Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Sanders' options: Be a negative technocrat or be the progressive power broker

Jeet Heer at the New Republic explains the choices facing Bernie in the face of the loss of the New York primary.

While the loss in the New York doesn’t mark the end of Sanders’s campaign, his odds of winning became much longer. Upcoming delegate-rich states like Pennsylvania and Maryland favor Clinton. On Tuesday night, Sanders consultant Tad Devine said that after the next Tuesday’s primaries in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Rhode Island, and Connecticut, the campaign will “assess where we are.”

Scriber thinks Heer is correct in his assessment of the likely decisions Bernie's campaign will face.

... Sanders has to decide when he will make the pivot from an aggressive outsider who’s trying to take down the frontrunner to a loyal party member who will support the winner.

Stay negative and look like a spoiler

If Sanders stays negative as his chances of winning dwindle, he’ll burn bridges and be shut out of the party. By further damaging Clinton ahead of the general election, he runs the risk of being seen as a Ralph Nader–like spoiler.

The case for staying negative is that Sanders can highlight genuine problems with the primary system, which is plagued by arbitrary rules. The hurdles the New York Democratic Party has placed on voting go against the larger arguments the party makes about the importance of voting rights in general elections. Given Sanders’s long time as an independent rather than a Democrat, it might be easier for him to return to the role of the prophet in the wilderness castigating the system.

But this seems like tinkering around the edges. Bernie did not run to be relegated to a position as a party technocrat.

Go positive: Work the convention to move the party leftward

... as he himself notes, Sanders’s years in politics have also shown him to be someone who knows how to work with others and push forward a positive agenda. Given that a strong minority in the party love him, he is in a position to leverage his campaign to be a real power broker in the party and push the Clinton campaign to the left.

Sanders has been a surprise contender, and it’s easy to engage in might-have-beens or alternative history scenarios. But a healthier way to think about the Sanders campaign is in terms of what it bodes for the future. He has proven there is a large space to the left of Clinton in the Democratic Party. In the future, his electoral weak spots could be addressed by a candidate who has a similar message but pitches it to a broader audience. The Achilles heel of his campaign has been Southern blacks. But there is not intuitive reason why this group should be immune to a message of economic populism. Indeed, Jesse Jackson showed in 1988 that it could be done.

The Sanders campaign should be seen not as a failed gambit but as a road map to the future of the Democratic Party. If a candidate can combine Sanders’s economic populism with the ability to articulate that message in the South, then [that] future will belong Sanders, and Clinton’s triumph will be seen as the last gasp of the centrism that dominated the party in the long aftermath of Reaganism.

Early on, Sanders noted that he was in the race to change the conversation. Scriber hopes that Sanders and his supporters will remember that. Bernie has already changed the conversation and can now wield considerable influence to change it further. That's not a loss. That would be a big win for the Democratic party and a return to the party of the New Deal. And that would be a very big deal indeed.

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