It’s Not Who You Vote For

It’s Who Wins That Matters

But I love Bernie! He’s the first politician I’ve ever…”

I did not cry, when Bernie endorsed Hillary. I had worked for him, donated money, time, letters to the Editor, but when he endorsed Hillary, I agreed with him. To me, he wasn’t giving up; he wasn’t selling out; he was acting strategically. He saw that he could not win the nomination, although he had come tantalizingly close, and had mobilized a significant segment of the potential Democratic Party’s constituency.

Yes, obstacles were put there by the DNC and state Democratic parties; there was a conscious attempt by some in the DNC to diminish Bernie’s appeal in any way they could. But it’s probable Bernie still would not have won even without these sub rosa efforts. He couldn’t mobilize Black, Asian and Latino voters, or even Whites with less than a college education: the latter are Trump’s special constituency. He knew that. He’d tried, with BlackLivesMatter, and with other outreach efforts.

So, Bernie wasn’t selling out; he was acting strategically: when he stopped campaigning, did not endorse, but negotiated with Hillary. They both compromised; that’s the nature of politics that works. After he’d gotten what he could get — for all of us — he endorsed her.

Bernie has also stated over and over again, that Trump must be stopped, and he’ll do everything in his power to prevent his election. Why?

It’s not because he’s sold out; it’s because he’s gotten considerable concessions from Hillary, and they hold a lot of views in common to begin with, like their view of Supreme Court nominations. What he’s modeling is what you do in strategic voting.

The difference between strategic voting and ideological voting is in what each accomplishes. More narrowly, issues voting means you vote only for particular policies. The extreme example is the anti-abortion voter, who will only vote for a candidate who is explicitly anti-abortion, the more obdurate the better. If feelings are intense enough, issue voting may actually result in legislation and policy, but usually it’s never enough for the true believer — on whatever issue — and it only has impact on that issue.

Broader than issue voting is ideological voting. This is voting for a candidate who best exemplifies the voter’s ideological preferences, even if the candidate has no chance of winning office, and therefore no chance of putting that ideology into legislation and actual practice.

Ideological voting best describes the Bernie voter who gravitates to the Green Party’s Jill Stein, or the libertarian Republican supporter of Rand Paul, who supports Gary Johnson.

In a winner-take-all electoral system, which is what the US has had since its founding, and what our neighbor, Canada, to the North has as well, both issue and ideological voting can have paradoxical effects. In a winner-take-all political system, a plurality (not a majority), wins the election. In Canada’s case, for two separate elections, voters on the left split their votes between the New Democratic Party, the Liberal Party, and Parti Quebecois. While the left was in a clear majority, it lost, heavily, to Steven Harper, Conservative, who was funded by the oil industry in Alberta. So, all Canada’s support for combatting climate change was thrown out the window; government encouraged Tar Sands oil production, while social programs were radically defunded: the electoral structure permitted a minority to elect a large majority in Parliament. After two terms, the Conservatives were thrown out by a more unified left, behind the moderately leftward Liberal party. They had discovered how horrible it was to have a radical right-wing government.

The same thing can happen here. If the race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is close (still a real possibility), ideological votes for Stein and Johnson could be the deciding factor: not in one of the latter winning, (there’s no chance of that) but in the triumph of the Democrat or Republican candidate who loses the fewest votes to the third party candidate to his or her left or right.

In other words, if Jill Stein were able to attract a larger slice of former Bernie voters than Gary Johnson gained from disaffected Republican voters, it would become increasingly difficult for Democrats to win.

I suspect that Johnson also attracts issue-voting millennials, with his legalize marijuana position; many of these were former Bernie voters. His polling at twice the level of Stein, may in part be because of this, so he takes votes away from both Trump and Hillary.

The paradoxical effect of Bernie Sanders mobilizing young, left-wing voters, increasing the size of the left-leaning constituency (from left of center to far left) could permit Trump to win, if too many of these newly mobilized voters end up voting for Stein or Johnson: a minority, voting for Trump, could prevail over a left of center majority that is split into two or three parts.

Now, think of the consequences: instead of Bernie in the Senate being joined by a President and Congress that supports much of his agenda, and is likely to be responsive to pressure brought to bear by groups like Our Revolution and BlackLivesMatter, instead, Trump would be President.

Would Trump and the triumphant Republicans give credence to any left-wing group? Of course not. Bernie endorsed Hillary for a reason: her election would be the best chance to carry out much of his (and our) agenda in the next four years. With a Republican White House and Congress, we would get a Supreme Court that overthrew Roe v Wade and permitted even more voter suppression; the US would be ramping up of coal mining and oil drilling, not mitigating global warming; there would be an increase in racist policies at all levels, and rejection of virtually every policy that Bernie and his supporters advocated: instead of a public option for healthcare, you’d have a return to the monopoly-controlled market and rejection of even the minimal reform represented by Obamacare.

Strategic voting for a Bernie supporter, instead, would be: to vote for Democrats, however flawed they may be, because this would accomplish two things: it would prevent what could amount to a Fascist takeover, much like the minority Nazis taking over the German government in the face of a divided left and center, and it would increase pressure for the kinds of changes we (Berniers) all want.

Besides: if you love Bernie, strategic voting is clearly what he advocates, even despite the corruption of the Democratic Party by the likes of Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Further Bernie activists can do what Kelleigh McKenzie, co-founder of Ulster4Bernie, is attempting in Ulster County: to gain election to the NY State Democratic Committee, so she can help bend the party in a progressive direction. She appears to say: if you don’t like the Democratic Party, work on changing it.

That’s strategic thinking.