Monday, December 21, 2015

An Open Letter to Bernie Sanders

Dear Senator Sanders,

First of all, thank you for what you've done so far. While I have my differences with you, I appreciate both much of what you've done in Congress and your presidential campaign. It must be pretty taxing to devote time and energy to a campaign that's been widely dismissed by the professional pundit class as quixotic and doomed, and I think your campaign has done a lot of good in terms of the mobilization it's brought and the attention it's drawn to certain issues. So, again, thank you.

Secondly, I'll say something that we both know: the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign have been
Bernie Sanders
ridiculously unfair to you. They've collaborated to make sure that there are as few debates as possible, and that the ones that do happen are awkwardly scheduled; the Clinton campaign has accused you of racism and sexism; and then, of course, we have the recent attempt by the DNC to bar your campaign from accessing voter information, on flimsy pretenses, and the Clinton campaign's baseless accusations that you were stealing voter information from them. If Clinton wins the Democratic nomination, it will be in no small part thanks to what it's fair to call "playing dirty."

Now, full disclosure before I get to where this is leading up to: I'm not a shrewd political insider who has some kind of experience to boast of. I'm an idealistic college student who's majoring in English, and just happens to follow politics very closely (some might say religiously). So I'm not making the suggestion I'm about to make because I think I've got this situation completely figured out. I'm making it because, if I've stumbled onto something useful, I want to share it, and maybe what I'm about to suggest has crossed your mind but you just needed some small encouragement. End of disclaimer.

What I'm suggesting is that, if you can't win the Democratic nomination, maybe you should run an Independent campaign. I'm sure, given that you haven't dropped out, that you've not given up hope on winning the nomination, and I haven't given up hope of it either. I still intend to vote for you in my state's primary, and I'm making no assumptions about who will win the nomination. But if it does become clear that Clinton will win--clear enough that you're going to drop out of the race--I'm asking you to at least think about mounting an Independent bid.

I recognize this might not be a very appealing idea for you. For one thing, we've already had a candidate in this election who's threatened to run as an Independent if he doesn't win his party's nomination: Donald Trump. And no one could blame you for wanting to merit as few comparisons to him as possible. But we both know that you haven't been treated fairly, and I think that matters in this case. It isn't personal vanity to to mount an Independent campaign when you've been unfairly denied the nomination of a major party.

I also understand that you've previously promised you would not do this. Obviously, it would be good to keep that promise under normal circumstances, but given how badly you've been treated, I don't think it's unfair to renege. It sort of goes without saying that when running a campaign you shouldn't lie about your opponent, and that if you're running a party you shouldn't try to rig the nomination process in one person's favor, and Clinton and the DNC have failed to live up to these standards. So I don't think it's unreasonable to say that things have changed enough since you made your promise for you to possibly go back on it.

The truth is, Senator Sanders, that at this point you are standing as an ambassador of sorts for an important cause--a movement that rejects the increasing plutocraticization of America. Given your campaign, you're maybe the most visible politician in America right now who stands as a representative of this movement, and you're thus the most plausible person to run for president as an Independent on a left-wing, anti-plutocracy platform. Sure, someone else could be found to do so, but you're the person who's been running for president for months and attracting crowds of tens of thousands. A lot of people--myself included--desperately want someone to vote for in the general election who's running on a platform like yours, and are reluctant to settle for Hillary Clinton, who clearly isn't. I don't know yet if I would vote for her if she won the nomination, but if she does win and I choose not to, I would feel far more as if I was making meaningful statement if I could vote for you instead.

I know, and understand, one of your big concerns: acting as a spoiler candidate and helping to get a Republican elected. But I'll remind you that there are three reasonable possibilities: first of all, you could win. It would be unprecedented, sure, but the country is in a pretty unprecedented state, so anything is possible. Secondly, you could have no effect on who won. Either Hillary could get elected without you, or the Republican could win with enough of the vote to make it clear that even without your candidacy they would have still won. That would be disheartening, but at least your candidacy would give the voters a real choice, and wouldn't even have caused any harm in the process. Maybe, in the long run, it would still do some good. So it's fair to say that before you jump to the third option--you help elect the Republican--you should consider these two and weigh the risks and benefits.

That being said, let's examine possibility number three. Trust me when I say there's few things more terrifying to me than Ted Cruz or Donald Trump as president, and even Marco Rubio or Jeb Bush would still be very bad news. A Republican presidency would be a disaster, without a doubt. But I think we both know that we're already watching a disaster unfold. The country is clearly on an unsustainable path, and seven years of Obama have not yet changed that. Would four or eight years of Clinton be any different, in that respect? It's pretty doubtful.

If we have twelve or sixteen years straight of Democratic control of the White House and the country continues to be in the bad shape it's been in, negative consequences are likely. Even if Hillary Clinton defeats the Republican nominee to win the presidency, there's no reason some equally bad or worse Republican couldn't win the White House in 2020 or 2024. I think we know that Clinton is not going to fix the problems afflicting the country, and so the potential for a demagogue like Trump will remain, maybe increase. Why kick the can down the road?

Perhaps if we had four years of Republican rule, it would be awful enough that we could not only get a real progressive elected president, but sweep in Congressional majorities to give that president some chance of enacting a progressive agenda, whereas, even putting aside her own corporatism, Clinton would have to deal with ongoing gridlock due to how many Republicans there are in Congress. Electing mainstream Democrats is, clearly enough, not going to get the job done. If a Republican gets elected, we can at least say that in the midterms and the next presidential election, there could be a real possibility of electing genuine progressives. While the short-term damage would doubtless be smaller under Clinton, we would still continue down the same unsustainable path and the likelihood of being able to elect large numbers of progressives (and possibly a progressive president) by the end of 2020 would be much smaller. I realize the thought of Cruz or Trump as president is absolutely stomach-churning. But in the long run, maybe--just maybe--it could be better than a never-ending string of Wall Street-friendly Democrats.

We also have to consider how damaging it would be to the progressive movement if Clinton gets the nomination and is elected president. As mentioned, Clinton and the DNC have conspired and acted in completely unethical ways to try to get her the nomination. If we allow that strategy to work, and allow Clinton to be elected, we have tacitly told the Democratic elites that it is okay if they do everything they can to keep a true progressive from getting the nomination, because ultimately there will be no consequences for their bad behavior--they'll still win elections, and progressives will shut up and fall in line. What hope do we have for the Democrats to become a serious force for change if we send them that message? The best way I can think of for punishing their behavior is if you run as an Independent, should you fail to win the nomination.

Even taking all of this into account, I'm only willing to tell you that maybe you should run as an Independent if you don't win the nomination. A lot could happen in the next months. If Trump is truly able to win the GOP nomination, that could be a real reason to try to elect whoever gets the Democratic nomination, given how unpredictable Trump is and the extraordinary threat he could pose to civil liberties. If Clinton suddenly tacks to the left, that could be another reason to put aside any idea of an Independent run.

In any case, I recognize that I'm just an idealistic college student, and I only ask that you consider what I've said. Ultimately, I just don't want you to completely rule out an Independent bid without considering all the possibilities. Perhaps you've already considered everything I've said here, and perhaps much of what I've said doesn't merit serious consideration. I'm no expert, and in no position to speak authoritatively on this issue. But I hope you will take my arguments for whatever they're worth, and I wish you the best for the rest of the campaign. Hopefully, you'll be able to win the nomination and render everything I've said here moot.

Your ally,
H.S. Buchanan

LATER NOTE: I replaced a link to an article by H.A. Goodman, due to the noxious reputation he has created for himself, as well as a dead link. 

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