Rise of the Bernie Beasts!


On November 7, 2000 I stepped into a Florida voting booth and pulled the lever for…dun dun duuuuun…

Ralph Nader! (Insert blood curdling scream here!)

That’s right. I said it. George W. Bush was all my fault!

At least that’s the claim of Democratic operatives. Yes, it’s likely that Nader pulled just as many votes from Bush as he did Gore. Yes, there were other people on the Florida ballot who could also be “blamed.” Yes, Gore actually won the popular vote but didn’t have the tenacity to use that fact to push for a full recount of Florida…a recount that he would, most likely, have won. The problem was me and my kind casting our votes for the spoiler candidate.

It was certainly not Al Gore’s fault for failing to actually earn my vote. As a left liberal, I am expected to vote for the Democrat because doing otherwise would result in…you know, that person…winning the election. And nobody wants that.

For my entire adult life Blue Dog Democrats and milquetoast progressives have used this paradigm in one form or another to attract left/progressive votes without actually having to offer left/progressive policies. Vote for Kerry because…W! Do you really want Sarah Palin to be one heart attack away from the presidency? You don’t want a Tea Party puppet like Romney in the White House, do you?

Now it Trump…TRUMP!

But the left is learning, albeit slowly, that there’s always a Trump, or a Palin, or a W or a Tea Party. Casting our votes out of fear rather than political strategy has not chance of paying off.

If Dr. Moreau’s monsters on the right are the result of Republicans feeding their base on hatred, anger and fear, then it is clear that we are seeing a slightly different breed of monster–I’m thinking Morlocks to sustain the theme–rising from the left. In this case, the monsters are the culmination of being starved by a Democratic Party that relies on their votes to survive politically but is unwilling to embrace once in office.

In essence, the Democrats use the fear of a right-wing leadership to coerce left-wing votes while offering watered down right-wing policies in order to attract conservative leaning independent voters. Consequently, the left gets, at best, crumbs from the table. Even after being central to electing America’s first black president, what was the result? A tepid regulatory bill on Wall Street while finance profits skyrocketed after the recession. No realistic relief for mortgage holders. The public option abandoned for health care reform that came mostly from the Heritage Foundation. Card Check abandoned. Guantanamo still open. Flying killer robot assassination programs. One of the least transparent administrations in U.S. history. Attacks against whistleblowers.

And no, this was not just a matter of Republican obstruction. Obama had a waterproof congress for his first two years and he frittered it away in what was clearly a vain attempt to cultivate bi-partisanship. In pursuit of that bi-partisan unicorn the first thing sacrificed was progressive goals. What significant progressive advances were made, most notably toward LGBTQ rights, were the result of tremendous mobilization and political expediency.

Now the Clinton campaign is demanding the very same deference from the left that her predecessors have received. Unfortunately for her, one can only starve beasts so long before they turn to eat the Eloi. So the Democratic Party is shocked…shocked…that Sanders supporters are not passively accepting the preferred nominee. Instead, the left is demanding that Hillary actually earn their vote. After all, hasn’t she made enough of a left turn in her campaign? Um…no…clearly she hasn’t.

Look, what was supposed to be a walk away campaign has turned into a struggle because, for the first time, progressives have a legitimate candidate to vote for in the primaries and are voting for him. Yes, Clinton is winning the popular vote. No, the Democratic Primaries are no more (nor less) corrupt than they’ve been for a generation. Yet, if it weren’t for the Super Delegates, this race would be much closer than it is. How many Democratic voters would be inclined to vote for Sanders if there wasn’t already a presumption of a Clintion victory resulting from the Super Delegates? I’ve not seen that particular question researched. So the Democratic Party does have a way to go before it is truly a democratic party. This is maddening to a resurgent left.

Regardless, Sanders supporters constitute 43% of the Democratic Primary vote. This is no paltry number. Many of these voters are young, representing a potential future of the Democratic Party unless that potential is squandered by status quo party politics. These activists are making it clear that they do not feel obligated to cast those votes for Clinton. So Clinton backers are whining that Sanders supporters are going to throw the election to Trump…TRUMP! of all people…Do you really want to see a President Trump.

