The Problem With Bernie or Bust
I’ve been writing this in my head over the past week, but I was trying to wait until the primaries were over before I actually sat down and composed it. And now it’s started keeping me up at night. I think of something I want to add to it and I’ll grab my phone from the bedside table to jot it down in my Notes app. Sometimes I’ll look back at it the next day and only half of it makes sense. Yesterday’s note read, “millennial angst vs centennial Spanx, SO FUNNY.” That was actually an unrelated topic from a weird half-dream, along with a helpful all-caps note letting me know that it was really amusing. But the actual political piece that’s been building up in me? I don’t think I can hold it in until primaries are over. I need to put it out there or it will burst forth from me like Athena from Zeus’s head. Or possibly like a chestburster from a space colonist’s torso. Either way, it sounds gross and painful. So I’m doing this now so that I can move on. And maybe get some sleep.
It’s about Bernie Sanders supporters. But, quick caveat, it’s not about all Bernie supporters. It’s about a specific type, which will become apparent shortly. If you know me and you’re a Bernie supporter — this is not about you specifically. It’s about an overall collective that I’m seeing increasingly online. Also, I’m a Bernie Sanders fan, so this isn’t an attack on the candidate himself.
Dear Bernie supporters,
Hey! Exciting Super Tuesday, right? Bernie won four states! He sang This Land Is Your Land in Vermont! Ben Folds was there! Maybe Ben & Jerry were too? Lots of Vermont Bens feeling the Bern!
Bernie’s campaign has been pretty inspiring and I like his overall platform and record. I think some of the actual details of what his proposals would entail have been glossed over — the realities of what a single-payer healthcare program in a country this large might be like, and some of the effects if public colleges were to become tuition-free — but hopefully more details will be forthcoming as the campaign progresses. I’m also concerned about his records on guns, but his stance seems to be shifting. And hey, the important thing in the end is to get a Democrat in the White House, even if your preferred candidate doesn’t win the nomination. Right?
Ruh-roh. We need to talk about “Bernie or Bust.”
Bernie or Bust, which I’m seeing hashtagged all over the Internet lately, is a way of saying that you will not vote for Hillary if she wins the nomination. Maybe you’ll vote for Jill Stein with the Green Party. Maybe you just won’t vote. I’ve even seen some say they’d vote for the Republican candidate. Either way? It means that if Bernie isn’t the Democratic nominee, you will no longer use your vote to help keep the Republicans from taking the White House.
And Bernie or Bust is BANANAS.
I’ve seen some Bernie or Bust folks state that they’re not Democrats anyway, so there’s no reason they should vote along party lines. But I call bullshit. Because if your values are truly so closely aligned with Bernie’s — then there’s no way you can want a right-wing, Republican-run America. If you do — if your second choice after Bernie actually is a Trump or a Cruz — then you are the most special snowflake of all the snowflakes and I don’t get you. But I think most passionate Bernie supporters aren’t like that. If you believe so strongly in Bernie’s platform, then you should want a Democrat in the White House rather than a Republican (just like Bernie does). The problem is, you’ve become so caught up in Bernie-mania and Hillary-hating that many of you are now saying if it can’t be him in the White House, you’ll make a statement vote instead.
And I get that due to the electoral college, a statement vote isn’t as likely to ambush the Democratic nominee unless you actually live in a swing state. But the Bernie or Bust movement doesn’t seem to be limited only to red states. And not all red or blue states are as hardcore red or blue as others. So if enough of you follow through on the Bernie or Bust threat, I’m afraid there is real potential to hand the election to a Republican. And with that in mind, going scorched Earth with this Bernie or Bust thing is like farting in a car on a road rip. It might make you feel better in the moment, but the aftermath is that everyone around you suffers.
Opting for a statement vote that could punt the presidency to the GOP, especially in this election, seems morally reprehensible to me. The cultural and political climate of our country for decades can be greatly affected by this election. There’s already a Supreme Court vacancy that likely won’t be filled until after the election, due to GOP obstructionism. Scalia’s the only justice to shuffle off this mortal coil so far during this election season. He was 79. But three other current justices are in their late 70s or early 80s. There will likely be more vacancies within the next 4–8 years. Several of the younger justices already lean moderate to conservative. It could be very easy for us to end up with a very conservative Supreme Court if Republicans take this election.
If that happens? Legal recognition of my marriage is at risk. Voter rights are at risk. Anti-discrimination laws are at risk. Environmental protection is at risk. Roe v Wade is at risk. Please don’t pretend those things don’t matter just because you don’t like HRC and the establishment. And the repercussions from this election extend far beyond just one or two presidential terms. Supreme Court appointments are lifetime appointments; meaning, potentially decades of repercussions if you throw away your vote.
So let’s stop pretending you’re somehow helping if you choose to throw away your vote. And if you know you’re not helping and you just don’t care, then stop pretending any of this is about morality and principles.
