I caught the tail-end of a conversation on Twitter yesterday about the presidential primaries in the US, and the mathematical impossibility of Bernie Sanders winning the Democratic nomination.
The case was being made (by New Zealanders, though I’m sure the same conversation was happening bigger and louder in the States) that given Bernie “cannot” win at this point, he should withdraw and instruct his supporters to back Clinton.
I don’t think it’s coincidence that the people saying this were Clinton supporters. And I doubt they’d be saying the same of her if the situation were reversed. And it’s possible this wouldn’t bug me as much if I weren’t a fan of Sanders myself.
But it does bug me. Not because I dislike Clinton and not (only) because I support Sanders: because it speaks to a ridiculous, undemocratic sense of entitlement from some people of the left which I’ve seen far too often.
I get where it comes from. We all fervently believe we’re on the side of good, we all have a firm conviction that if we ran the world things would be rainbows and sunshine every day. And god it’s frustrating to see things go bad because the other team are in power instead. It feels like if there were any justice in the world, our team would always win every election in a landslide.
But to be a real democrat, to believe that democracy is the best way to choose who leads our government, requires a degree of humility. Knowing that you have to put the work in. You have to convince others of the merits of your case. You don’t make the decision: they do. Sometimes it’s not the one you want.
It’s not just about the principle. When politicians start thinking they deserve votes – from women, or union members, or people of colour, or young people – when they take that support for granted, everyone suffers. When a progressive party starts to assume, e.g. “we’ve always been good for women”, and stops actually being good for women, women aren’t obliged to keep voting for a party that’s harming them. And they may find it insulting to be told, “don’t you understand we’re your only option, because back in the day we did good things for you?”
To be a real progressive is to understand progress requires momentum. We can’t rest on our laurels and expect people to ignore present-day oppression and focus on historic victories, unless we are actively building on those victories.
We are not entitled to anyone’s vote. And if we aren’t giving people a reason to vote for us, it’s not their fault. It’s ours. This applies as much to Hillary having to go into a contested convention as it does to the UK Labour Party’s routing in Scotland or the continued “missing million” thorn in the side of the New Zealand left or any number of other examples.
If you believe in democracy, you do not fear a fairly contested election. So if you’re a (d)emocrat and you’re advocating that Bernie should just give up now, I have one question: what are you afraid of?
The response is often “it’ll hurt her campaign against Trump because something something BernieBros.” This is the hard bit about holding democratic principles: if people vote Trump because they’re bitter about losing the nomination, or just sexist douchebags, that’s awful. But we don’t disenfranchise people for being bitter, sexist douchebags.
Besides, Donald Trump is a repugnant human being who trades on fear and bigotry, so that’s another question: why would it not be easy for Clinton, if she’s such a good candidate, the demographics favour her, and her record is so strong, to defeat him?
Sanders has won huge support, even if it’s not enough, despite being a terrifying radical (at least in the US context). And I see a lot of overlap between the Clinton fans who want an uncontested convention and the “centrists” who so frequently say we need to meet people where they are or find out voters want in order to appeal to them. So I have another question: why doesn’t that apply when “where the people are” is a step to your left?
A note on “fairly contested elections”: no system is perfect, but let’s be really honest here, there is very little fairness in US elections or primaries. Let’s talk about voter registration, voter ID laws, or the fact that the superdelegate system which guarantees a Clinton victory was created specifically to stymie the will of the ordinary Democratic Party member, loooooooooong before we complain that Bernie Sanders has the gall to keep campaigning.