Bernie Sanders' path to the Democratic presidential nomination is now as blocked as an artery filled with hardened butter, and the Vermont senator is having a hard time convincing the cognoscenti that he should stay in the race.
The democratic socialist's point, the pundits say, has been made. His influence pulled former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the left. His presence in the race forced her to oppose trade agreements she otherwise would have supported, and to make far-reaching promises on issues as disparate as college tuition and campaign finance reform. He's made her a better campaigner, forcing her to confront the pandemic of anxiety that even Democratic base voters feel, the relative macro-health of the economy notwithstanding.
Sanders' campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, recently made a lame attempt to justify Sanders' continued presence in the race by the absence of Clinton's support among independents. Superdelegates, he said, will be persuaded that only Sanders can put together the coalition needed to beat Donald Trump in the fall.
The better answer as to why Sanders ought to stay in the race has little to do with Hillary Clinton, and nothing to do with the presidency. But it has everything to do with the future of the Democratic Party.
This heavyweight analysis by Vox's Matt Yglesias gets to the heart of it. Yglesias points out that the Sanders coalition wants to make the Democrats an "ideological left-wing party." This entails more than remolding or recasting; it would upend the entire foundation of the Democratic Party.
The Democratic Party, he writes, is "more like a centrist, interest group brokerage party that seeks to mediate between the claims and concerns of left-wing activists groups and those of important members of the business community — especially industries like finance, Hollywood, and tech that are based in liberal coastal states and whose executives generally espouse a progressive outlook on cultural change."
I'll take this a step further. The current Democratic elite is transactional with these interest groups. These transactions are at the heart of what alienates the Sanders coalition — not just because they lack a soul but because they reify the institutional barriers to participation and engagement that prevent people from flourishing.
People who are disenfranchised — through unjust laws, immigration status, arcane and archaic election mechanics, gerrymandering, racism, classism, governmental neglect, lack of education, incarceration, and so on — don't deserve their fate being determined this way.
And yet, "this way” is what Hillary Clinton represents to many, many of these young voters and their allies.
Imagine for a moment that you are an undocumented immigrant, or a passionate advocate for them. You'd hope that the strongest possible Democratic candidate would be elected in the fall, one who would appoint a Supreme Court justice would who uphold President Obama's executive action on immigration; one who might, given the right Republican opponent, change the color of the quarks in Congress just enough to make significant headway on immigration reform. Hillary Clinton would be that candidate. And indeed, her support from the pro-reform immigration institutionalists is strong.
But you've also got a long memory. You remember, back in 2008, when she was late on immigration. She was as late on immigration as she was on gay rights. And now she's pandering to Latinos.
You remember, not too long ago, when she supported sending Central American children refugees back to their home countries, back to (what you imagine to be) their certain deaths; or when she opposed driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants because that was the strong position to take at the time. And now she's hugging a crying citizen child of immigrants, comforting her and saying she will make sure her mommy is not deported.
You just don't trust Hillary Clinton with your future.
You don't hate her; you hate the transactional politics she represents. And Bernie Sanders — he's not perfect, but man, if given the chance to pop a balloon in the middle of Easter Mass, you would. Because the future of the party belongs to you, not to people of Clinton's generation.
It's hard to argue with the notion that a person who shares these beliefs wouldn't want Sanders to stay in the race as long as possible, if only to make sure that the next presidential race is fought on more hospitable territory to candidates like him.
This argument founders on the shoals for a few reasons. One is that it endorses the transactional politics that it purports to disdain. The other is that it lacks — like many of Sanders' pronouncements — necessary details. It's an argument for change without a plan for change. It may be possible in 20 years to build a Democratic Party that is funded only by small donors, that reflects a strong left-wing consensus, that is led by social justice warriors, and that can elect politicians who are one with the force. But we're nowhere near that yet. And all other things being equal, most people inside the Democratic Party will vote with their interests in mind, and not with a grander, humanistic conception of a freer future.
They don't want to send a message; they want to win. Winning makes their lives marginally better. Sending messages makes them feel better.
Still, I get it. I get it more than I've gotten it before. The authors of this political revolution will determine how it proceeds. The cognoscienti won't.