A Better Deal for the Bernie Base
by Kevin Kelton
It has been my experience (and probably yours, too) that most people can never take ownership of their bad life decisions. Bosses never call up up to say they were wrong to fire you. Former girlfriends/boyfriends never admit the breakup was a mistake. Drivers never accept fault in an accident. Police officers won’t even admit they were wrong to shoot an unarmed victim.
People don’t reflect on and reverse their poor choices because to do so would cast cognitive dissonance over our self-image as a good/smart/fair person. It goes to the core of who we are.
So it’s about time we stop expecting diehard Bernie Sanders supporters to change their tune on their efforts to derail the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign. Nine months later, they still profess to believe that publicly kneecapping her candidacy from July to November and not voting for her was the right thing to do.
I call them the Bernie base. And I’m sad to report that they are as unhinged from the reality of their choices today as they were on their march to losing the primaries and subsequently torpedoing the Democratic nominee in the general.
Donald Trump could blow up the planet with nuclear bombs and they’d still say it was the fault of Hillary voters, not them or their divisive actions that ultimately put his finger on the button.
So I think the Democratic party should just move on without them. No, not cut them loose or actively reject their support. They are still voters and they still have a voice. But we need to accept that these democratic socialists will always sit on the fringe of our party, trying more to deconstruct it than promote it. So we should be as conciliatory to them as we can without perverting our own core values in a futile effort to appease them.
Sanders’ supporters still think single-payer healthcare is a political possibility, against all evidence to the contrary. They still believe in raising taxes massively to pay for free college and expansive social welfare programs. And they still think the Democratic party is a corrupt, anachronistic vehicle that they must invade and overthrow to make democracy work.
So no, we should not “play to the base.” I’m not convinced they are our base. Let’s not forget that over 57 primaries and caucuses, their candidate and message received only 43% of the vote…against 55% for the winning candidate – a 3.8 million vote difference. That’s a landslide in any election. (And no, a couple of catty DNC internal emails did not swing 4 million votes.) They can point to polls all day long that suggest their man might have beaten Trump in the general election, but the same polls said Hillary Clinton would trounce him, too. You cannot claim the polls are valid only in your argument but invalid the rest of the time.
That’s why I support the party’s new “A Better Deal” campaign. It’s not the most compelling slogan in the world. And, yeah, it’s a bit hacky. But the proposals behind the slogan are substantive and viable. In his NY Times op-ed introducing the campaign, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer summarized it as a series of initiatives (I refuse to parrot the trite adjective, “bold’) designed to appeal to a broad range of working-class and middle-class families. I like what he mentioned and fervently hope they go further. Democrats cannot pass legislation in the GOP-dominated chambers of congress, but they can win broad support for good ideas in the chamber of public opinion.
This is the first step toward a winning strategy in 2018. We have a long way to go. But playing to the fringe left and the Bernie base will not get us there. They may not even vote in the midterms.
Sanders always said he wanted to start a revolution. Now it’s time for us to deliver on it. Not by placating his still starry-eyed ideologue voters, but by adopting a coherent and realistic plan that mainstream votes will embrace.
Sorry, Bernie base. You don’t own the Democratic party. You just visited for a few months, and left things a mess. Call before you stop by again.