  • Trying to undo the blocking of votes by those lacking IDs,
  • Remedying broken and insufficient and unverifiable machines,
  • Counting paper ballots where they exist,
  • Threatening impeachment over Trump’s unconstitutional presents and emoluments from foreign nations unless he sells his foreign businesses,
  • Arguing for disqualification on the ground of mental illness,
  • Praying and fantasizing,

would be far more energized and popular if the “defeated” candidate were Bernie Sanders, who — judging by all existing polling (and theorizing what his general election campaign would have looked like) — would almost certainly not have been defeated by any means in the first place.

It’s worth thinking for a moment what could have been done differently. The corporate media could have not acted like the corporate media, of course. Democratic Party loyalists and super delegates and (most) labor unions could have not behaved like sold-out masochists. The DNC could have put the slightest effort into pretending to have a fair and open primary. People who wanted to overturn a corrupt system and imagined they saw the solution in Donald Trump could have switched their brains on. Women and men could have chosen substance over tokenism. Many African-Americans could have chosen substance over slime. People who can’t be bothered could have gotten up off their butts. Old people could have demonstrated the wisdom of the young.

But what might Bernie Sanders, his staff, his volunteers, his supporters, or his critics have done differently? Despite the many things Bernie and his people did right, were there things that might have been done a bit better? Note that this is not identical to the question “Is Bernie Satan?” Note also that it is a question being asked by people who worked long days for Bernie.

If you read Rules for Revolutionaries: How Big Organizing Can Change Everything by Becky Bond and Zack Exley who worked for the Bernie campaign you’ll get one view. If you read Bernie & the Sandernistas: Field Notes From a Failed Revolution by Jeffrey St. Clair who threw tomatoes from the peanut gallery, you’ll get another.

Here are some points on which I believe I largely agree with St. Clair:

1. Bernie should have opposed militarism. We now have Trump threatening increased military spending, not to mention xenophobia, bigotry, hateful violence, and a cabinet of warmongers. But we also have Trump proposing to end wars of overthrow and to de-fund boondoggles like the F-35, a pet Vermont pork project of Bernie Sanders. Bernie was hardly more convincing than Trump on ending wars, avoided mention of the military budget whenever he could, and proposed no truly peaceful agenda of transition to peaceful industries, investment in foreign aid and diplomacy, adherence to the rule of law, a halt to drone murders, an end to foreign arms sales and gifts — including gifts to brutal governments. What if Bernie had appealed to those who oppose mass murder? What if peace lovers for Bernie had been added to Veterans for Bernie, Latinos for Bernie, and the dozens of other Bernie groups? (The word “peace” shows up randomly in a list in Exley’s preface to his book but otherwise goes unmentioned.)

2. Bernie should have challenged the candidate he was supposedly challenging. Bond and Exley write that they had a policy of not criticizing She Who Must Not Be Named, nor even naming her. Trump won his primary by challenging his opponents. Every past candidate who has ever won any election, as far as I know, has challenged his or her opponent(s). If Hillary Clinton’s record, just as it was, had belonged to a Republican, the critique of it that Bernie would have put forth would have been devastating. But she was a Democrat, so he largely let her go. Here was someone who had taken millions into her family foundation from foreign governments and weapons makers and then approved deadly weapons deals, who had pushed fracking on the world, who had backed coups as well as wars, who had pushed banking and media consolidation, welfare destruction, mass incarceration, police militarization, and just about every other bad policy during the Decline and Fall. Yet you had millions of people imagining that Hillary and Bernie basically shared an agenda. And you had millions of people who knew little about Bernie, whom the corporate media found less interesting than the creep from Fifth Avenue who pulled no punches. (Yes, corporate media opposed Bernie for substantive reasons, but the signs were clear that if he would only speak out against Clinton they would air his statements.)

3. Bernie should have vigorously challenged dubious outcomes in Iowa, Nevada, and elsewhere and made clear that he would fight for honest vote counting.

4. Bernie should have sued the DNC for fraud.

5. If denied the nomination, Bernie should have run as an independent, with Jill Stein or otherwise — his commitment not to having been erased by the DNC’s slanting of the primary.

Here are some points on which I believe I basically agree with Bond and Exley:

1. Bernie’s campaign’s strength lay in volunteers and secondarily in small donors, not in establishment support or big money or, for that matter, acceptance by big media. It showed that big money and big media can be challenged. (I probably go off the Bond-Exley rails in suggesting that this also shows an independent might make a real challenge from outside the two parties if there were general awareness of the fact.)

2. Bernie’s campaign’s strength in volunteers could have been much better utilized than it was. I base this in large part on Bond’s and Exley’s testimony, and with understanding that every presidential election campaign is always a chaotic disaster and that nonetheless much was well done.

3. At the core of Bond’s and Exley’s concept of “Big Organizing” is big policy — that is, the practice of proposing major policy changes large enough to inspire people to work for them. Also part of it is big asks. Bond and Exley give the example of someone who had never signed an online petition but who responded as soon as he was asked to turn out and risk arrest to help end climate change (not an example from the Bernie campaign). I agree and would add that this could have gone farther. That is, Bernie’s policies could have been bigger. And his asks could have been bigger. Apart from phone calls to potential voters, Bernie’s volunteers could have been given bigger asks to behave as nonviolent activists on the issues they cared about — which could have changed the topics of debates and news reports.

4. Organizing needs both online and offline components, but also needs some level of media attention / public awareness. That last bit is not discussed much by Bond and Exley because they had as much of it as they could handle. They could have used more. And many good causes could use any at all.

5. Bernie could have done better at reaching out to African Americans. Becky Bond authored a chapter on this that I think is about right and worth reading.