Primary Fight: An Early Warning

At my office the other day a non-partisan, non-voting coworker of mine asked if I thought Bernie Sanders would’ve won in the general election against Trump. My answer was simple and honest: I don’t know.

In the interest of getting ahead of being written off, understand that I voted for Hillary Clinton in both the primary and the general election. With gusto. With that said there are wounds that don’t need to be reopened, but maybe a little aloe for that scar tissue might help. We could discuss the overall popular vote in the primaries, the delegate count, the comparison between 2008 and 2016, the various coalitions and the diversity that each candidate brought (or didn’t bring) to the table. All of these topics have been picked apart ad nauseam since June of 2016 and every so often we open up those old Democratic wounds for the sake of doing some Monday morning quarterbacking.

To sit here and debate these points is a hypothetical and Sisyphean task and also a waste of every Democrat’s time and emotional energy.

If you’re deeply interested in Democratic politics you know that by the end of this month we will have a new leader at the helm of the DNC. Pete Buttigieg, Tom Perez, Jehmu Greene and Keith Ellison are all running with Perez and Ellison (my choice) leading the pack. All four candidates are liberal, progressive, thoughtful and bring a diverse point of view to the party leadership. These four candidates (there are others as well) are all qualified to run the Democratic National Committee.

I want to repeat that: Buttigieg, Perez, Greene and Ellison are all qualified to run the DNC.

We’ll come back to that sentiment…

By late April of last year one thing was brutally clear. Bernie Sanders was not going to be the nominee for the Democratic ticket. It would’ve taken a monumental collapse of delegates for Clinton to lose as well as the defection of a large swath of super delegates. The Sanders train chugged on and the attacks on Clinton became desperately personal.

Because she was the frontrunner from the beginning her general attitude towards Sanders came off as aloof, at best, and belittling at worst. It became the fuel lighting the fire underneath Sanders’ supporters, and with their Tea Party like passion directed vitriol, anger and hatred towards her.

Clinton took the nomination, but the battle continued well into the convention. Jeers and protests were constant from the crowd, and it turned what should’ve been an historic and joyful occasion into a petty mess. Clinton supporters were frustrated. Sanders fans were disenfranchised and furious.

It was not a good start to the general election and Clinton would never be able to escape the number of populist liberals who backed away from supporting her at the ballot box. Of course, Sanders and his campaign is not what ultimately doomed Clinton (it was James Comey) but it did not help that even Sanders’ full throated support and plea for his followers to vote fell mostly on deaf ears.

In late October of 2016 I had a back and forth with an old friend of mine who had gone from being a Sanders supporter to waffling between Stein and Johnson. When I asked him to explain why he would do such a thing he said, “I can’t vote for Clinton and I can’t vote for Trump.” His explanations as to why he would vote for Johnson or Stein made little sense to me (and I doubt they made sense to him either) and when I offered that Bernie himself said that his people should vote for Clinton my friend retorted, “Bernie means nothing to me now.” To my once level headed friend, Bernie was a traitor.

For him it was about the movement, the shift towards Democratic Socialism. It didn’t matter who won, it was about the ideas and neither Clinton nor Trump were going to espouse my friend’s new found beliefs. Bernie was a prophet and though he had betrayed his own message, and perhaps sold out, the ideas were still intact.

Bitterly, the last thing I said to this friend, and we have not spoken since, was, “I hope Trump wins so you can see first hand the end of democracy.”

I regret hoping that Trump won, but I don’t regret the sentiment. I’m sure there are plenty of Sanders supporters who switched to Stein/Johnson who now privately or publicly regret their vote. I know there are Trump supporters who do.

Elections are not a joke, and hopefully 2016 was the last general election where a good number of people didn’t take it seriously. The damages that a president or senator or congressman (or any elected official) can do to the citizenry is very real. I vehemently disagree with Trump and his policies, but there are many people who really do believe that he will be good for them. Those people tend to be white and male and suffer from a severe case of myopia, of course, but they believe in Trump nonetheless.

In the late Autumn of 2019 the race for the Democratic nomination will form into an amorphous blob. It may be three or four strong candidates, or it may be a clown car of people looking to capture the vote. I predict the former. Voters will take sides and coalitions will form. There will be a strong odor of desperation from the party and an urgency to find the right candidate. Nervousness and doubt will pervade our skin.

There will be lines drawn in the sand. Progressives. Socialists. Center-Left. Red state Dems. Politicians. Populists. Diverse. Traditional.

All of these things will pull at you, the voter. The issues will take a back seat, as they always do, and it will be hard to comprehend that these candidates, however many their are, agree on 85% of the issues (Clinton and Sanders agreed on 94% of the issues). It will be something of a beauty pageant, or more accurately something as arbitrary as the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, as we try to find the right Democrat to lead the party.

When this happens it is important to realize one thing when you look on that debate stage: every candidate speaking to you is a Democrat and if they have made it that far, they are all qualified to lead the party.

In 2004, the first election I could ever vote in, I was a massive Howard Dean supporter. A college liberal myself, his energy and grassroots organizing spoke to me. That he was taken down, supposedly, by a guttural scream was particularly heartbreaking. John Kerry went on to get the nomination and though I thought he lacked the vitality that Dean displayed, I was firmly behind him, and more importantly, opposed to Bush.

My first time at the ballot box and I was 0–2. I didn’t throw a fit. I didn’t boycott the election. And, most importantly since I lived in Florida, I did not vote for Nader.

I agreed with Nader and the Green Party on a number of issues, but ultimately, John Kerry was extremely qualified to lead the party and become President of the United States. Ralph Nader was not qualified.

There is something to be said for being a good soldier in the fight for progressive values. Letting your voice be heard is important. Respectfully displaying displeasure in the status quo is vital to the success of progressive values. And listening to opinions, however strongly you disagree with them, is how you get to know the true world around you.

It’s a shame that we had to learn this lesson in this past election, but Democracy is too important to make a protest vote. Whomever takes the helm of the Democratic Party, whichever candidate is at the top of the ticket, it is important to remember that they embody a large swath of liberal values and ideas, and that you, most likely, agree with at least 85% of what the candidate is saying.

Uniting behind a single candidate isn’t easy, it can be a damn hard pill to swallow especially if you are new to voting and believe that your voice is the most important out there. For the sake of the union, however, we must fight for progressive values, for Democracy, and with one voice. So, when the heavy cloak of primary season drops upon us, remember to peer out to the horizon every now and then and remember that one of these candidates will be the new leader of the Democratic Party and that there is no room for hate and divisiveness in progressive values. Democracy is too important for pettiness.

P.S. Kamala Harris 2020.

Stephen Hood is a writer and sometimes bartender living in Chicago. Follow him on Twitter @really_shood