Last Sunday, Bernie Sanders published an op-ed decrying America’s system of criminal punishment for “effectively criminalizing communities of color.” Noting efforts already underway to end cash bail in Philadelphia under the leadership of community organizers and District Attorney Larry Krasner, Sanders urged “the citizens of Philadelphia [to continue this progress and] cast their votes for progressive judicial candidates in this month’s primary election.”
Voters can choose up to 6 of the 28 Democrats running to be a judge in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. Knowing that Philly residents compelled by Bernie’s op-ed may be wondering who deserves their vote on May 21, I asked my sister Hannah, who closely follows criminal justice issues and is my moral role model, to provide specific recommendations. Hannah is currently getting her Master’s in Social Work from the University of Pennsylvania. She has extensive knowledge of the Philadelphia court system through both her past job in the public defender’s office and the activism she engages in with a variety of social justice organizations around the city.
Because Philadelphia’s Democratic judge pool leans conservative, there aren’t any candidates Hannah enthusiastically supports. There are, however, three judges she finds good enough to bullet vote for: Anthony Kyriakakis (#19 on the ballot), Tiffany Palmer (#23), and Kay Yu (#27). I have provided brief descriptions of those three candidates below.
Voting recommendations for Judge of the Court of Common Pleas in Philadelphia
#19, Anthony Kyriakakis (5th Ward): A lecturer at Temple Law and Penn Law, Kyriakakis is a private defense attorney and former prosecutor who says incarceration rates are too high, sentences are too long, and defendants are treated unequally along racial, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and class lines. He has been interested in representing low-income defendants since his time with the Harvard Defenders at Harvard Law and volunteers as a pro bono Child Advocate in family court. Campaign website: https://anthonyforjudge.com/
#23, Tiffany Palmer (9th Ward): A daughter of public school teachers, Palmer began her career in 1998 as a public interest lawyer at the Center for Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights and soon became the organization’s legal director. She co-founded the private family law firm she currently works at in 2003 and has won numerous awards, including being named one of the nation’s “40 Best LGBT Lawyers Under 40” in 2011. She says her “own experience with having her long-term partner treated as a legal stranger has shaped her commitment to fairness, inclusion, and equal treatment under the law.” Campaign website: https://palmerforjudge.com/
#27, Kay Yu (15th Ward): Yu’s own experience as an undocumented immigrant has informed her advocacy for increased ballot access and voting rights. While she is an employer-side lawyer in private practice, she has also chaired the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations for four years and worked to update Philadelphia’s civil rights policy. She won several awards in 2018, including being named Attorney of the Year by the Asian Pacific American Bar Association. Campaign website: https://www.kayforjudge.com/
The race for the Democratic National Committee Chairperson is very important.
In case you haven’t been following it, there are many candidates running, but only two major contenders: Keith Ellison, Democratic Congressman from Minnesota’s 5th congressional district for 10 years straight, and Tom Perez, the Secretary of Labor from the Obama Administration. The winner of the race, who will be chosen during the weekend of February 24 by 447 party insiders, will run fundraising, outreach, and primary processes for the Democratic Party over the next several years.
Overall, Ellison has stronger social justice credentials than Perez – he’s been an active Co-Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and has put forward some of the most progressive economic justice legislation in Congress during his time there. He’s been a staunch advocate for unions, was an early supporter of a $15 minimum wage, and was an early opponent of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and other trade deals that are more about enriching multinational corporations than promoting the free exchange of goods and services. His voting record on women’s rights, LGBT rights, anti-racist policy – you name it – is excellent. And before coming to Congress, Ellison worked in civil rights and employment law.
But Perez deserves a fair bit of credit for his record, too. As the Labor Secretary, Perez went after companies that stole from their workers, embraced policies that would raise the pay of and increase opportunities for members of underserved groups to become federal employees and contractors, and pushed forward a rule that would reestablish the right to overtime pay for millions of workers. His active support for the TPP is a non-trivial stain on his résumé, but those who believe in social justice should generally like the policies he’s pursued, as others have also noted.
Yet if that’s the case, why is it so important that Ellison wins?
The answer to that question lies in the answer to another: why is Perez even running?
Ellison jumped into the DNC Chair race right after the election (on Monday, November 14). His candidacy made a ton of sense for the party for three main reasons:
– Ellison was one of the few Democrats calling for the party and media to take Donald Trump seriously from the beginning. The clip below, from a panel Ellison did back in July of 2015, is the most striking illustration of the contrast between Ellison’s prescience and the irresponsibility of the vast majority of Establishment media figures and politicians during the course of the 2016 election.
Given that Sanders was much more popular than Clinton among Independents and the most popular primary candidateever among young people, whose energy and enthusiasm Democrats desperately need in the future, it makes strategic sense for the party to put one of his early supporters in a leadership role. Doing so would suggest that the Democrats, after throwing a ton of institutional weight behind the less electable, less social-justice-oriented candidate (and failing to hold party leaders accountable for their clear violations of the DNC’s charter) en route to squandering the 2016 election, have learned something. It would give hope that the Democrats may run a fairer, more democratic primary process next time, and that those who opposed Clinton needn’t write the party off entirely.
– Once Sanders lost the primary, Ellison helped draft the DNC platform and became an outspoken proponent of voting for Clinton. He campaignedveryhard for Clinton between July and November. He showed, in other words, that even though he thinks there is a better path than the one the Democratic Party is currently on, he believes in working within the Democratic Party structure for change.
