How to Explain the Sanders Campaign to an Idiot, Paul Krugman or a Clintonite in 8 Sentences

05/30/2016 11:55 am ET Updated May 31, 2017
SANTA MARIA, CA- MAY 28: Presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders speaks at a rally at Santa Maria High School on Saturday May
SANTA MARIA, CA- MAY 28: Presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders speaks at a rally at Santa Maria High School on Saturday May 28, 2016 in Santa Maria, CA. The primary in California is June 7th. (Photo by Matt McClain/ The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Sentence #1: If a Democratic primary candidate can win 59 percent of the Party's "pledged" (primary- and caucus-won) delegates or more, the primary is decided by pledged delegates; if a Democratic primary candidate fails to meet that threshold, they are considered by DNC electoral processes to be a weak front-runner and the nomination is finally decided, instead, by "superdelegates" -- who can express support for a candidate at any time, but cannot commit themselves to anyone (i.e., cast a binding vote for any candidate) until the Democratic National Convention in July; superdelegates are unlike pledged delegates in this regard because, while pledged delegates also do not vote until the Party's convention, they cannot change their votes from what their state's voting results pledged them to be -- though it has been argued by some that in fact they can change their votes at the Convention, with this argument most recently having been advanced by Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2008.

Sentence #2: Superdelegates were created in 1984 to enable elected Democratic Party officials and some others of high standing within the Party (including, remarkably, some lobbyists) to overturn the will of the voters if the Party deems it necessary for a November general election win; in both this election cycle and every other, superdelegates interviewed by the media have stated, en masse, that they are in no way bound to vote for the pledged delegate or popular-vote winner, but instead cast their July ballots on the basis of -- depending upon which superdelegate you talk to -- "the good of the Party" or "who can win in November" (the two usually being seen as synonymous).

Sentence #3: Hillary Clinton currently leads Bernie Sanders in pledged delegates, superdelegates, and the popular vote, and would continue to lead Sanders even were the pledged or superdelegate allotment rules to be changes in any one of a number of ways, but has nevertheless failed to receive 59 percent of the pledged delegates -- despite having every possible advantage on her opponent American politics is able to bestow, both financially, in terms of Party support, and in terms of the logistics of individual state electoral processes -- a fact for which she has only her own poor campaigning skills and inability to generate a 59-percent-plus level of enthusiasm from Democrats to blame; what this means is that her only hope for clinching the Democratic nomination, short of a Sanders concession that the Senator has assured the nation is not forthcoming, is to convince a large number of superdelegates to not just voice support but actually vote for her when they cast their ballots at the Democratic convention in July.

Sentence #4: Superdelegates, who have only been around for six contested Democratic primaries, have, depending upon the primary, not previously voted against the pledged-delegate or popular-vote leader for one of two reasons: either the candidate leading in pledged delegates and the popular vote has been a "strong front-runner" with more than 59 percent of the pledged delegates, making superdelegate votes immaterial, or else the candidate behind in pledged delegates and the popular vote has conceded prior to the Democratic National Convention, rendering superdelegate votes essentially meaningless; in the 2016 Democratic primary, it is presumed by the media and many political observers that superdelegates will not switch their endorsements from Hillary Clinton, not because she leads in pledged delegates and the popular vote, and not because the current hard data suggests she's the strongest Democratic candidate for the fall, but rather because she and her husband built the modern neoliberal Democratic Party and therefore own more cultural capital within that context than any other husband and spouse, she and her husband have raised a lot of money for the Party, and she and her husband are believed to be such strong fundraisers that it is felt they will be able to spend their way to a low-turnout general-election victory against Donald Trump.

Sentence #5: Bernie Sanders, who in fact has never called Democratic primaries and caucuses "rigged" -- only an Establishment-favoring superdelegate system that allowed Mrs. Clinton to amass a 400-superdelegate lead on all challengers before the Democratic field had even been set -- is staying in the race because all the extant hard data suggests he is a stronger general election candidate than Mrs. Clinton, because he passionately believes the Democrats must defeat Donald Trump in the fall, and because Mrs. Clinton's stunning failure to secure 59 percent of pledged delegates didn't merely invite but indeed encouraged him to take his case to superdelegates in July; claims by Clinton and her supporters that no general election polling showing Mr. Sanders beating Mr. Trump nationally and in battleground states by significantly more than Mrs. Clinton can be trusted because only Mrs. Clinton, and not Mr. Sanders, has been vetted by the American media and the American political system are wrong on four separate grounds:

