If You “Felt the Bern,” Then Hold Hillary’s Feet to the Fire

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We get it: Hillary Clinton is part of the 1% and Bernie Sanders is a sell-out. But the threat of Donald Trump presidency is something Bernie takes very seriously, and explains to a yuuuuge extent why he made his endorsement, and now. (Photo Credit: Ian Thomas Jansen-Lonquist/Bloomberg via Getty Images) 

Well, it finally happened. Bernie Sanders endorsed Hillary Clinton for president. I can’t say I’m surprised, though I am obviously sad that it’s officially over for his campaign, and a little disappointed that he did it this soon, not taking it all the way to the Democratic National Convention. After all, he had earned the right to stay in the race, and it would have given more meaning to the upcoming meeting in Philadelphia. Still, Bernie almost certainly saw the writing on the wall with respect to how the delegates would vote, and likely felt he had made as great a contribution to the official Democratic Party platform as he could. Logistically, there may not have been a better time to do it than Tuesday, July 12, 2016.

Many fellow Bernie Sanders supporters probably share my mix of emotions right now. There is bound to be grief, though after a primary season that saw a months-long uphill battle for the senator from Vermont, it may be muted to some extent. There is also likely residual anger at Hillary Clinton, Debbie Wasserman Schultz and other establishment Democrats for doing their part to make that battle all the more onerous for Sanders. Believe me, I feel it, especially when it comes to issues that failed to break Bernie’s way with respect to the platform, notably that of failing to oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

For a good percentage of Bernie backers, meanwhile, there is a sense of betrayal experienced with Sanders’ endorsement of Hillary Clinton, or “Shillary,” as some might prefer. For them, HRC represents everything that is wrong with today’s political system in America. Beyond Clinton’s identity as the first female to be a presidential nominee for a major party in United States history, I can’t say I’m all that enthusiastic myself. As far as I’m concerned, Hillary Clinton is lucky to have evaded a federal indictment, or if not lucky per se, then well-connected enough to make it possible, and she still might not be completely in the clear. To boot, Hillary and her delegates have only recently begun to embrace more progressive policy aspects, so as with any politician, the strength of her conviction is fodder for scrutiny, as perhaps it should be. In particular, her commitment to getting money out of politics—a rather hard sell if you note her big-ticket donations throughout the campaign and if you believe the rap about the Clinton Foundation’s sources and use of funds—is questionable, at best. Critics both inside and outside the Democratic Party may deride the “Never Hillary” crowd, but I can’t pretend like Clinton hasn’t, at least in part, invited their dislike.

Accordingly, for Bernie Sanders to back someone in Hillary Clinton that, for months he has campaigned against and whose pointed critiques have highlighted a number of her weaknesses as a candidate, is tantamount to a betrayal for some. In the immediate aftermath of the announcement from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Sanders was hit hard on social media, and by two notable figures from the presidential race. Because seemingly nothing can escape his asinine judgment as filtered through Twitter, Donald J. Trump saw fit to weigh in on the announcement:

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A note on a politician staying true to himself, coming from a man with a 2% True rating from PolitiFact. As always, in the world of political discourse, it’s not necessarily about saying what is true—it’s about saying it enough times that the more easily-led among voters believe it. Trump is clearly trying to make a bid for Bernie Sanders supporters, in particular, those who have an ax to grind against Clinton. In this respect, he might as well make a push for those prospective voters he hasn’t already alienated by insulting them.

Donald Trump’s pontification on everything from Common Core to taco bowls is nothing new, and speaking to Sanders supporters from across the ideological divide on a number of topics, he may not have the right stuff in terms of the issues to authentically appeal to them. Though, then again, in their idealistic indignation, the “Bernie or Bust” crowd may not be willing to see reason—or in Trump’s case, the absence of reason. In the case of Dr. Jill Stein, however, whose system of values as the leader of the Green Party in the U.S. hits closer to true progressivism than “the Donald” ever could, the commentary hits that much harder. Stein, who has reached out to Bernie Sanders over the years in trying to foster a political movement outside of the two-party system, broke the news to her supporters with an appropriate use of emoji. Nice touch, Dr. Stein!

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This Tweet, while timely and age-appropriate, at least as far as millennials are concerned, doesn’t tell us much, though. In the Tweet storm to follow, however, Jill Stein would make her position abundantly clear. Here are a few choice excerpts:

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On the first count, um, yeah, the Democratic Party should “feel the Bern.” As much as Bernie points to areas where he and Hillary align on the issues, when Hillary’s authenticity is a cause of some skepticism among voters—and increasingly so outside Democratic ranks—it will be a hard sell to someone who finds the Clintons singularly loathsome that she will honor the commitments the party has made within its official platform. On the second count, Dr. Stein’s argument is a little bit of a simplification, though I think it’s fair to concede that Bill Clinton’s enjoyment of a robust economy during his tenure as President of the United States was largely outside of his influence, and what’s more, the deregulation of financial markets and provisions for businesses that spurred them to seek short-term gains marking that tenure did help pave the way to the kind of collapse experienced during the Great Recession. And on the third count, after Bernie dared voters to demand sweeping change now, and his more influential supporters talked him up as a “once-in-a-lifetime” candidate, Jill Stein does strike a nerve with voters who are tired of settling. I don’t care if you’re 25 or 75—the trope about “the lesser of two evils” is a long-standing frustration for Americans across the political spectrum. How else to explain the rise of hopefuls like Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump? Or even, for that matter, the knowledge of the existence of Gary Johnson as the Libertarian Party candidate?

