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Bernie Sanders Legitimizes Those Damned Superdelegates

Considering how loudly the Sanders campaign has complained about the nominating role of superdelegates – a group of 712 Democratic party and elected officials appointed rather than elected to the convention — Bernie’s current plea for them to deliver victory to him instead of Hillary Clinton carries a strong whiff of…expediency.

Over the past few months, Sanders supporters have inundated print and airwaves with angry denunciations of the superdelegate system as elitist, unfair, undemocratic, biased against their candidate, and fundamentally illegitimate. Many observers agreed that they had a point (although to me the caucus system seems worse). The most fanatical Berners in the press even openly accused party officials of plotting to “steal” the nomination. Most Sanders voters seemed to view superdelegates just as dimly as big corporations and billionaire donors, elements of a discredited system ripe for “revolution.”

And since last winter, major progressive organizations that support the Vermont senator, such as MoveOn.org and Democracy for America, have circulated petitions demanding that all of the superdelegates cast their convention votes for the candidate that won a primary or caucus in their respective states. Sponsoring the DFA petition was none other than Robert Reich, the economic commentator and former Clinton labor secretary Robert Reich.

Having gathered more than 400,000 signatures total, the petition sponsors now find themselves awkwardly in conflict with their own candidate, who said on May 1 that the superdelegates supporting Clinton should switch to him – regardless of who won their home states.

But that was then and this is now, as a cynic would observe. Beyond his disorderly abandonment of what was previously advertised as democratic principle, Sanders has now validated the role of the superdelegates, no matter whom they ultimately choose. By urging them to deliver the nomination to him, he is agreeing that their votes alone can determine the validity of a presidential nomination, even if that means overturning the popular vote (where Clinton leads him by around three million ballots or so).

Coming from a candidate whose campaign and supporters righteously criticize Clinton for insincerity and flip-flopping, this latest strategy is refreshingly pragmatic (to put it politely). Yet more than a few #FeelTheBern activists can still be heard complaining about those dastardly establishment superdelegates. Evidently they haven’t gotten the memo yet, explaining that the supers are now supposed to anoint Sanders.

How Bernie Sanders Can Squander – Or Expand – His Victory

The time is coming when Bernie Sanders should declare victory – not because he is going to be the Democratic presidential nominee, but because he has already won so much.

Of course, Sanders knows very well that he cannot wrest the nomination from Hillary Clinton. He lags well behind her in pledged delegates, super-delegates, and the popular vote, where he trails by well over three million.

Nobody should be surprised that he couldn’t beat Clinton, whose political durability is routinely underestimated by hostile media coverage. What did seem surprising, however briefly, was the mere possibility that a self-described democratic socialist from a tiny New England state could win the nomination of a party he had never condescended to join.

Even more astonishing is how much this rumpled, sometimes cranky, and formerly obscure politician has achieved during his meteoric flight to fame.

Sanders has proved a concept that many on the left have always cherished: Social democratic ideas, given a fair hearing, can appeal to a much broader segment of the American public than most political scientists ever imagined. No doubt most voters would still shun “socialism,” but millions this year have embraced social democracy, European style, with its emphasis on economic security, worker rights, environmental quality and gender equality.

He has pushed both Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee, and her party well to the left of where they were when he entered the race. Although she can point to much evidence of her own progressive inclinations, his challenge has provoked her to speak up forcefully on income inequality, paid family leave, infrastructure spending, and financial reform. Substantive differences remain between them, but their disagreements are narrow compared with the gulf between the two parties – or between them and the likely Republican nominee.

And he has led a remarkable mobilization of young activists, from every background, now widely seen as representing the future of the Democratic Party. If they remain active, there will be senators, representatives, and perhaps even a president someday who remember Bernie as their inspiration.

For now, as an “independent” sitting in the Senate Democratic caucus, Sanders can still look ahead to a very productive future. But he must choose a way forward that advances rather than squanders this year’s achievements. Already he has taken several steps in the wrong direction.

The relentless personal assault he mounted against Clinton has contradicted his proud assertion that “I’ve never run a negative ad in my life.” Over the past few months he has spent millions of dollars on harshly negative advertising, which has caused real damage to her.

Now he seems to be contemplating a strategy that blatantly violates his own democratic instincts, by persuading super-delegates to switch their allegiance to him. This doomsday scheme would be troubling even if Sanders’ supporters hadn’t gathered nearly half a million petition signatures already, demanding that the super-delegates support the candidate with the most pledged delegates and highest vote total. To pursue it would deepen party divisions and forfeit any claim to the moral high ground.

That doesn’t mean Sanders ought to quit, not until he has seized every last opportunity to deliver his message. As he continues, however, he must consider carefully what path best serves him, his movement, and his country.

More than a few of his angry supporters sound as if they intend to punish Hillary Clinton by refusing to vote for her in November, even against Donald Trump. They seem to hope that Sanders will withhold his full support from her, too. They evidently don’t realize that Clinton herself will be fine either way.

But a Democratic defeat would badly injure millions of other Americans – and losing to the Republicans would permanently diminish Sanders, too.

