Don’t Panic, Bernie Fans! It Ain’t Over Yet
It’s Wednesday, the day after Super Tuesday, and I know what some of you Bernie supporters are thinking.
Bernie’s lost! We’ve lost! This is the end!
The somewhat misleading headlines like “Joe Biden’s Historic Night” (CNN) and “Sanders Laments Turnout After Biden’s Big Night” (New York Times) doubtless didn’t help any of us put things in proper perspective. You’d think that the election was all over, Biden had wrapped up the nomination and we could now all relax and go back to ignoring politics until convention time.
I was frankly pretty disappointed myself at last night’s election results. A string of victories for the status quo candidate can seem like the end of the progressive dream, after all. When you step back and look critically at what actually did and di not happen Tuesday, you realize that there are a number of solid reasons to avoid giving in to panic and keep pressing forward, whatever the results in months to come.
First and foremost: we are only one month into a five-month primary season. The states containing the bulk of the urban, liberal population haven’t had their say yet. Let’s get through the upcoming contests in places like Hawaii, New York, New Mexico, New Jersey and Maryland before we indulge in despair.
Come to think of it, we still don’t really even know who won some of the state primaries that have already happened. As of 5 p.m. on Wednesday as I write these words, most of the Super Tuesday states are still tabulating their election results, and we might not know for hours or days who won what and where. One locus of uncertainty, California, is as big as some European countries, and it’s got hundreds of delegates at stake for the winner. Right now, only 54% of precincts have reported in, and Sanders is ahead of Biden by about 50 pledged delegates. If that delegate share widens for Sanders, he could easily erode the total delegate gap between him and Biden, which stands at 435 delegates for Biden to Sanders’ 381.
While the delegates of the moderate candidates who have dropped out of the race this week may all end up going to Biden, we don’t know for certain that they will choose to do so. If the race is reduced to Biden and Sanders, which I think is likely, the drag on votes and resources from the overflowing bench of Democratic candidates may actually give Sanders a much-needed boost.
And did you really expect Sanders would win in deep-red, Southern states like Arkansas, Texas, Tennessee or middle-of-the-road states like Maine? Really? In some of these states, electing Democrats at all is still a bit miraculous, so as much as we’d like everything to go our way, we gotta be at least somewhat realistic.
Be realistic, but be hopeful too, and at the end of the day, keep in mind that radical transitions never happen fast enough, but they do happen.
What this means, practically speaking, is to work to get Bernie Sanders elected as president of the United States. Right now, he is the best hope of the just, fair America for which we all hunger. If he loses the nomination or wins the nomination but is beaten by Trump, the progressive vision will not have been beaten. It will just have been dealt a setback, so let’s shuck off this short-term all-or-nothing thinking and settle in for the long haul. This presidential campaign was not the end of the fight, and it won’t be the end of the fight. It’s the middle. Get used to that.
Now let’s say, for instance, Bernie Sanders loses the nomination to Joe Biden, and then Biden wins in November. After we finish dancing on the grave of the much-loathed presidency of Donald J. Trump, we will have to grapple with getting, as it were, half a loaf. No Trump is great; no Bernie is also not great. A Biden victory would be a victory for the pre-Trump status quo, and as we know, the status quo produced the Trump presidency.
How should we Bernie supporters respond? Well, rather than erupting in bitter rage and mauling each other in retributive spite and fury, it would be wiser to consider that before leaping straight to radical reform the country hungers for, America might need first a transitional time of recovery and healing from its four years of being torn apart brick by brick.
If this happens, it’s not the end of the progressive dream for a better America, just the prelude. If that’s what the people of this country decide they want, we have to respect the mood of the majority.
That doesn’t mean we shut up or stop fighting. Oh, hell no. Keep fighting. Keep hoping. Keep dreaming. Never, never, never give up.
On the other hand, it does mean that we can’t afford to indulge in fanaticism or extremism. We have to respect where the country is, but we don’t have to let it stay there.
Here’s another reason for not despairing if Bernie loses.
We cannot invest so much of our hopes and dreams in one single person, however great or inspiring they might be. After all, Bernie’s campaign slogan is “Not me: us,” right? The promised bringer of change doesn’t always have the political power to deliver. If we put too much weight on the back of one favored candidate, chances are he won’t be humanly able to deliver like we want him to.
The progressive vision transcends the campaign of Bernie Sanders, which is only a temporary organizing tool to bring us together to strive that vision. We must, then, dedicate ourselves not to Bernie Sanders the man but the principles which he represents. Bernie Sanders is 78 years old, after all, and as much as some of us hate to admit it, there probably aren’t very many active years left for him in public life. The younger generations need to be preparing now to keep up the fight for a free, just America once he passes from the scene.
So, in short, Bernie bros and supporters and voters, etc.: don’t panic; hope for the best; expect the worst; and settle in for the long game.
We’ll all sleep better that way.