Bernie Sanders and Why "The Kids are Alright" . . . for now, by Jordan Walsh

 

Bernie Sanders is going to lose the Democratic nomination to Hillary Rodham Clinton. Yes, really, he is. And that won’t be because the system is rigged—it will be because millions more (yes, millions, plural) actual people have voted for her, and will vote for her, than for him, in said primary. That, however, doesn’t mean the system isn’t rigged—a favorite euphemism of Sen. Sanders’ supporters—it most certainly is rigged. That both of these statements can be, and more, are factually true is partially why so many Democrats have been talking past each other all Winter, and now continue to do so into the Spring.

New York, a closed-registration, full primary-not-just-caucus state, with a large non-‘white’ population, is likely to be the official at-least-in-hindsight end of the subway line for Sanders, no matter how long he [fairly] keeps his campaign engines running after April 19. Not one poll has as yet found the former Senator from New York dropping below an absolute nadir of 53% in support–and even that tally is being called a low outlier. If 2016 primary trends hold, it is likely that Hillary Clinton will win New York by upwards of 10 percentage points, if not 15% or more. In the Democratic Party’s equal apportionment system, only victories of upwards of 10% garner the winning candidate any noticeably larger share of that state’s available delegates. Senator Sanders would have to average wins of 60% percent plus of the popular vote in every state left in the race to catch Secretary Clinton in delegates. Given that he is out of caucuses, which have been his campaign’s bread and butter, that is almost prohibitively unlikely.

For context, Secretary Clinton currently maintains a 251 lead in pledged delegates alone (i.e. excluding any super delegates); the largest lead then-Sen. Obama ever held over then-Sen. Clinton barely tipped 100 delegates, and that was before she beat him in the New York primary. What’s worse for Sen. Sanders is that the delegate count actually makes the race appear even closer than the popular vote, where she is trouncing him by nearly 2.5 million actual votes. The media may be ignoring these statistics in favor of intangible factors such as “momentum,” but that is merely because a horse race is better for their ratings than math. The reality of 2016 should be starting to set in for Sanders’ supporters, but truly, that reality isn’t really all that bad for the hundreds of thousands of millennials, aged 18-29, of all races and creeds, who have opted into our political system in the past year because of Sen. Sanders’ campaign. In fact, it is, and can continue to be quite good, for millennials and for America at large, provided they heed the mistakes of the baby boomer generation and instead, opt to stay involved in both politics and in civics, in the wake of Sen. Sanders’ campaign.

Millennial support for Senator Sanders isn’t the first example of millennials opting to engage in our national discourse in a collective way. The Black Lives Matter Movement; the collectivist fight for proper high school, university, and societal responses to the epidemic of campus sex assault; and even to some extent, Occupy Wall Street protests have all been examples of millennial-led, change-driven movements. And leading change they are. Whether they are voting for Hillary Rodham Clinton in the primary or not, she is listening to them. And so is the Democratic Party. HRC’s platform is across-the-board, the most objectively progressive platform put forth by a Democratic front-runner in decades, if not ever, particularly on so-called women’s and children’s issues that most directly affect child poverty, including equal pay, child-care, reproductive health, and paid family leave. On the issue of stemming our nation’s gun violence epidemic, she is even noticeably to the left of Senator Sanders, having openly taken the NRA and gun dealers to task for continuing to sacrifice American lives at the altar of their hyper-capitalist greed. Moreover, while Sen. Clinton unadvisedly attempted to run as a self-described moderate in 2008, she has never truly been one. Her husband was, and she defended his policies while First Lady, yes, but not she herself. Her voting record in her 8 years as the Senator from New York—save the often thought to be determinative Iraq war vote—was to the left of then-Senator Obama in 2008, and is still to the left of most Democrats today.

On the historical facts, HRC’s progressive bona fides should not be in question. Both Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton worked and campaigned for then-Sen. George McGovern, the 1972 Democratic nominee, and the man who is thought by many to be the father of the modern left. The problem with McGovern’s 1972 nomination for progressives (and as to his anointing as the father of any political movement) is that it came out of a fractured Convention and resulted in a fractured constituency, which not only led to the re-election of Richard Nixon, but also badly damaged the Democratic Party in national elections for two decades. As bad as 1972 was for the left, the seeds of the Democrats’ 1972 failure were sewn in 1968, when in the middle of a still-contested primary, Democratic progressive establishment favorite Robert Kennedy was assassinated prior to the California primary.

