A Thought for Bernie Sanders

The following essay, “A Thought for Bernie Sanders: Maybe He Should Join the Democratic Party?” is by Tom Gallagher, who’s chair of San Francisco Progressive Democrats of America, was a Sanders delegate to the Democratic National Convention, and is a past member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives.

When I received it, I emailed him, “Yes, indeed. Well put. And what about organizing an ‘activist caucus’ dedicated to transforming the Democratic Party into an activist organization that fights for its national platform in every Congressional district year-round by organizing the grassroots — including precinct-based clubs — and runs candidates for local Party positions who support that caucus?”

Tom replied, “Thanks.  And I’d say that Our Revolution — among others — has that notion.  But between the notion and the fact are many many people hours.”

I’ll post subsequent exchanges with Tom in the comments section to this post.


A Thought for Bernie Sanders: Maybe He Should Join the Democratic Party?

We all know how thoroughly Bernie Sanders shook up American politics, particularly within the Democratic Party, when he took his challenge to the generally unchallenged, and usually unspoken rule of big money in politics. Even now they’re starting to argue about whether he’s the party’s 2020 frontrunner. And yet political currents at home and abroad suggest a case for him doing something that could shake up the applecart just as thoroughly for a second time – by actually becoming a Democrat for keeps.

It’s not as if his record as the longest-serving independent in the history of the U.S. Congress (a status only interrupted during his run for the presidential nomination) hasn’t served him well, or anything like that. Clearly it’s been a significant contributor to the fact that even people who disagree with him regard him as a straight-shooter. No, so far as his own career goes, Sanders might just as well stay independent. It could well be the case, however, that the enthusiasm his campaign has injected into mainstream politics would be more effectively channeled if he made his plunge into party politics permanent. The question ultimately comes down to one of unity – and clarity of purpose. What would best unify the broad swath of activists and potential activists trying to develop a political force capable of breaking corporate dominance in American politics?

Sometimes things can be clearer from the outside looking in. Canadian author Naomi Klein, for instance, while recognizing the difficulty “of taking over a party that has been colonized by neoliberalism and by the interests of economic elites who do not want to change”—i.e., the Democratic Party—understands the effort as an unavoidable part of a “battle for the soul of, not just the party, but the country.” This perspective seems not always as clear back home, though, where only recently Rose Ann DeMoro, executive director of National Nurses United—an organization as closely linked to the Sanders campaign as any—warned a California Democratic Party convention that “If we dismiss progressive values and reinforce the status quo, don’t assume the activists in California and around this country are going to stay with the Democratic Party.”

And yet, isn’t that precisely what those committed to maintaining the status quo of big money hegemony in politics should assume—that the activists are going to stay and fight to end their control of both major parties? Their worst nightmare is not that we will pick up and leave if we don’t get what we want, but that we won’t leave!

Meanwhile, for those who fear that abandoning capital “I” political Independent status necessarily means compromising small “i” independence in the eyes of the electorate, you won’t find a better example of that ethos than in the recent experience of Jeremy Corbyn and the British Labour Party. For all of the grievances that some people who came into electoral politics with the Sanders campaign may have against the Democratic Party, they surely pale in comparison with Corbyn’s treatment at the hands of the Labour Party, whose Members of Parliament last year voted no confidence in him by a 172-57 margin, despite his enthusiastic support among the party rank and file. (And his treatment in the establishment media was even worse.)

But still he—and they—persisted, ultimately producing an electoral platform that proposed re-nationalization of the railways, free public higher education, and a range of other policies that proved to resonate far better with the electorate that those of the pro-business New Labour types who frown upon them—and him.

Why did Corbyn’s supporters stay and fight in a party where they were so clearly unwelcome? Because if they were serious about changing their country, there was nowhere else to go. Which is much the situation we face in regard to the Democratic Party here, where any smart big money guy has got to hope that the anti-corporate control types will get fed up with feeling unloved and leave the field to those who’ve been running the show.

Any decision as to Sanders’s political status is obviously ultimately his to make, of course. Yet his oft-stated point, “It’s not about me, it’s us”—so central to his campaign—does suggest that the consideration is a legitimate matter for all of “us.” And one can’t help but wonder if Bernie Sanders couldn’t add a measure of clarity to the current situation.


9 Responses to A Thought for Bernie Sanders

  1. *Jed
    Actually, I think it was Bernie and his supporters that did everything they could to prevent voters from choosing Hillary.
    While the Dem. Party – and Hillary – were campaigning also for State and Federal Offices aside/alongside HRC.

    • I don’t think it’s accurate to say that Bernie and his people did everything they could to prevent HRC’s victory.

  2. Bernie Sanders is a Spoiler.
    He has just recently reneged on his fight for Single Payer health insurance; given it up, without a real push or his fiery fierce voice in protest at least. Just quietly dropped it.

    He allowed and encouraged the vilification of HRC, sneered at her work record, and dismissed her accomplishments. Relentlessly portrayed her in the hands of Wall Street, while ignoring his own accommodations/hypocrisies, especially with the NRA.

    I agree he should join the Democratic Party and help it become effective; but why would he give up his position as Contrarian/’60’s Rebel, who learned nothing from the 1968 debacle of the Democratic Party, except to repeat it in 2016?
    He didn’t even lobby nor offer support to local candidates; nor did he do anything to help Democrats running for the Senate or House.
    Possible candidate for 2020??? I hope NOT!

  3. I would like to think that we could reform the Democratic party but I don’t believe we can. I have been voting since 1968. Carter and Humphrey gave the election to Nixon because they did not want McGovern to win. Forty years later Hillary and the party elite did everything they could to prevent voters from choosing Bernie. The national Democratic party has abandoned its roots.

    Let;s use Uruguay as an example of how to make significant change in the electoral process. Former President Jone Mujica and his wife Lucia Topolansky, former head of the legislature, spent 14 years in prison in the 1970’s and 80’s for their political activities. Uruguay was a two party state like the U.S. After their release they started a movement that grew into a successful third party drawing progressives from both the existing parties. Uruguay is providing reparations to the descendants of former slaves. The country has legalized cannabis and decriminalized most other drugs. Their prisons are not filled with drug users and drug abuse has declined substantially. The Democratic and Republican parties are bankrupt. Let’s start fresh like they did in Uruguay.

  4. Another interesting and worthwhile discussion. I myself think the Democratic Party is unreformable, but then I think about what might happen in 2020, when a third party might throw the election to the Repubs. Good to see a political discussion that doesn’t just denounce anyone who doesn’t agree.

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