Lerner’s Huffington Post article on Sanders Supporters’ Dilemma
Senator Bernie Sanders had two good reasons for endorsing Hillary: 1. His firm belief that the country would be considerably worse off were Donald Trump to win the presidency; 2. If his movement to push the Democratic Party in a progressive direction would had been perceived as having failed to support Hillary Clinton, it would have been blamed if Hillary were to lose in November. If that happened, it would have given progressives the kind of bad reputation consumer advocate Ralph Nader got when he failed to tell his supporters in the 2000 presidential election to not vote for him but vote for Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore in those few states where the polls indicated that the outcome might well depend on Gore getting the Nader voters. The burden of that would have crippled his movement for many years to come. After Sanders’s talk appealing to his delegates to vigorously support Hillary’s presidential candidacy despite the Wikileaks revelations that the Democratic Party’s pro-Hillary national leadership actively sought to undermine his candidacy during the primaries, no reasonable person could blame a Trump victory in November on Bernie Sanders (although if Trump wins, you can bet some in both parties will try).
Sadly, Senator Sanders conveyed his support in a way that undermined his integrity and disillusioned some of his most ardent supporters, reducing his credibility, thereby leaving them doubtful that the movement he had promised to create along with his campaign would be little more than a Bernie-controlled political PAC playing politics the “old-fashioned way.” Bernie derived his power and appeal to millions of Americans not solely from the wisdom of his political program, but also from the widespread perception that he was a truth-telling man who refused to follow the normal rules of establishment-oriented politics. He was loved in part because he rejected the advice of all the political realists and spoke truth to power.
Monday night of the convention was his big moment to speak to tens of millions of people who had never heard him, and to explain to his supporters why he had endorsed Hillary Clinton and was urging them to do so also. Yet at that critical moment, he failed to speak truth to power, and while the mainstream media was thrilled by his suddenly reverting to the loyal Democrat he has never actually been throughout his political career, the millions who had hoped he would create a challenge to establishment politics were deeply depressed not at the fact that he had endorsed, Hillary, but in the way that he did so.
His endorsement talk could have mentioned the real arguments for supporting Hillary Clinton mentioned above. There is no question in the minds of most of his supporters and most Democrats that on issues of racism, sexism, homophobia, immigrant rights, and gun control that Hillary would be far better than Trump. But this was a moment when, having affirmed that and making clear that he was pleading with his supporters to support her election in November, Sanders would have been true to his followers if he had added the following:
We know that the pressures on Hillary, once elected, to abandon her recent agreement to support our campaign’s longstanding demands will be overwhelming, just as they were on President Obama. The combined power of the 1 percent, their media, the millions who serve them and hope someday to be part of them, and their loyal supporters not only among Republicans but also among some prominent Democrats elected to the Congress and state legislatures, will insist that she drop her commitment to oppose the TPP and oppose other anti-working class and anti-environment trade agreements, to support a public option for health care, to support free college education from students coming from families with incomes less than $125,000, and to support a $15 an hour minimum wage. She has advertised herself throughout her campaign as someone who knows how to be practical and get things done in D.C. — and this is often a way of saying that she knows how to compromise to get something passed, even if what gets passed really has little in common with the ideals that we ran this campaign to champion.
Our task is both to get Hillary elected, and to create a force both within and outside the Democratic Party that can support her to push back against the pressure she will be facing from the large corporations, the one-tenth of one percent of the population that owns 80% of the wealth of this country, and their allies in government and corporate-owned media. For that reason, we will convene a national convention after the election and democratically create an ongoing national movement organization that will push for her to stay true to the best of what has been written in the Democratic party platform, to reform the Democratic Party so that it no longer responds more to its big donors than to its mass base of middle income people without the financial means to go to the high-cost fundraising dinners, and to be a loud counter voice to those who praise compromise where compromise means selling out the best interests of working people, the poor, people of color, the hungry, the homeless and the hopeless.
In the 2018 Congressional election we will be targeting Democrats in Congress who join in those kinds of compromises and in the 2020 presidential election we will not be backing Hillary if she fails to live up to the values that we supported in this election. This is our commitment to the American people—our new organization, which we will call “Our Revolution,” will speak the truth, not blindly promote Democrats or Hillary, but will be there to support her and those Democrats who do support the kind of change we can really believe in.
