Philosophy, Film, Politics, Etc.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Why Did Bernie Lose?

Technically Bernie hasn't lost yet, but let's face it. He's not going to win over hundreds of Clinton's superdelegates without winning the majority of pledged delegates, and he needs over two-thirds of the remaining pledged delegates to do that. With Clinton still ahead in California and New Jersey, that just ain't gonna happen. Bernie has every right to stay in the race and amass as many delegates as he can, but the fact is plain: Bernie lost.

The question is, why?

Bernie says the election process was rigged. One claim is that independents were unfairly excluded. While independents are excluded from closed primaries and caucuses, whether or not that is fair is open to debate. It seems fair to require a simple and free registration process before you are allowed to vote in a primary. In any case, yes, there were some closed primaries, and Bernie lost most of those; however, he lost most of the open primaries, too. The other claim is that there was electoral fraud; however, there is no evidence that Clinton benefited from anything like that. In short, there's no reason to think that the voting process was rigged.

So why did Bernie lose?

A recent article at Vox attempts to shed some light on the answer. They say the system was rigged, but not in the way Bernie means. They mean that Hillary won some advantages from the system. They identify two ways that Bernie was disadvantaged:  First, some voters take their cues from party elites, and the party elites were strongly in favor of Clinton from the start. Second, the system's approved policy experts were lining up to work for Clinton, leading to a "wonk gap."

Those are interesting points, but it leaves a lot to be said. For one thing, we must remember that Hillary Clinton did exceptionally well against Barack Obama in 2008. She and Obama each received record-breaking numbers of votes. For that reason, there had been buzz about Clinton's 2016 campaign for almost eight years before the current primary began. Many, many millions of voters have been waiting for another chance to vote for her. When it was clear she was going to run again, everyone knew that she was going to be one of the most formidable opponents in modern political history. It would have taken another Obama to stand a chance against her.  This was not because the system was unfair, but because Clinton had established a prominent place for herself within it.

The Vox article insinuates that Clinton established that position by instilling fear: Powerful people supported her because they were afraid she would hurt them if they didn't. It's the line about how the Clintons are "notorious" for punishing disloyalty and rewarding loyalty. It would be nice to see some substantiation of that, because it sounds an awful lot like propaganda. This is Bernie's line: We should not listen to individuals or organizations (not even Planned Parenthood) who have endorsed Clinton, because they are just part of "the establishment."

It is most certainly true that Clinton has received numerous advantages because of her position in the Democratic Party. This is how it should be.  If a person establishes strong relationships with policy makers and party officials, and appeals to a broad swath of the party's base, then of course they will be advantaged in the nomination process.  This doesn't mean the party is closed to new faces or ideas. It only means that the strength of the party is found in the partnerships between its members and officials, and not despite them.

Winning support in an election is winning trust, and trust has to be earned. Bernie failed to win over the trust of the majority of Clinton's supporters. The question is still, why?

I think tone is a big part of it. From the start of the campaign, Bernie presented himself as an exception to the rule. He denied being a "career politician," despite the fact that he was one. He accused everyone who disagreed with him of being corrupted by "the establishment." He seemed more intent on propping himself up than he was on listening to what other people had to say. He suggested that Democrats in the South don't matter. He said superdelegates were going to steal the election from him, until he realized he needed them to win. He said he would never ask anyone to vote for him because he was a man--showing that he did not understand how being a man was an advantage in political elections. I could go on.

There's also policy. His promises rarely rang true.  Like, for example, the promise that all he needed to do was overturn Citizens United and we would somehow get money out of politics. Also, he often questioned people who asked difficult policy questions, as if it had not been his job to give us a clear picture of what future he was selling. If we dared to question his vision, we would be dismissed as pessimists shilling for the status-quo. Bernie was selling the blind hope that somehow all would be well once the revolution saved us from Evil. It was the magical thinking that, I believe, turned a lot of us off.

Bernie always excelled at showing anger and at pointing fingers. He did make many respectable policy proposals, but he was also an effective demagogue, and his intransigent posturing inspired many people. He made it clear with every breath that he was not going to put up with fraud or corruption, and that he would not budge on matters of principle. Then we saw his campaign profit from corruption and abandon its principles. The doubters among us have been vindicated.

I don't begrudge anyone for voting for Bernie or for believing in what he stands for.  I have close friends and family who supported Bernie, and some who still refuse to accept that he has lost. The important thing to remember is that this populist movement, this progressive revolution, started before Bernie entered the primary campaign, and it will continue after the trials and tribulations of his campaign are forgotten. Bernie was never the heart or the mind of the revolution. I don't think any single politician deserves that title, but if anyone did, it would be Elizabeth Warren, and her refusal to endorse Bernie speaks volumes. For a short spell, Bernie was the movement's most prominent champion. He may have helped build the movement, though I'm not sure he did so in entirely positive ways. I hope future champions learn from his mistakes. Perhaps the biggest lesson is, don't insult the people whose party you are trying to win.