What Winning Looks Like

Bernie Sanders won’t be the Democratic nominee. But he’s winning something more important.

Ed Brayton has the best–and most succinct–analysis of the challenge faced by Bernie Democrats. Over at Dispatches from the Culture Wars, he writes:  

It’s time for Sanders fans — and again, I’m one of them — to shift their focus from winning the presidency to building a real movement to accomplish his primary goal, which is to get the influence of big money out of our political process as much as possible. So what does that entail?

First, it means supporting Hillary Clinton in the general election. What is it that is currently preventing us from passing any meaningful legislation to limit the influence of big money? The Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling. If the Republicans win, any hope of adding a liberal justice to the Supreme Court that could help overturn that ruling dies for at least the next generation, maybe more. On the other hand, a Democratic president gets to replace Scalia and there would then be a liberal majority on the court and overturning that ruling becomes entirely plausible. Bernie voters who refuse to vote for Clinton, even if they have to hold their nose to do it, will be cutting off their nose to spite their face and dramatically reducing the chances of achieving Bernie’s top policy priority.

Second, it means building up an organization that can recruit, train and fund candidates who share Bernie’s vision of not only reducing the influence of big money, but also favors stronger regulation of big business — the very thing that the outsized influence of their money seeks to prevent. Overturning Citizens United is just the first step. The second step has to be electing people to Congress who will vote for serious campaign finance reform, not the weak sauce that was McCain-Feingold. This requires money, organization, and professionals who know how to run campaigns and how tothink strategically in politics.

You can rage all you want about how unfair the system is, but that rage doesn’t actually change anything if you can’t translate it into effective legislative action. So yeah, Bernie is going to lose the Democratic nomination. That doesn’t mean he’s going to lose the larger battle. Winning that battle is up to his supporters and those who share his vision, but if all you’re going to do is kick and scream and cry about dark conspiracies, you won’t achieve a damn thing. So if you want Bernie to win something more important than the White House, get your heads out of the clouds and get to work.

Bottom line: Sanders faces a challenge. He cannot win the Democratic nomination. Will he do a reprise of the disastrous Nader “If not me, no-one” ego trip–a position that gave the U.S. eight years of George W. Bush and a vastly more dangerous world, or will he be willing to spend the time and political capital to lead the Democratic party to a more progressive place?

I think he has signaled his willingness to do the latter, because I think he cares about the issues he has raised more than his own importance. At a campaign rally in Oregon, he said

“We need to plant the flag of progressive politics in every state in this country.”

Echoing Howard Dean from an earlier campaign, Sanders also insisted that the Democratic Party as a whole must forge a 50-state strategy focused on restoring civic vibrancy and fueling meaningful outcomes on the key issues people care about.

“The Democratic Party has to reach a fundamental conclusion: Are we on the side working people or big money interests? Do we stand with the elderly, the children, and the sick and the poor, or do we stand with Wall Street speculators and the drug companies and the insurance companies?”….

Now our job is not just to revitalize the Democratic Party—not only to open the doors to young people and working people—our jobs is to revitalize American democracy.”

If Sanders can set the Democratic party on the road to realizing that goal, he–and the American political system– will be the ultimate winners.


  1. Say what you will about Hillary but don’t forget that when she was First Lady, she actively managed administration people. That’s what the administration needs: management. The White House hummed. The GOP Congress shudders to think what tools they need to avoid the inevitable shake-up. Some of them needn’t worry; they won’t be there next year. We’ll see to it.

  2. I wish people would stop saying he can’t win the nomination. It’s not over until it’s over.

  3. I don’t feel the Bern and have never felt the Bern. However, if by chance Bernie Sanders (not even a Democrat ) wins the nomination of the Democratic Party, I will vote for him in November. I hope Bernie supporters will do the same for Hillary Clinton, should she become the Democratic nominee.

  4. The battle is not over, and with most polls showing Sanders beating Trump handily and Clinton not beating Trump, it would be more judicious for Clinton to back out.

  5. Late to comment, but

    Democrats after Reagan – “We spit on Liberals; we love the center”
    Democrats after Obama – “Liberals are nice, but foolishly naïve; we love them but ignore them”
    Democrats early in Bernie’s campaign – “He is just a protest candidate”
    Democrats now – “Bernie is a serious candidate”

    Bernie represents the return of the New Deal/Great Society wing (sometimes called the Warren wing) of the Democratic Party. I support him in the hopes of changing the Party, win or lose.
    I will remind people of one of the founders of Democratic Socialism, Michael Harrington. He believed that we have a two party system so that progress would be made by influencing one of the parties, basically the Democrats. He wrote a book on poverty called “The Other America”. That inspired the “war on poverty” declared by the Democratic president, LBJ.

    Note to Nancy on fund raising – a former first lady, Senator from a large state and/or Secretary of State can raise a lot of money for other candidates. Who would pay to hear some unknown Senator from a tiny New England state. Of course, now that Bernie is well known it behooves him to step up his efforts — after his campaign is over.

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