We wish there had been such a force during the Obama presidency—we could have helped President Obama win a public option in health care and many other good things he originally said he stood for in the first two years when Democrats had a majority in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. We would have pushed President Obama to insist that for every dollar his bailout money gave to the large banks, corporations and Wall Street investment companies the bailout would give ten dollars to ordinary citizens who were losing their homes and their jobs as a result of the irresponsible policies of pro-corporate forces in both parties and the criminal behavior of the large banks and investment companies. Our movement will not let that happen again. We will not only insist that the criminals on Wall Street, and the criminals who ordered and carried out torture, be prosecuted, but we also will make sure that Democrats who put the interests of the 1% ahead of the interests of the middle class lose their jobs as elected officials.
Such a speech would have given hope to the Sanders supporters that their efforts had not been in vain, and would have created an incentive for Hillary to stick with her own highest and most noble instincts rather than simply play to whatever her paid political advisors tell her is opportune at any given moment.
Bernie Sanders’ failure to give this kind of talk at the moment he had the attention of the American people has undermined his greatest asset — his reputation as a truth-talker. That, more than anything, may weaken the possibility of his movement ever regaining the enthusiasm that it engendered during his truth-speaking days in the 2016 primary season. This was a great betrayal of the millions of people who believed they had finally found a leader who would always talk the truth, even it if was not politically popular. Bernie certainly knew that what he was saying was deeply problematic and untruthful when he assured his followers that Hillary would be fighting for the very things that he and his followers had watched Hillary repudiate throughout the primary campaign and that she had momentarily embraced to ensure support from pro-Bernie Democrats. Asking them to trust her latest switch on these issues, rather than calling on his supporters to be ready to push her on them, made Bernie seem to be just another opportunistic politician.
Polls indicate that close to 90 percent of Sanders’s supporters will support Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. And they can do something more: they can now create a national organization that goes beyond Bernie’s politics in two ways: 1. Explaining to Americans why the problems we face are unlikely to be solved within the context of a capitalist society, so while we must struggle for major reforms inside that system we must simultaneously be advocating for a new kind of system. That vision of a new economic system should not in the discredited leftist language of the past.
So we at Tikkun magazine and our interfaith and secular-humanist-and-atheist-welcoming Network of Spiritual Progressives call for “The Caring Society—Caring for Each Other and Caring for the Earth” governed by a “New Bottom Line” that judges efficiency, productivity and rationality not by the capitalist Old Bottom Line of money and power, but rather by how much our economic system, our government policies, our education system, our legal system and our corporations, our media, and our societal arrangements maximize people’s capacities to be loving and caring, kind and generous, engaged in environmentally sustainable behavior, responding to other human beings as deserving of empathy and compassion, and responding to the Earth (and the universe) with awe, wonder and radical amazement rather than simply as a “resource” to satisfy our desire for more consumption and the accumulation of material things. 2. Helping people who have not “made it” reject the capitalist ideology that where you end up in the economic hierarchy is a function of your intrinsic worth and that therefore you have no one to blame but yourself if you haven’t been as successful in the struggle of all against all that you had hoped. Instead, we must reject the claim that we live in a meritocracy, with its inevitable consequence that tens of millions of people blame themselves while repeating the capitalist mantra that “you create your own reality” so blame yourself if your life is not fulfilling.
Had Senator Sanders’ campaign gone beyond its economistic focus to help people reduce self-blame and to embrace the New Bottom Line and call for a world of love and generosity, it would likely have won over the extra few percentage points of voters that would have given him the presidential nomination. Progressives can create a movement with those kinds of goals right now after the election. So we at Tikkun magazine are inviting progressives, including both Bernie supporters and the many progressives who support Hillary because they feel it important to have a woman as president, or believed that a socialist-Jew from would be “unelectable” for various reasons, to a strategy conference in the SF Bay Area the weekend of Veterans’ Day holiday immediately after the election, Saturday November 11th and Sunday November 12th. We will develop ideas on how best to create a national organization of progressives that can continue what was powerful about the Sanders campaign, develop the core of new ideas capable of bringing back to the progressive world many working class men and women who have defected in the past 30 years, and how best to shape the founding convention of what could be an enduring voice for progressives that would reshape public discourse in the 21st century. Doing so would be a lasting tribute to the value of the months of work and financial support given to the Sanders campaign, and a proper way to prepare ourselves for the battles ahead no matter who wins the presidency in November.
Please spread the word and come to this strategy conference. To learn more about what we are planning, please send us your name and email to firstname.lastname@example.org or by going here.
Rabbi Michael Lerner, who spoke truth to power when he was a major speaker at the Muhammad Ali memorial a few weeks ago, is editor of Tikkun magazine www.tikkun.org, rabbi of Beyt Tikkun synagogue in Berkeley, Ca., www.beyttikkun.org, chair of the Network of Spiritual Progressives www.spiritualprogressives.org/covenant, and author of 11 books including the national best seller The Left Hand of God: Taking Back our Country from the Religious Right.