Monday, June 27, 2016

Is Sanders taking it to the limit?

If you want to know about a physical system, or a mathematical function, you ask about how it works at some limit. Sometimes the limit is patently absurd, but nevertheless you can ask the question. Hence the title of this post (shamelessly borrowing from the Eagle's song title).

The system, in this case, is Sanders' endorsement of Clinton as a function of time till the election. The measured variable is the impact on the election of Sanders' endorsement. The limit is the night before the election. We can guess that the impact of such an endorsement is nil. All deals will have been struck. All ads will have been run. All minds will have been made up.

Let's back the function off towards the present. Between now and the election, where is the point at which Sanders can force more concessions from Clinton and her advisors and be maximally effective in achieving his policy/platform aims? One possibility is the convention.

But there are folks more experienced at political systems than I who worry that Sanders' influence is on the decline even now, before the convention.

Greg Sargent at the Washington Post Plum Line makes the case by asking "What is Bernie Sanders thinking?"

That isn’t intended as snark or even as a rhetorical question. I genuinely don’t understand what Sanders thinks is going to happen if he continues to refrain from endorsing Hillary Clinton, as he did on CNN yesterday. It seems unlikely at this point that holding out in this fashion will make any real difference to the outcome of his efforts to shape the party platform at the convention.

Meanwhile, if anything, the window for Sanders’s endorsement to have made a dramatic impact in terms of media attention and rallying his supporters against Donald Trump — a goal Sanders himself has said he intends to devote himself to — may, if anything, be closing.

Sanders has won much of what he wants from the Democratic party and its platform. Thinking systemically again, as you approach a maximum, your marginal gains diminish. Oops. That is, Sanders has less and less to gain by holding out longer and longer. Sargent again puts it in political terms.

Over the weekend, Democrats on the convention’s Platform Drafting Committee announced a series of compromises that represent meaningful, serious concessions to Sanders. Dave Weigel has a good rundown: The draft language (which has not been released in full) includes a general commitment to the idea of a $15-per-hour minimum wage, a compromise commitment to some sort of “updated” Glass Steagall financial regulation and to breaking up too-big-to-fail institutions; and a full-throated commitment to ending the era of mass incarcerations. It also includes a multimillionaire surtax and support for the principle that universal health care should be a right.

On top of all that, the draft includes a commitment to expanding Social Security benefits. And that is not a small thing. The idea of expanding Social Security was long dismissed as a fringe proposal even among many Democrats until only recently. That it is now in the platform shows that Sanders’ campaign and economic worldview have had a real impact on party doctrine and priorities.

But!

... [Sanders] declined to endorse Clinton, instead saying that the burden is on her to win over his supporters. And Sanders even added this: “We are trying to say to Secretary Clinton and to the Clinton campaign, make it clear which side you are on.” The implication is that all of the obviously salutary compromises reached on the platform — which Sanders’ own supporters say is the most progressive platform in a long time — don’t actually signal “which side” she is on. Until she is actually on the right side, his endorsement will have to wait.

To my thinking, that's waging a scorched earth campaign. All or nothing at all. Burn, baby, Bern.

I understand the processes at play, but I hope Sanders understands the concept of "limit."

Sargent closes.

... it’s unclear at this point how much withholding that endorsement will actually do to accomplish what he wants to accomplish. Today Elizabeth Warren gave a rousing speech with Clinton in Ohio in which she attacked Trump in spirited, populist terms before a wildly cheering crowd. Warren is filling the space that Sanders might have inhabited — she is emerging as the leading progressive in the country who is making the case against Trump-onomics, and contrasting it sharply with the Democrats’ — and, yes, Hillary Clinton’s — economic vision. Meanwhile, this week’s Post poll found that only eight percent of Sanders supporters say they’ll back Trump, dramatically down from 20 percent last month — meaning that Sanders’ supporters may be rallying to Clinton even if Sanders himself isn’t. Events are moving on.

Obviously the Clinton team wants Sanders to endorse her, and if and when he does, it will come as a relief. And surely negotiations are ongoing between the highest levels of the Sanders and Clinton camps over how to manage that outcome, what more Sanders might be given for it, and what Sanders’s future role might look like. But it’s no longer clear that holding out will have that much of an influence on the shape of the platform in the end. And it may even risk diminishing the import of that endorsement once it happens.

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