This is the cry of ‘left’ opponents of Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign like Chris Hedges. According to these opponents, Sanders campaign cannot win and can only serve to herd progressive supporters behind Hillary Clinton. They seized on Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) mass emails praising Sanders as ‘proof‘ of his sheepdog status and the Green Party’s presidential nominee Jill Stein has gone so far to say (on Fox News!) that a dollar for Bernie is a dollar for Hillary.
- Sanders can win the primary — it’s not rigged or fixed in advance. In the 11 Democratic presidential primary contests from 1972 onward, the early front-runner won in only four cases and two of those four were sitting presidents running as incumbents.1 So more often than not, underdogs and challengers come from behind to win Democratic presidential nomination fights. Betting the farm that the early front-runner would win the nomination in most cases would leave you homeless.
- Sanders is running to win and he has a strategy to win. He is not running an ‘educational’ campaign, a protest campaign, or a campaign to make Clinton a better
candidateliar. He is running to beat her in every state and district he can in order to accumulate a greater number of pledged delegates to the Democratic Party convention, just as Barack Obama did in 2008.
- If the DNC is really pro-Sanders/pro-sheepdog, why did the DNC reject his call for more debates? If Sanders’ role is to make Clinton a better liar, why wouldn’t the DNC welcome more debates since they would improve her debating skills and make the primary process seem even more fair, open, and democratic to voters and grassroots activists? The sheepdog-shouters have no plausible answers to such questions.
- Sheepdogging works with sheep… but we’re not sheep. We have been criticizing Sanders for not taking up #BlackLivesMatter forcefully enough almost since the day he announced his candidacy. His anarchist, Marxist, and Republican supporters certainly won’t transfer their allegiance Clinton no matter what he says or does. After an over-eager activist independently created a website tracking donations to his campaign in real time (almost $9 million in two months!), the campaign asked him to take it down. Some of the campaign’s grassroots organizing meetings have been great while others have been disasters. In short, Sanders supporters are more like cats than sheep and catdogging doesn’t work.
- Sanders isn’t our boss. Sanders isn’t a General Secretary or a Great Helmsman to us, his supporters — we will do as we please. If Sanders loses the nomination fight, the glue that holds this disparate coalition of reds, radicals, Democrats, Republicans, Greens, progressives, military veterans, labor activists, independents, students, and first-time voters together will be gone. Many of us will drop out and stay home on election day; others will cast protest votes for Jill Stein or campaign for her against Clinton and whatever whackjob the GOP nominates; some will vote for Clinton and perhaps a few will even campaign for her. The point is this: Sanders couldn’t sheepdog a solid or monolithic bloc of his supporters to Clinton even if he wanted to.
Instead of sneering at us from the sidelines in publications we don’t read, the anti-Sanders ‘left’ ought to be trying to save us sheeple from Clinton’s clutches by joining the Sanders campaign and providing an alternative path to follow if Sanders’ road to the White House ends at the Democratic National Convention. No one can stop Green Party or Socialist Party members from joining the campaign and forming a nation-wide ‘Bernie Or Bust’ faction or better yet a ‘Bernie or Stein’ faction — not Sanders, not Clinton, and not the DNC. The only thing stopping the anti-Sanders ‘left’ from becoming pledged delegates to the convention and leading a pro-Stein walkout from the convention floor in Philadelphia and upending Clinton’s coronation à la Chicago 1968 is their own snide sectarianism.
If the sheepdog-shouters were actually courageous militants and bold activists, if they were actually concerned about the fate of Sanders’ flock, they would gladly swallow their pride and throw themselves into the difficult work of stopping Sanders from completing Operation Sheepdog. They would be happily seize this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity jam up the Democratic Party machinery from within. Jamming this kind of monkey wrench into the gears of the two-party machine as the gears are moving would do more to open the space for a viable mass-based third party to emerge than yet another fruitless fringe/spoiler left campaign for 1%-2% of the vote (or less), but the anti-Sanders ‘left’ clearly would rather shout about sheepdogs than get its hands dirty fighting them over the direction of the flock.
1. The four cases of early front-runners winning the nomination: 1984, 1996, 2000, and 2012; in 1996, President Bill Clinton was an incumbent and in 2012, President Barack Obama was an incumbent. The starting point of this analysis is 1972 is because the modern primary system that is currently in use really took shape beginning in that year.