For Sanders supporters who seek a non-Clintonian option this November and who recognize that Donald Trump is a man-baby with small hands and no real plan for how to “fix” the country, the words of the face of the American Green Party carry definite weight. In an election led by two highly unpopular candidates in “Crooked Hillary” and “Sleazy Donald,” candidates like Johnson and Stein might make a difference among voters who feel the Democrats and Republicans collectively have let their constituents down. Then again, heck, some Bernie supporters might just wish to stick it to the establishment and vote Trump to blow the whole system up! Down with the status quo! It’s a revolution! Susan Sarandon, are you with us?!?

Younger, more impressionable voters and haughty “Hillbot” Democrats alike may not fear Donald Trump, but Elizabeth Warren certainly took her relative influence within the Democratic Party and the threat of a Trump presidency seriously enough that she endorsed Hillary Clinton seemingly quickly alongside Barack Obama and Joe Biden. That Bernie Sanders would suspend his campaign and do the same before the Democratic National Convention perhaps indicates that he felt similarly about what Trump in the Oval Office could mean for the country. In addition to working to make the Democratic Party a more progressive party and inspiring tomorrow’s leaders to become more involved in public service, Sanders has emphasized the need to defeat Donald Trump badly in November and avoid the “disaster” to which he believes a Trump presidency would equate. There’s a clear personal dimension to Bernie’s repudiation of “the Donald,” too, which gives an additional, salient context to his denunciation. In the Democratic debate in Flint, Michigan, Bernie Sanders had this to say about Donald Trump’s brand of rhetoric:

I am very proud to be Jewish, and being Jewish is so much of what I am. Look, my father’s family was wiped out by Hitler in the Holocaust. I know about what crazy and radical, and extremist politics mean.

Time and again, the pundits of the world have downplayed the Trump-Hitler comparison, but with notions existing of Donald Trump as a demagogue who plays fast and loose with Nazi symbolism, the parallels are not as extreme as one might expect. Given Trump’s lingering support among voters in spite of his initial apparent improbability to become his party’s nominee, Bernie Sanders sees the importance of making a stand against the “madman from Manhattan,” as I like to call him. Thinking in these terms, Bernie probably felt as if he had no choice at all but to endorse Hillary in the name of a unified front.

In a lengthy message to his supporters entitled “Forever forward,” Bernie Sanders readily acknowledged the anticipated backlash from his endorsement of Hillary Clinton, but once more hammered home the immediate goal of the Democratic Party. From the letter:

To have all of the work we have done in elevating our progressive ideals be dashed away by a complete Republican takeover of Washington – a takeover headed by a candidate that demonizes Latinos, Muslims, women, African Americans, veterans, and others – would be unthinkable.

Today, I endorsed Hillary Clinton to be our next president. I know that some of you will be disappointed with that decision. But I believe that, at this moment, our country, our values, and our common vision for a transformed America, are best served by the defeat of Donald Trump and the election of Hillary Clinton.

For all you suddenly disillusioned Bernie Sanders supporters, feel free to vote Green or Libertarian. I can’t stop you, and at least you’ll be voting for a candidate rather than against one. Or don’t vote at all. I mean, it would be a waste of effort to follow the presidential race up to this point and forsake this privilege, but it’s your prerogative. Don’t vote Donald Trump, though. Simply put, he doesn’t deserve your vote. And don’t denigrate Bernie for ending his campaign in this way. I get it—it hurts. Well, it’s supposed to. When you like someone and it doesn’t work out, it sucks. It’s no different with politics. Bernie made us passionate about this race. We put ourselves out there. We made ourselves vulnerable. Shit, we gave money to the Bernie Sanders campaign! This doesn’t mean it was all for nothing, though. So, for you crushed revolutionaries asking for your money back and labeling Bernie Sanders a sell-out, understand that your support was always a gamble, and besides, if Bernie hadn’t aroused such fervent dedication, you probably wouldn’t have given half a shit anyway. Not merely to be an apologist, but from where I stand, you should be thanking him, not demonizing him.

When it comes down to it, I think the anger and frustration felt by many Sanders supporters are misplaced remnants of a personal devotion to their chosen candidate and, maybe even more so, a rejection of what Hillary Clinton represents to them. That fire, used constructively, meanwhile, is not a bad thing. As Bernie himself communicates, his campaign was not merely about him, but about starting a political revolution. In this respect, his endorsement is not an end, bur rather a beginning. Furthermore, if you have been in Bernie Sanders’ corner and you really do seek to scrutinize Hillary Clinton and hold her accountable, make sure she stands by her campaign promises. As stated, keeping Donald Trump out of office is the first step, but the real heavy lifting comes in the months and years after. If you feel or have “felt the Bern,” prepare to hold Hillary’s feet to the fire. Washington needs to work for the American people, and it’s our job to ensure they do.

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