Robert Kennedy’s chief progressive competition in 1968 came from the anti-war Eugene McCarthy, governor of Minnesota, and a favorite of college-aged voters, including then 21-year-old Hillary Rodham, who volunteered for him. That a self-described progressive like Robert Kennedy was having a hard time with younger voters in 1968 is eerily reminiscent of HRC in 2016. He too was a relative of a former President (although like Clinton, of the same generation, thus not truly dynastic as the Bushes and Harrisons); he had been part of an Administration (as Attorney General) during the preceding uninterrupted eight years of Democratic control. Both Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, while making progress on civil rights and entitlements, had also failed to deliver fully on either the complete change of the domestic status quo, or the dovish foreign policy overwhelmingly favored by younger, draft-aged Americans. Whether it was the Cold War or Vietnam, the ideological foreign policy compromises made by both JFK and LBJ while in office were such that young progressives in 1968 could be forgiven for needing time to warm up to so-called establishment Democrats with familiar last names, even popular ones.

Still, while it is believed that Kennedy, who was leading the popular vote, could have united the Party, and winning the California primary as he was expected to do would have likely tipped the nomination for him, Kennedy was not the actual delegate leader at the time of his death. LBJ’s Vice President, Hubert Humphrey, was. Humphrey, seen as the centrist, pro-Vietnam war candidate, likely aware of the unpopularity of his foreign policy with progressive voters, had not submitted his name for candidacy in any primary election states, instead choosing to rack up delegates only in caucus states, where party leaders had much greater control of the outcome. With the deceased Kennedy’s delegates unpledged at the ’68 Convention, Humphrey was able to secure a brokered victory over McCarthy despite the fact that Humphrey had failed to run in even one actual primary election. The Democratic Party and its nominee’s failure to adapt the platform to fit the needs and wants of its younger voters was a major part of the failure of the 1968 election. Fully 80% of Democrats had voted for candidates who opposed the Vietnam War in the primary, yet the nominee was pro-war Humphrey, nonetheless.

So spurned, the progressive movement simply never regained cohesiveness of message, and the 1972 Democratic convention was a highly factionalized one that featured thirteen candidates garnering delegates, including the feminist candidate–the first woman to garner delegates in a run for President–Shirley Chisholm. (Regrettably, one of those thirteen was also segregationist George Wallace, although the nomination of McGovern is said to have been the final death knell of the Dixiecrats).

Although McGovern did manage a majority to become the nominee, he never managed to unite the oft-competing factions of the Democratic Party behind him, and he lost in a landslide to the Republican President Nixon. Again, despite now having an economically progressive, dovish nominee, the Democratic Party’s failure to adapt its platform to respond to the needs of its voters—this time feminists—was a major failure of 1972. For all his progressive touting, McGovern failed to include reproductive rights or a statement of homosexual rights in the party’s platform, partially due to his own personal beliefs. More, his grassroots campaign and promise of an expanded and race-blind welfare state riled many Southern Democrats, who also balked. By some accounts the Republican, but pro-choice incumbent Nixon was able to garner as many as one in three registered Democratic votes in the 1972 general election. One of the leaders of the Southern Democrats’ “not McGovern” movement credited with fracturing McGovern’s support nationally was 1976 nominee President Jimmy Carter. Carter was, of course, the Democratic party’s one-and-only nominee who was successfully elected President between LBJ in 1964 and President William J. Clinton in 1992. More, it took the Watergate Scandal for even that one Democratic win to occur, and Carter himself was ousted after a tumultuous one term, ushering in the so-called Reagan revolution and the ensuing three decades of austerity at both the federal and state levels.

