To Clinton supporters, and even to some Bernie supporters who are of the ‘Unite Blue’ variety, the Bernie or Bust movement (which refuses to support Clinton in the general election under any circumstances), is considered an immature tantrum. But this is a gross misunderstanding of the movement – and it comes from looking at the short term rather than the long term.
Opponents of Bernie or Bust point out that Clinton is better than the alternative. They say that a 3rd party candidate has no chance to win, so we may as well make sure the less-awful alternative wins in 2016. Anything else is just silly.
Well, briefly, on some issues it’s hard to say that Clinton is better than the alternative. Trump is feared by Wall Street more than Clinton is, and he also seems more likely to veto bad trade deals such as the TPP. For all his loud-mouthed blithering, his foreign policy is less hawkish than Clinton’s. However, on other issues, they are equal (think of Clinton’s support for a Mexican wall) or Clinton is probably better. She is certainly better across the board than Cruz, who is a truly horrible choice in every way. Although it seems likely she will not actually fight for many of the things she claims to support in the primary. Having been driven left by Sanders, it is likely she would explicitly move much further right in the general, or else claim she had to ‘compromise’ on all the issues that we liberals really want to have addressed.
To briefly touch on the second issue, given the current unrest regarding the establishment, and given the prevalence of social media, a 3rd party candidate might actually stand a chance. Back in 1992, when Bill Clinton introduced his ‘Third Way,’ Perot still got more than 18% of the popular vote. Since then, the media and the two main parties have both worked very hard to ensure that 3rd party candidates are ignored. The parties did this through rules regarding who can join the debates, while the media does this by emphasizing that 3rd party candidates have no chance. But social media means that people can find out about a candidate’s views even if she or he is never allowed onto a debate stage. And it also means that candidate’s supporters know they aren’t alone. Someone who supported a 3rd party candidate and only looked to mainstream media’s projections of that candidate’s lack of support is very likely to compromise and support one of the two main party candidates. But social media lets people see evidence for support directly from other supporters.
However, let’s disregard those first issues. Let’s take it as a given that 1. Clinton is superior to any GOP challenger, 2. she is fully committed to the platform which she has now taken in the primary (I personally do not trust her at all; as Obama said, she is the type of politician who will say anything and do nothing) and 3. The chances for a 3rd party candidate to win in 2016 are quite slim, if not exactly 0. Is it immature to allow the GOP challenger to likely beat Clinton by refusing to support her?
It would be, perhaps, if 2016 were the last presidential election we would ever have. Then, arguably, getting the less-bad alternative would be worth it. But Bernie or Bust supporters, unlike Unite Blue supporters, have a longer-term goal: the reform of liberal politics in the US. Ideally, we want Bernie now. But if we can’t get Bernie, we want to ensure that the Democrats realize we won’t support center-right candidates (Clinton is sort of moderate by US standards, but to the rest of the world, she is quite far right; Bernie is considered far left in the US, but he’s barely left of centre to the rest of the world).
Back in 1992, Bill Clinton won the White House by basically taking the liberal platform of the democrats and making it more right-wing. In some cases, this meant taking almost completely conservative stances; in others, it meant taking a middle position. He continued Reaganomics, and even took them further. He implemented harsher criminal law. He dismantled welfare. In 2008, this approach, which Clinton called ‘triangulation,’ was even officially acknowledged by the DNC as a pragmatic approach to politics. In other words, the DNC itself took on, both in theory and in practice, a moderate-right stance. Even when a democrat wins an election, therefore, they are frequently not very liberal. And what was the consequence? The Republicans went even further right, and the two parties both became the parties of Wall Street. In fact, the parties barely fight about the economy anymore. The clash about the ACA is particularly ironic, considering that it was virtually a copy of what Mitt Romney had done for Massachusetts. So the GOP and Democrats make a big noise about fighting over the economy, but it’s more smoke than anything. Not only that, but both parties are largely funded by Wall Street and the ultra-rich. This has had a curious consequence: a study done by Gilens and Page (http://mic.com/articles/87719/princeton-concludes-what-kind-of-government-america-really-has-and-it-s-not-a-democracy) found that the opinions of ordinary Americans have no statistically significant effect on legislation. This is not just a problem of the GOP. Meanwhile, the Reaganomics which both parties have embraced have seen us go through bubbles and recessions, but one thing keeps changing the same way: even when the economy is doing better, wealth inequality increases. The ‘better economy’ only benefits the ultrawealthy in a substantial way. This is especially true for younger people (below 34, so-called Millennials) who are finding decent jobs with any kind of security much harder to find (http://www.commondreams.org/views/2016/03/29/sanders-socialism-and-shafted-generation, particularly the study by Katz and Krueger which they cite) If we wanted to condense this into a slogan, it would be something like since Bill Clinton, both the GOP and the Democrats have largely refused to even try for a more liberal economy, and both are working for the ultrawealthy while the rest of the nation stagnates or degenerates.
What Bernie or Bust is really about, then, is the idea that either the Democrats must return to their liberal side (think of FDR and his Democratic Socialist New Deal), or else we need to do away with them as a major party and replace them with a new liberal party. Even if Clinton would be better in the very short term, we need, in the long term, to ensure that more politicians like Sanders or Stein are running and have good chances. A vote for Clinton in the general election is an admission that we are willing to just give up and accept what the party elites offer us. Bernie or Bust recognizes that we cannot expect the Democrats to become more liberal unless we pressure them to do so. And the only way to do that is to refuse to support the party when it nominates someone who is too conservative. Ideally, to then vote for a 3rd party candidate who is more liberal. Even if they lose, we would show Democrats that the way to win more support is not to follow Bill and move to moderate-right positions, but to move further left. Which may help make the GOP move back to a somewhat saner position as well.
Notably, far from being unwilling to compromise, for some of us independents, Bernie is still rather right-wing on a few issues. I personally favour Stein’s policy of forgiving all student loan debt and instituting a Basic Income. I am willing to compromise for Bernie; a compromise for Clinton is simply too far.
The one area where the two parties still substantially differ is on very specific parts of civil rights. The GOP is wildly anti-choice and anti-LGBTQ rights. The Democrats are in favour of both these things (though note that Clinton favours restrictions on abortion, and only became pro-LGBTQ rights in 2013, when it became political suicide to do otherwise as a Democrat). This is another prong in the Unite Blue argument: we need to cement the gains we’ve had in these areas. Furthermore, they say, SCOTUS will likely receive a new member in the next cycle. How can we overlook this? And how can we overlook how truly awful these GOP candidates are?
Basically, these arguments suggest that this is a bad time to try to reform the Democrats. One Unite Blue supporter said as much to me: ‘Stop Trump first, reform the Democrats in 2024,’ (I would not assume Clinton would win re-election in 2020, myself). First, as to SCOTUS (Supreme Court), there’s always a chance for a nomination to come up for the court. The nine judges are old. They’re nominated while already fairly old. Second, The 2021-2024 cycle may have even more SCOTUS openings. Third, there will always be some terrible GOP evil that threatens us. Trump may be loud, but he’s not especially different from other Republicans. He may be less extreme than they are in some ways. Cruz is awful (I would say worse than Trump), but in either case, congressional democrats would simply have to obstruct anything that was too awful. 4 years of the GOP, and in 2020 we could run a real progressive and win the legislature too. Whereas if we decided to wait to reform liberal politics until 2020 or 2024, there will doubtless be yet another ‘horrible GOP alternative’ that ‘must be stopped even if it means going with a moderate-right candidate.’
Another reason that this is a good time to try to reform the Democrats is because this is the first time in decades that they have had a primary challenger who is actually a social democrat. It may be noticed that for a while now, membership in the GOP and Democrats has been dropping. In fact, before the 2016 cycle, there were more independents and 3rd party members than Democrats or Republicans. Voter participation has also plummeted. Probably this is at least in part because voters just saw no reason to pick between two fairly right-wing candidates – which is all we were being offered by the two main parties. Now, we have a candidate who inspires liberal democrats and liberal independents like myself who felt that the Democrats did not offer anything nearly attractive enough in the past; this candidate, therefore, gives us the perfect lever with which to push for party reform.
Finally, yes, Bernie or Bust is a risk, sure. But Uniting Blue behind Clinton is itself a risk. As stated, there will always be a terrible GOP alternative. There is always concern about the supreme court. And for us to settle for Hillary – especially for us Millennials – sends the message to the DNC that we’re willing to fall in line with whatever they offer. That means the next attempt at reform could be even harder to accomplish. Not to mention that Clinton may well lose to a GOP challenger in 2020 and the SCOTUS situation could be made even worse. In other words, we have a choice of risks before us. But Bernie or Bust is not based upon immaturity. If anything it is based upon a more mature, long-term concern for the future of liberal politics in American than is seen among Unite Blue 2016 supporters.