If the Democrats can mobilize enough voters for a big victory, their party may well regain control of the Senate. That shift would give Sanders the chairmanship of the Senate Budget Committee, with substantial influence over taxes, spending, and the fiscal priorities of the next White House. His new position would amplify that now familiar voice, speaking up on the issues that matter most to him. And as the new administration begins, he would have in hand the necessary tools to hold Clinton to her progressive campaign promises.

Yet if the Democrats lose because the Vermont senator and his supporters refuse to unite with Clinton, he will remain muted in the Senate minority – and his uplifting campaign will be seen as the prelude to a national disaster.

This is not a hard choice.

5 Reasons Democrats Should Be Proud Of This Presidential Primary

If you’re a Democrat, chances are you appreciate both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton.

The more time you spend online, the harder this may be to believe. But it’s a poll-tested fact, even in Iowa and New Hampshire, where the Vermont senator’s appeal presents the biggest challenge to the former Secretary of State.

Both candidates have fervent, occasionally raving supporters who oppose the other, although the fanatics are a minority. Both candidates are historic in their own right. And even though Sanders is new to the Democratic Party, both candidates have found record support and represent the kind of energy necessary to grow the Obama Coalition and restore the New Deal consensus.

That doesn’t mean this campaign hasn’t been contentious and won’t get worse. It will, especially if the contest gets even closer. But there are several reasons to be proud, which is something you can rarely say in politics.

  1. Sanders is speaking to the great crises of our time. Our economy is eating itself: “In 1980, the top 1 percent had about 8 percent of national income. Today it’s closing in 24 percent. The bottom 50 percent of Americans in 1980 shared about 18 percent of national income. Today it’s down to 11 percent, down a third…” billionaire-turned-wealth-inequality-activist Nick Hanauer explained last year. “All you have to do is put that data in an Excel spreadsheet and just run the extrapolation out 30 years. The numbers are scary, right? Because the top 1 percent will control in the mid 30s — 35, 36, 37 percent of national income — and the bottom 50 percent of Americans will share 5 or 6 percent of national income. At that point you don’t have a capitalist democracy anymore. You have some kind of feudal system.”  Few Americans speak to this crisis — and its twin environmental crisis of climate change — as well as Bernie Sanders. He recognizes that we need a “political revolution” to change the dynamic. Some say that’s unrealistic, but it makes perfect sense in two ways. For Sanders to win even the nomination would require a remarkable upheaval, greater even that what Barack Obama pulled off when he barely beat Clinton in 2008. To implement his agenda, he would need Democratic majorities even larger than those swept in with Obama in 2008. If this doesn’t happen now, it needs to happen someday soon. Stopping the tide of conservative economics isn’t enough — it must be reversed. Our Republic depends on it.
  2. Clinton is speaking to the most immediate disasters we face. For Hillary Clinton to champion repealing the Hyde Amendment — which denies access to reproductive rights to poor people who get government health care — is in many ways as idealistic (and difficult to imagine becoming real) as Sanders’ Medicare for All plan. By campaigning on promises for which Democrats don’t have the votes in Congress, the left risks aping the right’s empty promises to the base. But just as Sanders is making a larger case for a new role for government, Clinton is staking a claim for defending reproductive rights, which are definitely on the ballot in 2016. The next president could be the first since Nixon to appoint four justices to the Supreme Court, possibly in one term. Both Clinton and Sanders would appoint justices who would defend reproductive rights, voting rights, civil rights, and labor rights. But who can put the immediacy of this issue before voters most effectively? While Sanders wants a political revolution, Clinton wants to build on the 90 percent of Americans who now have health insurance instead of letting Republicans immediately chip away at that number. More than any other single American, Clinton helped push forward the notion of universal healthcare in America — and we are closer than ever to that reality. But more than anyone, she knows the costs of that effort and the fury of right wing attacks on the people who fight for progress. Her argument is not as radical as Sanders’, but it is as essential: Help me keep and build on Barack Obama’s progress, or watch much of it waste away as quickly as the progress of the 90s faded under George W. Bush.
  3. Both candidates rise when challenged to present fresh policy ideas. The Democratic Party has moved left in the last decade, but only to keep up with the American public. On issues like mass incarceration, the drug war, LGBTQ rights, and background checks on gun purchases, the vast majority of Americans have embraced more progressive positions. When Sanders and Clinton were challenged by activists like #BlackLivesMatter, they produced policies to reflect this changing reality. These visions don’t please everyone, but they reflect a party that’s not trafficking in failed perspectives of the past. On Wall Street regulation, Clinton constantly had her credibility challenged due to her husband’s second-term embrace of deregulation, her own votes, and her affinity with donors from the financial sector, many of whom were her constituents in New York. Still, her policies to regulate shadow banks have been praised by Paul Krugman and reflect the reality that Dodd-Frank has been more effective than many critics will admit. Still, we face a Securities and Exchange Commission captured by industry and a revolving door between government and the banks that barely even squeaks, as lobbyists try to undo reform. Pushing Clinton on this issue just makes sense. Sanders’ vote to give gunmakers broad legal immunity reveals a rare instance where he sought to empower corporations. Given that Congress has largely blocked even basic efforts to study gun violence, pushing Sanders on this issue also makes sense. And when the candidates have been pushed, they’ve generally stepped up.
  4. Both candidates have avoided the personal mudslinging endemic to tight races (so far). The 2016 Republican primary race is a cesspool, with the frontrunner wielding a giant firehose that spews sewage. Racism, sexism, and personal attacks are the primary currency of that contest, and the biggest spender of that currency is winning. Sanders has refused to indulge right wing attacks on Clinton’s email use as Secretary of State. He has sidestepped personal attacks on Bill Clinton’s personal life, while his criticisms of Clinton’s integrity have been hazy and glancing. His supporters have been vicious toward Clinton, but generally peddle in fact not innuendo. Clinton’s surrogates have often matched or outdone Sanders’ backers vitriol. Primary elections are about flooding an opponent’s hull to learn whether there are any leaks. Going too easy on a candidate leaves him or her exposed in a general election, while indulging unfair attacks can inflict lasting damage. Thus far, this primary has tested both candidates’ weaknesses without weighing them down for the general election.
  5. The Democratic candidates aren’t damaging their party the way Republicans are.
    In a recent NBC/ Wall Street Journal poll, a substantial plurality of respondents said the GOP primary has damaged the party’s image by featuring its worst hucksters and clowns, as these polarizing figures gain more and more prominence. “In the poll, 42 percent of registered voters said the primary race has made them feel less favorable about the GOP, compared to just 19 percent who said they feel more favorable,” NBC’s Carrie Dann reported. “Thirty-eight percent said the brawl for the Republican nomination hasn’t changed their view of the party as a whole.” In the same poll, a majority of 54 percent said the Democratic primary hasn’t changed their view of the party at all.

