Yes, Bernie Does Have a Responsibility to Unify the Party. And so do you.
This election is not going to result in more of the same. Either Donald Trump will win, and take the Senate and Judiciary with him, or Trump will lose so drastically that he will take so much of his party down with him, that the Democrats will be able to govern again. Extreme elements of the right have forced the Republicans to go all-in on Trump. Now, one side will win everything and the other side will lose everything.
How did a stable, educated, wealthy, powerful country find itself in a game of Russian roulette? It comes from a broad frustration with the political status quo. When candidates run for office, they make big promises. They promise that a vote for them will mean the restoration of the American dream or the demise of the other party's agenda. But, for six years now, neither side has accomplished much of its legislative agenda. To many voters, the failure to deliver what was promised reads like duplicity. Republicans elected candidates because they promised to humiliate President Obama and force him into submission. When that didn't happen, many Republicans concluded that they had been conned by candidates who did not actually hold the beliefs that they professed. Likewise, Democrats elected President Obama and other candidates largely because they promised to tackle income inequality, but it has continued its 35-year long rise relatively unabated. So, like many Republicans, many Democrats are starting to suspect that they have been hoodwinked. Both sides feel betrayed by "establishment" politicians - a phrase that has become so broad that it now encompasses the vast majority of all people who have ever sought a life in public service. Many people, in both parties, are starting to think that there is no real difference between the parties.
The notion that the parties are almost interchangeable is also false. The way legislators of each party vote reveals that they share almost no commonality. On average, poverty amelioration bills have received 99% support from Democrats and 95% opposition from Republicans, with a result of every bill failing to make it into law. Democrats have delivered 96% of their votes for raising the taxes of the wealthy while Republicans have opposed raising taxes on the wealthy with 98% of their votes. Republicans have backed big business ("job creators" is the preferred term when campaigning) 96% of the time while Democrats have held the line against big business 93% of the time. The futures the parties would create if given the chance have become diametrically opposed to one another on nearly all of the issues that voters care most strongly about. What determines whether, for example, the country meaningfully tackles poverty is not how passionately the 99% of Democrats who vote for poverty amelioration want to ameliorate poverty. What decides the question is how many seats are filled by Democrats.
The list of issues that most clearly divide the parties is the same list of issues that Senator Sanders cares about. The Democrats fight for income equality, to restore strong regulation of big business, to extend equal rights to every demographic group, to fund education and to get big money out of politics. In this election, how much success the country sees on Sanders's issues will not be determined by which candidate wins, but by which party wins.
However, even more than that is on the table in this election. In this election, the Republicans are running an actual fascist. If this election were between Mitt Romney and Donald Trump, every liberal would have a profound duty to hold their noses and vote for Romney. A Romney presidency would be a huge step backwards for the liberal agenda, but not an existential threat to the fabric of society. Conversely, responsible Republicans now have a duty to their country to hold their noses and vote for Secretary Clinton. From their perspective, a Clinton presidency would be a step in the wrong direction, but a Trump presidency would be jumping off a cliff.
But, liberals do not face the uncomfortable conflict between country and party that conscientious Republicans face. This election is not between Romney and Trump. Clinton is, in fact, mostly aligned with Sanders on the issues. In terms of everything that is actually achievable in the next 8 years, they are nearly a perfect match. Where they differ is that Sanders lays out certain goals that will not realistically be in reach until and unless the entire country shifts dramatically to the left, while Clinton believes that a more moderate tone will both be more successful in the election and leave more room to make incremental gains once elected. Secretary Clinton has been loyally and consistently fighting for the liberal agenda for decades. Standing beside Bernie Sanders, anyone would start to look like a moderate, but Clinton's dedication to the liberal agenda has been consistent and enduring. She was leading the fight for universal health care two decades before the rest of the Democratic Party got on board. In the Senate, her voting record was more liberal than President Obama's when he was in the Senate.
All of this is particularly important for what is perhaps the most central concern of Sanders supporters: campaign finance reform. Right now, the Supreme Court is split four-to-four on whether to overturn Citizens United. Nothing is more crucial to getting big money out of politics than the balance of power on the Supreme Court. As much as some people may sneer at Clinton for taking big donations, as Obama did before her, despite taking big donations, there is no question that Secretary Clinton would nominate Justices who would seek to overturn Citizens United. The list of nominees that Trump has released, on the other hand, leaves no doubt that he would use the power of the presidency to reinforce Citizens United. He could well leave office with a 6-3 majority favoring the decision, which could render it impossible to meaningfully correct our campaign finance system for a generation. We stand on the brink of a major watershed in terms of campaign finance reform. This is the election in which we decide what the future of our campaign finance system will look like.
Sanders's supporters are crucial for the Democrats' chances this election. As a result, Sanders's loyalty to his agenda demands that he begin energetically fighting for a Clinton victory. If he delivers every last one of his supporters in November, brings the excitement he has generated in the primary to the general election and aids Democrats all up and down the ballot, then everything he stands for will advance. If he does not, then everything he stands will be in serious peril.
That responsibility is not Sanders's alone. He has that duty by virtue of the depth of his belief that middle and working class people deserve a better break and because he finds fascism to be morally revolting. But he is not alone in holding those ideals. All Democrats, most independents and many Republicans share them as well, and so they all share the duty to bring everything we have, together, to bear on this election.
May 28, 2016