In Defense of Bernie Sanders: Why a Third Party Won’t Work and Why the Democrats Must Be Transformed
Quick preface: I actually supported a third party at one time; now I am against the idea. Below are my reasons why.
I am an absolutely rabid and loyal Jimmy Dore fan. In a recent Premium Podcast from him that was headlined “Bernie flip flops on third party,” Jimmy played clips from Bernie Sanders in the 90’s [pro third party, against working within the Democratic Party] and today [wanting to “reform the Democratic Party”].
The difference was striking, and indeed Bernie seems to now be professing the exact opposite of what he was saying in the 90’s. Jimmy asked repeatedly, “what has changed? What does Bernie know now that he didn’t know then?”
This started me thinking: what had happened in the interim to change Bernie’s mind? I hit upon some answers: (1) Barack Obama and (2) the 2016 Election
Let me explain.
Third party fans like Jimmy Dore and Nick Brana insist that a third party can be viable if it has at its head Bernie Sanders, “the most popular politician in America.” Virtually every plan to make a third party a true force in American politics is predicated in some way on leveraging the fame and popularity of Senator Sanders. Many also name Nina Turner, Tulsi Gabbard, Elizabeth Warren and others, but the headliner is always Bernie.
I believe Bernie has been soured on the third party idea for several reasons, but one primary argument must include the experience of Barack Obama, who was at one time himself the most popular politician in America. I, along with many other Americans in 2008 had imbued Obama with our hopes and aspirations; Obama became the vessel that contained our combined yearning and optimism for “change.”
And as we all know, that change never came, and the progress that Obama was able to achieve in 8 years of Executive Orders and legislative compromise (such as it was) has now all been undone in less than 2.
Many might argue that the situation with Bernie is different, that there are many “Berniecrats” running for office, but remember that Barack Obama had also urged young people to “get involved” and “run for something.” Obama also had a huge social media following and he also had an email list that made the DNC drool. He was also was revered if not worshiped by liberals, progressives and young people. But remember what happened: that progressive wave was dissipated when it struck the rocky shores of the Democratic Establishment.
I know, I know — you say Obama was never a real Progressive. I know that he said he was a DLC “New Democrat” and that he considered himself to be a “moderate Republican” (same thing BTW). And yes, I know Bernie is different, and is a committed Progressive and Democratic Socialist.
But Bernie is STILL only one man. And not a very young man either.
We can argue til the cows come home whether Obama entered office as a moderate centrist or not. We can debate whether he was just straight up lying throughout his whole 2008 campaign when he promised to march with unions, fight for a public option, make the Wall Street bankers pay, and so on, but as someone once said, “what difference does it make?” Maybe he was lying, maybe he wasn’t. It doesn’t really matter. What matters is that he never had any real support within the Democratic Party and the DC elites to do those things, and there was never any real Progressive push to force him to do those things.
2016 Proved it: The Dems hate Progressives more than the GOP
The conservative “Blue Dog Coalition” is a formidable force within the Democratic Party: unified, with spines of steel and jaws of stone. They vote as a block, think as a block and act as a block. They are 100% block-headed. They see themselves as the conservative backbone of the Democratic caucus, ready to heed William F. Buckley’s words and “stand athwart history, yelling Stop.” They vigorously and gleefully oppose anything that even smacks of Progressivism.
By contrast, the so-called “Congressional Progressive Caucus” (CPC) is the proverbial herd of cats. They never vote in a block, they have a wide range of beliefs, and those who join do so just so they can attach that bona fide to their name. They are more like Phil Ochs’ Liberals: “10 percent left of center in the good times, 10% right of center when it affects them personally.”
So even if Bernie Sanders DID win the Presidency as a third party candidate, there would be no institutional support for him or his programs, and you can bet your bottom dollar that the Democrats and the Republicans would conspire against a President Sanders to ensure that he got nothing done. The result would be a one-term President who would be viewed as a failure (remember Jimmy Carter?) and the possibility of a populist, progressive revolution would be set back for a generation.