No. But we also need to be fed. If the threat of a Trump victory makes the party open its arms and embrace progressive ideals then the ends might be worth it.

If Trump is elected. Hillary has only herself to blame. If she wants current Bernie supporters, or any left voter to pull the lever for her, then she needs to earn that privilege. The left is, quite correctly, communicating an unwillingness to play the same old Morelock game with the Eloi. We are also communicating, quite loudly, that we will not quietly roll over and allow the Democratic establishment to rub our bellies while they sell us down the river. We will bark! We will show our teeth! If this disrupts your little meetings, then so be it. After thirty years of being ignored, shouting is the only option.

That being said, monsters are monsters. Beasts are beasts. There’s a difference between being disruptive and being, well, monstrous. Vandalism and physical threats do nothing to advance the cause. Nor does blind loyalty. Bernie or Bust may be a great meme, but ideological passion must, eventually, give way to practical politics. We cannot expect Hillary to expend her energy and political capital in earning our votes if there is no avenue by which she can do so. Quite the opposite. Demands for ideological purity and mindless belligerence on our part will drive Clinton to swing right in the general election. If we expect her to earn our votes, we must make it possible for her to do so.

The left is, for the first time since the ascendance of the Democratic Leadership Council, in a position to make demands of the party. Many of us abandoned in the party because of Clinton triangulation in the 90’s (myself included, hence my Nader vote in 2000). Many of us spent years trying in vain to build a third party. We finally have a reason to come back to the Democratic Party. We cannot allow our hunger to succumb to our bestial instincts. Now is the time for negotiation, not feasting. On one hand, the Democratic establishment must create an inviting environment if they expect us to show up for the party. On the other hand, once we do show up, it is incumbant upon the left not to trash the place.


  1. I think you raise some good points here. There are also some points I disagree with. Chief among them is the conflation of political realism with nefarious design (or laziness). In order to get anything done the Democratic Party has to win elections at the state and local levels–usually in spaces deeply contested by Republicans. This is where the work of a political party is done, not at the national level. Looking for ways to push the politics of the party to the left is great and I’m all for that. But what you mistake for a cynical ploy–“vote for us because they will win otherwise”–is, I think, in reality less cynical than you make it out to be. I’ve supported Hillary since the beginning not because of ideology but because she’s the person who’s most qualified and would make the most effective President.

    I’m uncomfortable voting for an ideology–and most American voters are. The problem with ideological candidates is that they sometimes win, and then they have to work within the existing political machinery. Asking candidates like Clinton, Kerry and Gore to “earn your vote” through ideological purity is, in my view, seeing only half the picture. Why can’t a candidate earn your vote by being competent, experienced and likely to know how to navigate the halls of power as they really exist? That’s how candidates usually earn *my* vote. Ideology is a starting point, but only the beginning of an examination of whether they’re fit for office.


  2. Reading back over my comment it did not come out precisely the way I intended…my point about reality yielding to ideology is directed less at you (as it’s clear you make that exact point toward the end of your article) and more at the “Bernie Beasts” you rightly criticize. Blog comments are surprisingly tough to get right on the first try!


  3. Not at all. The point is that the Democratic Party has been largely dismissive of the left over the past forty years or so and yet needs the left to win elections. Instead of actually proposing policies the left likes, they whip up fear of the right wing to justify the votes. When some tepid left wing ideas do get floated, we know that they will be the first ideas abandoned regardless of how popular. The public option comes to mind. Remember when Democrats, with a veto proof Senate, decided to negotiate health care reform in a “bi-partisan” committee? American political parties are, in essence, coalition institutions. You can’t expect interest groups to remain in the coalition without getting something out of it. That’s why Dems get trounced in the midterms. Midterms are not as scary, so the left sees no reason to pull the lever for Dems. It’s a weak strategy. There was a time when the Dems played the Republican corporate game, but I think corporate America has figured that they really only need one party. If the Democrats want to survive, they will have to become democratic.


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