Which brings me to another troubling aspect of Bernie or Bust. When you explain it, sometimes that’s done with such an air of self-righteousness. As if you couldn’t conceivably lower yourself to vote for Hillary because you and Bernie are such paragons of virtue. But looking at the behavior of so many Bernie or Busters, I feel like your demands for moral purity at all times are hypocritical and inconsistent.
For example, Hillary is often criticized for stating in 2004 that marriage should be between a man and a woman. I don’t love that she said it. But she has a different stance now. Yet that 2004 statement is brought up as if it is perpetually damning, while Bernie gets talked up as a lifelong crusader for LGBT rights. And yes, his track record is better than Hillary’s. But it’s not perfect, either. They’ve both evolved on the issue. Yet Hillary’s changed stance is labeled flip-flopping and political opportunism, while Bernie’s evolving views are glossed over or completely ignored.
Additionally, when Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard quit the DNC to endorse Bernie Sanders, she was treated like a superhero by Bernie supporters. Some are saying that she should be his running mate. But she was adamantly opposed to LGBT rights in 2004 and even referred to gay activists as “homosexual extremists.” Her views have greatly changed since then. Which is great! She seems pretty cool. But shouldn’t you be questioning her credibility with #whichGabbi hashtags, given that her stance in 2004 was even more anti-LGBT than Hillary’s?
Much of the vitriol directed toward Hillary by the left seems steeped in the same distortions and propaganda that have been slung at her for decades by the right. Bernie supporters end up sharing memes that use Fox News talking points, just dressed up in anti-establishment drag.
I saw a Bernie meme yesterday that straight-up said Hillary voted against the Civil Rights Act. An act passed in 1964. Before she was even old enough to vote. (I know — she campaigned for Barry Goldwater. That’s true, but it’s still misleading.)
This brings up another example of Bernie supporters adhering to a false and unrealistic demand for mural purity — circulating a picture of Bernie being arrested during a civil rights protest in the 60s paired with a picture of young Hillary campaigning for Goldwater. As if that sort of gotcha! style compare/contrast really means very much. First of all, you’re comparing the actions of a 16-year-old high school student to a 20-something college student. That alone seems lopsided.
And while Bernie’s taking part in the civil rights movement in his 20s is admirable, I’m sure he didn’t do it for bragging rights during an election decades later. Lots of people attended the March on Washington. But that’s mentioned to build up Bernie a thousand times by the same people who act as if Hillary’s never done anything to help advance civil rights. Her “superpredator” quote? Not one of her shining moments. Her record is not perfect. But if you want to also dig so far back as to use her political affiliations in the 60s against her, then let’s not ignore that she went undercover as a law student in the 70s to help expose racial discrimination in Southern private schools. That’s the problem with memes — they often oversimplify and blur the truth. And spreading that sort of meme is not reflective of this pristine moral standpoint you claim to be bound to when you say you could never bring yourself to vote for Hillary.
One more thing about the constant props you give to Bernie for things he did in the 60s, while damning Hillary for things she did as a teenager. When you show pictures of his arrest in the 60s at a civil rights protest, I never see it mentioned that about 10 years later he was the author of a rape fantasy essay. In it Bernie wrote, ”A man goes home and masturbates his typical fantasy. A woman on her knees, a woman tied up, a woman abused.
A woman enjoys intercourse with her man — as she fantasizes being raped by 3 men simultaneously.”
It also contained this gem: “Do you know why the newspaper with the articles like ‘Girl 12 raped by 14 men’ sell so well? To what in us are they appealing?”
There’s a larger context to the essay (it was about gender roles in the 70s), and I don’t think it’s very relevant to a presidential campaign in 2016. But it does creep me out a bit that he wrote it. More so than teenage Hillary campaigning for Barry Goldwater does. And if every single thing Hillary has said or done throughout her lifetime has equal weight minus any consideration for context or time period, then Bernie’s rape fantasy essay from the 70s should be an issue, right? But it doesn’t seem to be. If Hillary (or Bill) had written that, we would be smothered in memes about it from the Bernie camp. But you easily ignore Bernie’s rape fantasies, at the same time as you gleefully pillory Hillary for a campaign she participated in as a teenager.
Side note: if there isn’t already a children’s book called Gleefully Pillory Hillary, then I’m writing one after this.
I feel that Bernie’s civil rights record is strong, but not unmarred. His constant refrain is that it will take a political revolution to bring about his goals, particularly the goals that are more socialist in nature. Some of them are very divisive goals, but he doesn’t shy away from pursuing them. Why then did he say in 2006 that a battle for same-sex marriage would be “too divisive”? Why did he say more recently that he’s not in support of reparations for slavery because that would be too divisive and would never pass in Congress? He calls for political revolution to support the issues that are most important to him, but he’s suddenly a pragmatist when it comes to issues that he doesn’t feel as passionate about — and those issues, at least at times, seem to be certain types of civil rights issues.