The corporate and wealthy donors who give to both parties will be thankful to keep their tax breaks and their influence …
The Lobbyists, Consultants and Party apparatchiks that infest the DC Metro area will be thankful to keep their jobs …
And Democratic Socialism will become a blip, a speed bump, a footnote in the annals of neoliberal American political history.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
Transforming the Democratic Party
In case you hadn’t noticed, there is a civil war raging within the Democratic Party. This war pits FDR “New Deal” Democrats like Bernie and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez against the Reaganite “Neoliberal” Democrats of Clinton and Obama. This war is real, and it needs to be won. Electing a Democratic Socialist President will do ZERO GOOD if there is not a Democratic Socialist Congress and political power structure to support him.
Think of it this way: every time Bernie says we need to “transform” the Democratic Party, what he really means is that we must “destroy” and “defeat” the Democratic Party.
We cannot defeat this enemy by running away or trying to blackmail them or force their hand by threatening to make them lose elections by running third party “spoilers.”
THEY DON’T CARE ABOUT LOSING.
Jimmy Dore and others are fond of saying that the Democrats would rather lose to Republicans than win with Progressives. This is demonstrably true.
In 2016, the Democrats chose the most disliked politician in US history to be their candidate, insisting all along that she was more “electable” than Bernie Sanders. They knew this was false, but they could not take a chance on letting a Democratic Socialist become the leader of the Democratic Party. They sabotaged him in the Primary and proceeded to gamble on Hillary in the General.
They lost, but I have YET to hear one establishment Democrat or anyone in the mainstream media even suggest that Bernie might have been the better candidate. It is considered blasphemy.
Why, then, should think we can influence them by threatening to make them lose elections?
Having Trump in the White House and the GOP running Congress is a great fundraiser. Democrats don’t fire consultants and staff when they lose. If anything, they hire more. The gravy train runs on, unabated.
So trying to defeat the Democratic Party by creating a third party to “steal” votes from them is simply a bad idea. The corporatist Dems are like cockroaches, impossible to kill. As long as there is a Military Industrial Complex, as long as there is Big Pharma and Big Ag and the Prison Industrial Complex, there will be a Democratic Party to do their bidding and accept all their money.
Running a third party might force the donors to give more money than they normally would, but that is also a PLUS for the grifting Democrats and their coteries of staff, pollsters and consultants.
And in a general election, where you get a lot of “low information” voters participating, the endorsements, TV advertisements and PAC money that the Democrats can bring to bear will make sure that they win in most cases anyway.
But if they lose, so what? They will simply spend more next cycle. Establishment Democrats don’t have to worry about the enthusiasm of Corporate America for deregulation to abate, or their thirst for profits to subside.
Corporate lobbyists will not find something else to do. They will redouble their efforts, along with their T&E budgets. Everybody wins.
And in the meantime the Establishment Elite will do everything they can through political chicanery and the fact that Democrats still have their hands on the levers of power in DC and in the Media to crush any sort of third party legislative initiatives.
NO — the only way to win is to defeat and destroy the Democratic Party as it currently exists. Starting a third party means you will take on the combined might, power and wealth of BOTH neoliberal corporate parties at once, and that is an impossible task.
Cenk Uygur is right: for Progressives, Primary elections are much more important that general elections. We cannot move forward unless we beat the corporatists in the Primaries. There at least we have a chance. District by District, Statehouse by Statehouse, we need to push the corporatists out. Only then can we actually effect change on a national level.
Electing a President Sanders without the down-ballot support he needs runs the distinct risk of repeating the Obama phenomenon and putting the Left to sleep again. No, we need to build an army from the trenches on up, one that will not go home until the war is over and Progressives have emerged victorious.
This is a life and death struggle, folks. It is a civil war that needs to be won, and sitting it out in favour of a third party is NOT an option.