Two Points about #BernieOrBust

Almost all the commentary on the #BernieOrBust movement is extremely emotional and superficial. As someone who has thought a lot about the utility and strategy of manipulating the electoral process in unorthodox ways in order to advance a political agenda, I think I'm well positioned to contribute a couple of points of substance to this discussion. 

1. The #BernieOrBust movement is strategically sound. Opponents deride it as “insane,” “pointless,” “petulant,” and “dangerous,” but these assessments are all myopic, considering only the effect on politics for the next four years, and even then, ignoring the possibility that #BernieOrBust could force concessions from the Clinton campaign. More substantive arguments against #BernieOrBust are harder to come by, but should be acknowledged. Principally, the argument that gives me pause is that Trump is an unpredictable fascistic figure who, given state power, can be expected to clamp down at least somewhat on dissent, and perhaps significantly. The potential for a truly catastrophic Trump presidency certainly gives me pause, but determining the precise nastiness is beyond the scope of this piece. In any case, I do think it deserves careful consideration for those considering abandoning the Democratic Party for #BernieOrBust. (Note to #BernieOrBust critics: it’s possible that those calling themselves #BernieOrBust will change their minds when faced with the possibility of a Trump presidency, but calling them “insane” and “petulant” will only heighten their resolve.)

Trump aside, the point is that any analysis of #BernieOrBust that refuses to look beyond four years is inadequate because the main strategic benefits to #BernieOrBust only manifest in the longer term. If the movement were to become strong enough to make the Clinton campaign sweat, it would influence Democratic Party political calculations for decades by showing that Sanders-like politicians are more electable than Clintonites. Candidates would begin to view supporting Sanders-like policies as career opportunities rather than liabilities. More Sanders-like candidates might be emboldened to run for office. These factors combine for a long-term boon for Sanders-like policies.

Meanwhile, the short term consequences of a Trump presidency as compared to a Clinton presidency are not as bad for Sanders supporters as they are made out to be. This isn’t because a Trump presidency would be attractive to Sanders supporters; it’s because a Clinton presidency would be as bad or worse in many ways. Clinton, more than Trump, would entrench the status quo that Sanders supporters are trying to upend, especially in foreign policy, where Clinton can be expected to be a much more adept steward of America’s atrocious foreign policy than Trump would be. A Trump presidency would likely mean that the Republicans would bear the brunt of the blame for the ever-increasing disgust Americans feel for their government. Perhaps most importantly (and rarely mentioned), a Trump presidency would mean that, in four years, there would be another opportunity to nominate a Sanders-like candidate as the Democratic presidential candidate. If Clinton were to occupy the Democratic side of the race in 2020, Sanders supporters would have to wait until 2024 before their movement had another real at the presidency. 

Finally, the #BernieOrBust movement might serve as the foundation for a surprise victory for a Sanders-like politician as soon as this November. Which brings me to my second major point.

2. The #BernieOrBust movement should pledge to vote for the Green Party wherever possible. Although this will alienate the sector of the #BernieOrBust crowd that wants to write in their man Bernie Sanders, the fact remains that write-in votes do not achieve anything but a feeling of righteousness. I don’t want to demean righteousness, but it is much more powerful when it is practiced in solidarity with others. When workers strike against their employers, they do not stay home and congratulate themselves on their righteous victory against the man. No, they organize, forming picket lines and demonstrating their power. If we view #BernieOrBust as a strike against the unacceptable conditions offered by the Democratic Party with Hillary Clinton, then the Green Party is #BernieOrBust’s picket line. Unfortunately, we live in a world that respects power, and in such a world, there is not much use in being righteous in a way that can be easily ignored. Not only would standing together with Green Party voters produce a highly visible protest, it would also heighten the threat of #BernieOrBust to the Democratic party by giving them a very credible alternative in future elections if the Democratic Party does not improve conditions by nominating Sanders-like candidates. This is a serious and viable threat that the Democratic Party could not ignore.

One more point in favor of voting for the Green Party is worth mentioning. Jill Stein could win. I know it sounds crazy to say it, but this is not a year to write off seeming political impossibilities. No, I don’t think she will win. I'd put it at slightly under 1%. But a concerted effort by #BernieOrBust to publicize its intention to back Jill Stein would move this from the realm of the impossible to the very unlikely. A 1% chance of saving humanity, if that is what it a Bernie Sanders-type presidency means to you, is worth fighting for. This year, the major parties are putting forward their most unpopular candidates ever. This is particularly true on the Republican side, where party loyalists are openly declaring their disgust for Donald Trump. This means that whomever positions herself as Trump’s main opponent has an excellent chance at the presidency.

Now imagine that Hillary Clinton gets indicted in August. Again, this is not a likely scenario, but it’s not at all impossible this far into an investigation of a crime that she very likely is guilty of. What would Hillary’s supporters do then? If #BernieOrBust has caused the Green Party to poll at 10% or more at that point (as opposed to their normal 1%), people will view Jill Stein as a viable alternative to Trump. Without this boost, however, Hillary’s supporters will either stay home or drift back to whomever the Democrats put on the ballot.

The #BernieOrBust campaign is about continuing a political revolution. Revolutions are hard work, have negative consequences when they lose, and have to get very lucky to win. A #BernieOrBust movement that unites around the Green Party gives this political revolution a real chance of winning if the right elements fall into place.