And now nearly a half-century later, those same baby boomer feminists, now middle-aged or seniors, as well as Generation-X and older millennial feminists in their thirties and forties, must be ready to forgive younger millennials for not being ready to embrace HRC quite yet. Much like in 1968, we have had eight years of a Democratic president, probably the only one they have known in their adult lives, and yet, these millennials have not seen the effects of such a so-called progressive agenda trickle down to their pockets. More, the dovish and unabashedly hopeful foreign policies espoused by candidates such as then-Sen. Obama in 2008 never seem to be effectuated once in office. The oldest of the 18-29 year olds were likely able to vote for the inspirational then-Senator Obama in 2008, but vote for John Kerry or Al Gore, even if they weren’t all that inspiring—because the alternative was Pres. George W. Bush and Dick Cheney—they never had to do. Even more, these 18-29 year olds view the President Bill Clinton years not through the lens of the preceding twelve years of austere Reaganomics and “Southern strategy” dog-whistle politics, as those of us who were alive/voting then do; but, instead through the hindsight lens of how far we as a nation have come in understanding systematic racism, sexism, and bigotry since 1992. And, that is a good thing. It is, in fact, progress.

That the 74-yr old Sen. Sanders—who by most reasonable accounts is woefully under-prepared as to specifics of “how” he will effectuate his lofty and laudable policy goals—is not the vehicle for their revolution should deter millennials not. Having great ideas is not the same thing as being great at implementation. However, he is, and can be, a great catalyst, just as RFK, Eugene McCarthy or George McGovern before him could have been if only young baby boomers at the time had stayed engaged collectively, and at the local level, consistently pressing for progressive change in the ensuing years. Instead, they opted out of a collectivist, civic-duty-based approach to solving our nation’s problems, and it sadly ushered in an era of hyper-individualism, which indeed gave birth to the hyper-capitalism that still ails us. I hope millennials don’t make the same mistake. This is their country, and their time to shape its future is just dawning.

The Democratic Party is not ignoring them this time around, nor taking their votes for granted. The Platform that will be presented to voters at the 2016 Democratic Convention will be the most progressive and youth-driven platform ever offered by a major political party in the history of the United States. Let’s hope millennials respond by supporting it, down-ballot Democrats, and Secretary Clinton in November, even if, for now at least, in the primary they are understandably not quite ‘With Her’. Because in reality, then and only then, can the counter-revolution, undoing the nearly forty years of trickle-down economics, “Southern Strategy” driven institutionalized racism, and state-sanctioned religious discrimination against women and LGBTQI Americans, truly begin in earnest. The revolution will not be televised, and, more importantly it will not occur via only one election. Despite not getting their candidate on the top of the Party’s ticket this time around, millennials’ ideas and concerns will most certainly be there, front and center, on the Democratic Party Platform. Baby boomers and Gen X are listening on the issues, even if our experience leads us to a different conclusion on how to effectuate policy. Secretary’s Clinton’s willingness to delve into, discuss, and embrace new ideas and solutions doesn’t make her a flip-flopper, in reality, it makes her a true progressive.

Progress is also, of course, a verb. Progress is a doing thing too, not merely a noun designed to be subjected to some litmus or purity test. One need only look to where decades of such litmus test politics have landed the Republican Party for confirmation of this fact, too. If progressive millennials want this federalist nation to truly be their America, and to reflect their progressive values, they must reject the defeatism and factionalizing of the 1970s Democrats, and stay engaged not only in 2016, but in 2018, 2020, and beyond. The Democratic Party as a whole, and its eventual 2016 nominee, are listening, and are ready to embrace millennial power and ideals. The political revolution is happening—it is just incremental in nature—and millennials can’t abandon the battlefield before it is complete. To be blunt: millennials must reject the urge to tune out or drop out of politics, and of their belief in collective action. The revolution isn’t made up of one candidate, the revolution is the implementation of progressive ideas into progressive government policy over time. Missing this distinction was the baby boomers’ biggest mistake, and 99% of us are still paying for it. Millennials simply can’t repeat it, for America’s sake.

 

 

Picture Credit: By Michael Vadon (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ASenator_of_Vermont_Bernie_Sanders_at_Derry_Town_Hall%2C_Pinkerton_Academy_NH_October_30th%2C_2015_by_Michael_Vadon_02.jpg

JordanWalsh