The same with past votes on gun control. He supported the Charleston loophole that possibly helped Dylan Roof kill nine people last summer. Bernie’s campaign manager said he’d supported the loophole in part to satisfy his constituents. (Vermont? Apparently big gun country.) So it would seem he does make questionable political compromises at times to remain electable, including ones that can have deadly consequences. But the sense I get from Bernie or Bust is that everything he’s done his entire career is morally unassailable, while every misstep Hillary has made over her entire career is definitive proof that she’s shit.
Bottom line — you know that there is no perfect person, especially in politics. You’re just willing to overlook Bernie’s flaws or anything problematic from his past, and you do the same for his supporters. So please don’t pretend you’re a Bernie or Buster because you can only vote for someone who is 100% ethically pristine. I’m not buying it.
And I do get the passion for Bernie that would make him seem like the only candidate you can accept. I think he’s great. Sometimes his crankiness gets on my nerves, but sometimes my own crankiness gets on my nerves. My crankiness is possibly getting on your nerves right now. And I know we love an underdog story. We especially love feeling like we’re actually part of that story, helping the plucky, unlikely hero win despite the odds. There’s a political cartoon making the rounds that depicts Bernie as David to Hillary’s Goliath. But there’s a serious problem if you become so invested in this exciting underdog story that in the end you abandon the actual underdogs — the vulnerable populations whose civil liberties are on the line.
I understand that in your ideal world, Bernie will win and do amazing things for those populations. But if he doesn’t win the nomination, it does everyone a disservice to refuse to keep helping the way he would want you to. If you abandon the rest of us because your candidate didn’t win? Then you were never really even politically engaged to begin with — you just wanted to be on the winning team. But this isn’t football, where your team doesn’t make it to the Super Bowl so you pack up your giant foam finger and go home until the next season. The thing about lasting political revolutions is that usually they take a while. They require constant forward movement — it’s not an all-or-nothing scenario.
There’s a lot said by the Bernie or Bust movement about not wanting to have to choose between the lesser of two evils. While that presumably concedes that voting for Hillary is “less evil” than voting for Trump or Cruz, it’s still saying that a statement vote for a candidate who can’t possibly win is better than choosing one of the “evils.” That’s like coming across a burning building and seeing a child trapped in a third-story window. Because this is a magical scenario I’m making up, you happen to have a ladder you could use to save the child. But then you see that the ladder was made in China. You could be indirectly supporting child labor and unfair trade practices if you use that ladder! Would you really choose not to help in that scenario? “Sorry, kiddo — I just can’t bring myself to choose between the lesser of two evils! Guess you’ll just have to feel the burn!” You wouldn’t be the good guy in that scenario. You’d be an obnoxious sociopath.
In the end, if you make a statement vote for a third party candidate knowing full well that will help a Republican win the election? Then your statement is that you don’t really care. You don’t care about LGBT rights. You don’t care about reproductive rights. You don’t care about climate change. You don’t care about persecution of ethnic and religious minorities. You don’t care about the vulnerable populations that can be affected for decades if a Republican wins this election. Or at least you don’t care about those things enough to do anything about them. You only cared about your own agenda regarding Bernie Sanders, and since you can’t have that — the rest of the world can go screw itself.
Let’s say several years from now you encounter a pregnant 13-year-old forced to carry a pregnancy to term because her reproductive rights have been stripped away. Would you feel comfortable saying to that girl, “I’m sorry you’re in this situation. Things could have been so much better for you if I had voted differently when it was so important. But I had other priorities. See, there were these speeches Hillary gave to Goldman Sachs — and she wouldn’t even release the transcripts! It’s about priorities, you know? But good luck with your baby. NAME IT BERNIE!”
I’m not sure why my straw man Bernie or Bust supporter had to scream at the pregnant child at the end of the story, but it just felt right to my muse. Sometimes it’s like the stories are writing me, you know?
Bernie recently said, “I believe that what human nature is about is that everybody in this room impacts everybody else in all kinds of ways that we can’t even understand. It’s beyond intellect. It’s a spiritual, emotional thing. So I believe that when we do the right thing, when we try to treat people with respect and dignity, when we say that that child who is hungry is my child, I think we are more human when we do that, than when we say, ‘Hey, this whole world is me, I need more and more, I don’t care about anyone else.’ That’s my religion. That’s what I believe in.”
That’s a beautiful belief system. So if he doesn’t win the nomination, make sure your decisions from that point on honor those words. Don’t refuse to help vulnerable populations while lecturing people about the rigged system and how Hillary is a Wall Street puppet. That’s not the way to live up to Bernie’s ideals. Channel your passion into positive action to protect those who will be most harmed by a GOP presidency at this crucial time.
Maybe I should let Bernie chime in one more time to wrap things up. Here’s something Bernie said last September when discussing his campaign: “What I did not want to do is run as a third-party candidate, take votes away from the Democratic candidate and help elect some right-wing Republican. I did not want responsibility for that.”
So, Bernie supporters, why are so many of you now vowing to do that in his name if he doesn’t win the nomination?