What “Socialism” Means To Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton — And You

Once upon a time, socialists running for president in the United States had to explain that while they had no chance of actually winning an election, their campaigns were aimed at “educating” voters — about socialism.

As a successful politician twice elected to the U.S. Senate and showing very respectable numbers in most presidential primary polls, Bernie Sanders needs no such excuse. He assures voters that he is running to win and there is no reason to doubt him. But win or lose, his campaign nevertheless is proving highly educational for Americans perpetually perplexed by the meaning of “socialism.” Or as Sanders sometimes specifies, “democratic socialism,” or the even milder “social democracy.”

Since the advent of the Cold War and even before then, the multifarious meanings of the S-word were hidden behind the ideological and cultural defenses erected against communism. The Soviet dictatorship and its satellites claimed their authoritarian way was the only true socialism – and conservatives in the West seized that self-serving claim to crush arguments for social justice and progressive governance. American politicians of both parties embraced the blurring of socialism with communism.

But that narrow definition of socialism was always wrong. To accept it meant to ignore fundamental realities, both contemporary and historical – such as the bolstering of the Western alliance by European democracies that called themselves “socialist” or social democratic, all of which had adopted programs, such as universal health care, denounced by American politicians as steps on the road to Communist serfdom. Decades later, of course, those same countries – including all of Scandinavia, France, Germany, the United Kingdom – remain democratic, free, and open to enterprise.

As for the United States, Sanders might recall that this country once had a thriving Socialist Party, which elected mayors in cities like Milwaukee and even sent two of its leaders, Milwaukee’s Victor Berger and New York’s Meyer London, to Congress. Their movement enjoyed not only electoral victories but a strong record of municipal reform and reconstruction. They built sewers to clean up industry’s legacy of pollution; they built public housing; they ensured delivery of publicly owned, affordable water and power; and they cleaned up local government.

Between the triumph of the New Deal and the devastation of McCarthyism, the political space for American socialism virtually vanished. Before they were relegated to the margins, however, the socialists strongly influenced the direction of American social policy.

Long after the various socialist parties had faded, their heirs continued to serve as the nation’s most insistent advocates for reform and justice. Socialists (and yes, communists), were among the leading figures in the civil rights, labor, and women’s movements. It was a remarkable 1962 book by the late, great democratic socialist Michael Harrington, The Other America, that inspired President Kennedy and his brothers to draw attention to the continuing shame of poverty in the world’s richest nation. When Ronald Reagan warned in 1965 that Medicare was a hallmark of “socialism,” he wasn’t too far from the mark – except that 50 years later, the popular program has liberated older Americans, not enslaved them.

Now Bernie Sanders has taken up the old banner in a political atmosphere where more voters – and especially younger voters — are receptive to calm debate instead of hysterical redbaiting.

Certainly Hillary Clinton, whatever her view of Sanders’ ideology, understands social democracy: When her husband was president, the democratically elected socialist leaders of Western Europe were his closest international allies. In her first book, It Takes A Village, she highlighted many of the same social benefits in France, Germany, and the Scandinavian countries that Sanders advocates today.

So Clinton knows very well that “socialism,” as her primary rival uses that term, is no frighteningly alien worldview, but merely another set of ideas for organizing society to protect and uplift every human being.

It is long past time for the rest of the American electorate to learn that, too.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) takes part in a rally to preserve union pensions on Capitol Hill in Washington September 10, 2015. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts