Bernie Sanders, Michelle Obama, Elizabeth Warren, Corey Booker, and others gave inspiring speeches at the Democratic Party's convention on Monday evening, but actress and comedian Sarah Silverman delivered the night's best one-liner, an ad-lib from her prepared remarks: “To the Bernie-or-bust people, you're being ridiculous.”
Sanders is backed by 1,893 delegates at the convention compared with 2,814 pledged to Hillary Clinton. Silverman was speaking to the handful of Sanders delegates—perhaps 200 at most—who refuse to accept the reality that Clinton will be the Democratic nominee, and that either she or Donald Trump will be the next president of the United States. They disrupted Silverman's address by booing when she mentioned Clinton's name and shouting “Bernie,” making it difficult for her to be heard in the conventional hall and on TV.
Even Sanders was booed by that small but vocal group of Bernie-or-busters when he urged them at a lunchtime gathering Monday to support Clinton to block Trump from winning the White House. Later in the day, Sanders personally texted his delegates to implore them “as a personal courtesy to me, to not engage in any kind of protest on the floor.” Obviously, some of them were not listening.
As speaker after speaker invoked Clinton's name, the Sanders campaign’s wacko wing booed and hissed their antipathy to the actual Democratic nominee. Some wore masking tape over their mouths with the word “Silenced,” a TV shot the Trump campaign and its allies are sure to reproduce in campaign ads.
For TV viewers watching this spectacle, it was difficult to determine just how many people were screaming “Bernie, Bernie,” whenever a speaker mentioned Clinton. But their voices were definitely heard. The chants clearly unnerved some of the speakers struggling to follow the teleprompter while interrupted by anti-Clinton chants.
When it was Sanders's turn to speak at the convention, his message was clear: “I am proud to stand with her.”
Nevertheless, several Sanders delegates told MSNBC at the end of the day that they weren't yet ready to support Clinton. Delegates cited Clinton’s need to earn their “trust,” their anger that more Sanders supporters, despite receiving half the slots Monday, weren’t given more convention speaking roles, and their opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement—even though Clinton is on record opposing the TPP. One particularly misguided Sanderista from Vermont complained that Sanders had been relegated to speaking last—when, in fact, his 10 p.m. slot, a prime time for the national audience, gave him the honor of closing the night.
How many other Bernie-or-bust delegates (and their counterparts around the country) share this basic ignorance about how politics really works and what Clinton really espouses?
Certainly the media are giving the Bernie-or-bust crowd much more attention than it deserves. This group represents no more than 10 percent of the Sanders delegates in Philadelphia, and probably even fewer. But news outlets can’t resist the dramatic story line of a convention and a party beset with internal conflict.
As Sanders reminded the rabble-rousers in his speech, he may have lost the nomination, but he has won the battle of ideas. His presence in the Democratic campaign has pushed Clinton to the left on issues from the minimum wage to debt-free higher education, tougher Wall Street regulation, TPP opposition, and expanding Obamacare.
Sanders told delegates point-blank that “Hillary Clinton must become the next president of the United States,” that he hopes his supporters “take enormous pride in the historical accomplishments we have achieved,” that “Hillary Clinton will make an outstanding president,” and that he was “proud to stand with her here tonight."
But Sanders, like Dr. Frankenstein, may have created a monster that he can't control. And if the word “monster” sounds hyperbolic, remember that progressives and radicals who refuse to vote for Clinton will be helping to elect a real monster—a neo-fascist, racist, anti-Semitic, nativist, sexist, xenophobic, narcissistic demagogue named Donald Trump.
Just how tiny is the Bernie-or-bust camp? A newly released Pew Research Center survey founder that 90 percent of Sanders supporters said they will vote for Clinton in November. But having worked hard for months to turn Sanders’ initial ragtag campaign into an amazing crusade that came close to winning the nomination, delegates are understandably his most enthusiastic, committed, and fervent supporters. When their hero took the stage Monday night many Bernie-ites were crying.
But small as it is, the Bernie-or-bust-never-Hillary crowd is undermining the two overriding goals that Sanders himself has spelled out: defeating Donald Trump and continuing the “political revolution” that defines crusade. As Sanders said in his speech, this election isn't about personalities, or platform fights, or egos. It’s about, quite literally, our identity as a nation and the future of democracy.
Of course, there's plenty of blame to go around for the awful situation we're now in—the possibility that hundreds (out of almost 2,000) Bernie delegates will take to the convention floor to attack Clinton and her running mate, Tim Kaine. The biggest share of blame lands on outgoing Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who according to recently leaked emails improperly inserted herself into the primary. Clinton herself unnecessarily alienated Sanders supporters with a variety of missteps. Clinton did pressure Wasserman Schultz to resign as party chair on Sunday, but she missed any chance to win over Sanders acolytes by appointing her as a co-chair of the campaign.
Sanders himself, along with his campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, deserve some blame for not dialing down their anti-Hillary rhetoric, especially after it was clear that she had won the nomination. Still, Sanders won most of his platform fights precisely because he had kept his campaign’s momentum going. And for the past few weeks Sanders has been a responsible adult—endorsing Clinton, forging compromises on the platform without name-calling, and urging his supporters to get behind the Clinton-Kaine ticket.
Now it’s time for Sanders’s followers to take a page out of his book. Sanderistas are fed up with the current system, but changing that system involves thinking strategically and recognizing the consequences of their actions. A Trump victory would mean civil liberties infringements, economic chaos, anti-abortion Supreme Court picks, more deportations, a higher likelihood of war, severe threats to the social safety net, and a political atmosphere poisoned by racism and hate. It would also mean no chance to reverse Citizens United, strengthen voting rights, or make higher education and health care more affordable.
Even if most of the pro-Sanders protesters eventually hold their noses and vote for Clinton, that won't outweigh or undo the damage they may cause by protesting on the convention floor before a national TV audience.
If the Bernie-or-busters’ outbursts continue throughout the convention and culminate in an effort to drown out Clinton's nationally televised acceptance speech on Thursday, that can only undermine the Democratic ticket and help Trump. At this point, attacking Clinton for not being radical enough is an objectively reactionary posture if it helps put Trump in office. Moreover, the Bernie-or-busters protesting on TV are undermining their own effort to build a sustainable movement. A Clinton victory in November keeps the door open for progressive change. A Trump triumph shuts it tight.
So who are these agitators who can't see the political forest for the trees? Some realize that what they are doing is self-destructive. Some don't. Some, tragically, don't care. Interviews and blog posts on left-leaning websites suggest that many of them view politics as a zero-sum game. If they don't get absolutely everything they want, they think they've lost. Sanders got about 80 percent of what he wanted on the Democratic platform, but for the most zealous of his followers, that's not enough.
These naysayers don't understand that negotiating is the first principle of organizing, and that compromise is the heart of democracy. They also don't understand that all progressive change comes about through steppingstone reforms—victories that can lead to further victories. Workers first fought for the 10-hour day, for example, before they demanded an eight-hour day. A political revolution doesn't happen overnight.
The Bernie-or-bust-never-Hillary delegates fall into several categories. Some are young, idealistic, naïve political newcomers who feel betrayed by Sanders’s loss. A few are Green Party members who jumped on the Sanders bandwagon and now believe that voting for Jill Stein will strengthen their movement. (Never mind that in key swing states—including Florida, Pennsylvania, and Ohio—even a handful of progressive votes for Stein could tilt the outcome to Trump.)
Still others are seasoned activists in their 50s, 60s and 70s, many of whom got their first taste of politics in the 1960s. Some may still think the revolution is around the corner. And still others are simply fools. Take actress Susan Sarandon, who throughout the primary said that Clinton was actually worse than Trump. Or theologian Cornel West, whom Sanders ill-advisedly brought on board his campaign and named to the Democratic platform committee. When the committee didn't accept 100 percent of West’s ideas, he jumped ship to endorse Stein. Lately, the self-absorbed West has been hanging out with a has-been revolutionary named Bob Avakian, who runs a tiny cult called the Revolutionary Communist Party.
Which brings us to the other thing driving many Bernie-or-Bust activists: ego. Some Bernie-or-busters simply enjoy being seen on TV and being quoted in the paper. It’s immature and narcissistic, but there's a lot of that going around. (See Trump, Donald). As they said in the 1960s, “The whole world is watching.”
But what will millions of Americans be watching if the Bernie-or-bust folks interrupt or even walk out on Clinton's speech on Thursday? Even if 95 percent of the delegates in Philadelphia support Clinton—either enthusiastically or reluctantly—the cameras will focus on the 5 percent carrying signs saying “never Hillary” or even “lock her up.” They will convey the misleading impression that the Democratic Party is deeply divided, and give Trump more ammunition to attack Clinton.
One can only hope that Sanders will urge these agitators, who are easy to identify because there are so few of them, in small groups and in one-on-one conversations, to avoid over-the-top protests that disrupt the proceedings. Other progressive leaders, such as Senators Elizabeth Warren and Jeff Merkley, House members Keith Ellison and Raul Grijalva, environmental activist Bill McKibben, and union leader Rose Ann DeMoro, should do the same. Democrats could even bring in filmmaker Michael Moore, who supported Sanders but now wants to rally the troops behind Clinton—to knock some sense into the Bernie-or-busters.
The message they should convey is simple: We have plenty of time, after November, to build our progressive movement. After Clinton takes office, we will hold her feet to the fire by lobbying, protesting, engaging in civil disobedience, and helping elect progressive candidates for Congress, including some Sanderistas, in 2018. But right now, our movement is best served by helping elect Clinton and other Democrats to Congress, and making sure that Trump goes back to building casinos, selling steaks, and paying lawyers to keep him out of jail.
But Silverman, whose ad-libbed “you're being ridiculous” line stole the show Monday, has already delivered the most useful advice. “It's so inspiring,” Silverman said that night. “I will vote for Hillary with gusto as I continue to be inspired and moved to action by the ideals set forth by Bernie, who will never stop fighting for us.”