  • Americans have long been aware of what is allegedly the most damning allegation against Sanders, that he is a socialist, and all current polling reflects this knowledge;
  • Mrs. Clinton has slandered Mr. Sanders repeatedly in the current primary, including falsely alleging that he opposes Planned Parenthood (he has a 100 percent rating from them), falsely alleging he opposes gun control (he has a "D-" rating from the National Rifle Association), and falsely alleging he voted against the auto bailout (a claim rated 50 percent false by Politifact);
  • opposition research conducted on Sanders during his many, many prior runs for federal office has been dumped into the media en masse this election cycle, including false allegations that he "honeymooned" in Russia (he took a sanctioned goodwill trip to Burlington, Vermont's "sister-city" as Mayor of Burlington), false allegations that he wrote "rape fantasy fiction" in 1972 (he wrote a feminist essay that used retrograde views on sexual relations as a rhetorical counterweight), and false allegations that he has supported repressive Communist regimes abroad (he has noted that certain things can be learned from healthcare and education systems in other countries, a small minority of which were non-democratic); and
  • historical analyses of Clinton's favorability ratings, which are currently as bad as Donald Trump's, show that these have dropped not because of several GOP-manufactured scandals but because of (a) political campaigns Clinton was then running, as tellingly her approval ratings crater every time she's in the public eye daily as part of a political campaign, and (b) public scandals explicitly the result of Clinton's own poor judgment, distaste for transparency, and unwillingness to take responsibility for her actions, three core personality traits which (i) will continue to plague her throughout any general election campaign, and (ii) remain in particularly high relief during the current FBI investigation into a non-permitted clandestine basement server she used to escape FOIA requests from American citizens for two years.

Sentence #6: The Democratic Party has never, in modern history, run a candidate with an unfavorable rating as high as Mrs. Clinton's; it has never, in modern history, run a candidate who was currently under FBI investigation; it has never, in modern history, run a candidate who will (per polling reported by Nate Cohn) not receive the support of fully 50 percent of her opponent's supporters, under circumstances in which her opponent has commanded nearly 45 percent of the popular vote; it has never successfully run a candidate for President who previously lost a Party primary, which loss suggested now-evident infirmities in that candidate's appeal even to Democratic voters; it has never run a candidate who secured only 50 percent of the pledged delegates in the final two-thirds of Party nominating contests; it has never run a candidate whose only consequential primary challenger came from outside the Party, due to her cynical strategy of intimidating other qualified Democrats away from running using a massive pre-election superdelegate lead; it has never, in what is at once predicted to be a "movement" and "base" election, successfully run a candidate for President who neither has broad support from the Party's progressive wing nor is at the head of any identifiable political movement; and it has never nominated for President a candidate losing in national polls, at the time of her media-driven elevation to the status of "presumptive nominee," to a clinical sociopath; for these and other reasons, Sanders plans to continue his campaign in the hope of saving Democratic elders from their slavish devotion to a political dynasty that's turned the Party from its New Deal roots toward a neoliberal corporatism now destroying the middle class.

Sentence #7: While not rigged, there is no question that the Democratic Party's primary process -- which uses superdelegates to create an appearance of pre-election electoral inevitability and closed primaries and onerous registration requirements to exclude many new, independent, and party-switching voters -- has dramatically favored Mrs. Clinton, just as the mainstream media, while not engaged in a massive conspiracy, has without question done all it can to aid Mrs. Clinton and hinder Mr. Sanders (as to airtime, coverage, reporting of superdelegate tallies contrary to explicit DNC instructions, and much more); and now, having failed to stop Sanders via either a lack of media coverage or the superdelegate process, a host of arguments against the Senator are now being marshaled by Party and media forces, not a single one of which is novel, and all of which are familiar strategies for decimating grassroots movements before they have an opportunity to threaten entrenched power:

  • alleging, alternately, that the movement's leader is vain, self-interested, foolish, disloyal, senile/demented, short-sighted, or dangerous;
  • alleging that participants in the movement are violent, spiteful, unrealistic, self-defeating, ignorant, destructive/anarchistic, or in some way grievously biased;
  • alleging that hard data supporting the causes of the movement have in some way been misconstrued, miscast, over-emphasized, or wrongly elevated to the level of polite, reasonable national discourse; and
  • alleging, with little proof, that absolutely nothing about the current movement is novel, and that it is instead merely a rehashing of other failed movements from the past, doomed to fade from public view and relevance in short order.

Sentence #8: In view of all the foregoing, allegations, like those by Paul Krugman and other supporters of Mrs. Clinton, that Sanders supporters continue their fight because of a foolhardy resistance to facts or indifference to consequences are not just misplaced but predictably disingenuous and strategic; what these allegations cannot overturn, however, is a simple fact few on any side neglect to acknowledge: given Mrs. Clinton's certainty (and her supporters' certainty, and Democratic Party leaders' certainty, and media elites' certainty) that she will ultimately prevail; given that the general election is many, many, months away; given that the responsibility for uniting a political party always and forever lies with its elected and nominated leaders, not with its dissidents; given that the length of time between today and the Democratic National Convention means that there's nearly two months for unforeseen events to make it useful for the Democratic Party to have an active backup choice after Clinton (an FBI indictment of Clinton or an associate being, in fact, only one of these); there is no harm whatsoever in Mr. Sanders following DNC procedure and staying in the Democratic primary race until July 25th, fighting for superdelegate votes -- on the basis of his consistent-with-process electability arguments -- all the while, and for Clinton supporters and their numberless allies in the media to, as to that subject, spend the next two months doing little other than, with respect, shutting the hell up and letting the process play out like we do here in America.

Seth Abramson is the Series Editor for Best American Experimental Writing (Wesleyan University) and the author, most recently, of DATA (BlazeVOX, 2016).

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