Philosophy, Film, Politics, Etc.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Advantages and Disadvantages in the Democratic Primary

Bernie Sanders and a lot of his supporters complain about the fact that hundreds of superdelegates endorsed Hillary Clinton well before the primary season officially began. While this certainly gave Clinton an advantage, I don't think it was an unfair one. [Update: It looks like Bernie's claims about hundreds of early endorsements are not even true.]

Hillary Clinton earned her support. Aside from her resume, she has shown that she can win votes: She won more actual votes than Obama in 2008--more than anyone else has in a primary--Republican or Democrat--ever. The greatest strength a political party can demonstrate in an election is its ability to unify behind an exceptional candidate who motivates a broad swath of its constituents. That is what hundreds of party officials and leaders have done by endorsing Hillary.

Perhaps some of Bernie's supporters believe that the Democratic Party should pretend to be weak. Some may believe that the Democratic Party should just dissolve so that a phoenix can rise from its ashes. However, I wonder if a lot of Bernie's supporters only refuse to see party unity as a good thing because the party isn't unifying behind their favored candidate. They claim that Clinton hasn't earned her place in the party. That she's somehow bought it, or won it through brute force and intimidation. They refuse to see her as anything other than corrupt, and her support as anything other than evidence of her corruption. Her supporters, in contrast, see her support as a sign of strength, not weakness.

While Clinton was advantaged by getting so much support from party officials, Bernie still had a good shot at victory. For one thing, he had a chance to win over all the unpledged "superdelegates" as well as the majority of pledged delegates. Nobody was ever obligated to accept Clinton. And let's not forget the fact that you do not even need the superdelegates to win the nomination. Even though it would have been hard for anyone to beat Hillary, Bernie had a clear path to victory.

He came pretty close, and he and his supporters should feel proud of that, but Bernie could have come a lot closer--and maybe could have even won--if he had chosen a different strategy. Whenever he was confronted with the fact that Clinton had enormous support (from superdelegates, from institutions, from voting blocs), he tried to undermine their legitimacy. Why did hundreds of superdelegates support Hillary? Bernie said it was because they were "establishment." Why did Planned Parenthood? Same answer. He even went so far as to denigrate women for wanting to rally behind a woman, saying he would never ask anyone to voter for him because of his gender. In short, his tone has been insulting and he has not respected the fact that people have different values than he does. Instead of trying to appeal to all of us, he has insulted us. And instead of trying to appeal to superdelegates, he has insulted superdelegates. It is no wonder he lost.

And lest you think Clinton is the only one who had advantages, let's consider some of the ways Bernie was advantaged, too.  For one thing, he is a white man. For another thing, the media has been biased against the Clintons for decades. According to one study, Hillary has gotten the most negative media coverage and the least positive media coverage, proportionally speaking, of anyone--including the Donald.  Bernie was able to rely on decades of media spin and scandal to paint Clinton in a negative light, a light which has so far spared him considerably. I'm not saying the media has treated him fairly, but that when it comes to media bias, Clinton has had it much worse--not just because of the coverage in the present campaign, but because of the history of coverage that still works against her.  I think one reason a lot of people respect her is because she has been able to weather these disadvantages and still come out ahead.

It's hard to feel bad for Bernie.