I would have personally preferred Ellison to not campaign for Clinton, but I respected his choice to do so, and the fact that he did – vociferously – makes him an ideal candidate for party unification. So does the fact that, unlike Sanders, Ellison is Black and Muslim, and his ascendance would diversify Democratic Party leadership, a worthy objective that Clinton fans have long claimed to support. Ellison can potentially bridge the gap between good-faith Clinton and Sanders supporters and grow a bigger Democratic coalition.
Establishment Democrats and big-name donors began attacking Ellison as soon as he declared his interest in being DNC Chair, however. They first complained that chairmanship was a full-time job and that, as a sitting congressman, Ellison wouldn’t have the bandwidth to focus on it. They then inaccurately cast Ellison as an anti-Semite, misconstruing a 2010 speech he gave and condemnations of White supremacy and Israeli policy that he made twenty-five years ago. Ellison soon thereafter declared that he would resign from Congress and become DNC Chair full-time if he wins the race, and he has repeatedly proven allegations of anti-Semitism false, but no matter; the Clinton/Obama apparatus wanted a challenger, and when Howard Dean didn’t pan out, theypressured Perez to step in. He formally entered the race on December 15.
Perez has presented little that looks different from what Ellison has proposed, and nobody has offered a coherent explanation for why they think he’d do a better job leading the party than Ellison would. Endorsements of Perez, like the one Joe Biden just made, have just highlighted personal details about him and included vague statements that could at least as easily apply to Ellison. It’s thus hard to understand why Perez would have thrown his hat into the DNC Chair race (as opposed to the Maryland gubernatorial race) if not to maintain the Democratic Party’s current power structure. The message to those who supported Sanders and want the party to embrace full-scale social and economic justice – many of whom are already upset that Perez pushed some of the Clinton campaign’s disingenuousattacks on Sanders behind the scenes during the primary – seems to be that they’re still expected to fall in line and support whatever the party Establishment decides.
An Ellison victory wouldn’t by itself bring the change the party needs – not by a long shot – and even if he wins, social justice advocates will need to push him on several issues. Maybe in part to try to forestall attacks from Democrats who will be making the DNC Chair decision, he’s embraced some worrisome positions. Ellison has endorsed the corporate candidate over the Bernie supporter in a recent race for Florida Democratic Chair, criticized the peaceful Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement against the oppressive policies of the Israeli government, softened on his previous commitment to banning lobbyist contributions to the DNC, and promoted some election postmortems that deserve considerablymore skepticism. But Ellison has a strong record overall and would bring a real possibility for regime change, a commitment to grassroots activism, and a new kind of Democratic Party politics. As Sanders said following Biden’s endorsement of Perez (who Sanders likes and expressed respect for), the race for DNC Chair is about whether the Democratic Party “stay[s] with a failed status-quo approach or…go[es] forward with a fundamental restructuring.”
Some Democrats lashed out at Sanders after this statement. They were, according toThe Hill, “frustrated by press reports characterizing the contest as a proxy battle between the party’s leftist Sanders wing, represented by Ellison, and a more moderateBarack Obama-Clinton wing, represented by Perez.” But to think otherwise is naïve – that’s precisely what it is. And as some politicians, union leaders, and media figures who backed Clinton have already recognized, the smart move for Democrats who want to see the party win in the future “would be…to embrace Keith Ellison as DNC Chair.” That would be the right move for those who believe in social and economic justice as well.
If headlines about the Democratic convention (shown below) are any indication, the main purpose of the event is “party unity.” Calls to “Unite Blue” have been intensifying as the Democratic primary process has inched towards a close and represent a pitch for Bernie Sanders supporters to rally around Hillary Clinton, helping her to emerge victorious in November’s general election matchup with Donald Trump, Gary Johnson, and Jill Stein.
The brand of “unity” being pushed, however, is a corruption of the word. It zeroes in on a narrow set of attitudes and behaviors – those towards Clinton and other Democratic party leaders – and makes a binary categorization: people who praise Clinton and other Democrats while pledging to vote for them in the fall are good, while those who protest Democratic party leaders at the convention and/or refuse to vote for Hillary Clinton are at best “ridiculous” (Sarah Silverman), “crazy” (Jonathan Chait), “pathetic” (Jon Favreau) “babies” (Amanda Marcotte) and at worst “whiny diaper babies” (Bob Cesca), “dickheads” (Imani Gandy), “garbage people” (Ian Millhiser), “shitheads” (Joan Walsh), or my personal favorite, from a Daily Kos blogger going by the name of LiberalCanuck, “Regressives [who] are commonly found in terrorist and quasi-terrorist circles [and] want misery [and] suffering [so a] revolution can occur.”
This brand of unity is so blinding that those espousing it often pile on and attack individuals who turn out to be with them on the very issue they deem most important (making sure Hillary Clinton wins in the fall). It risks alienating Sanders supporters – who are more likely than any other candidates’ supporters to hold anti-racist views and support social justice policies – and undecided voters who might otherwise be inclined to lean Democratic, thus sowing the very division to which those pushing party unity are ostensibly opposed.
There is a better kind of unity, one that actually brings people together in pursuit of a more just and equitable world. It is based on a shared passion for helping those in need, an openness to intellectually honest disagreement, and a commitment to respect and accountability. This brand of unity has three major components:
1) Sticking to intellectually honest arguments: During the primary, pro-Clinton partisans propagated illiberal, misleading, and/or false claims about Bernie Sanders and his supporters. Now, despite what the New York Times (hardly a Sanders-sympathetic media outlet) has called “undeniable evidence of what Mr. Sanders’s supporters had complained about for much of the senator’s contentious primary contest with Mrs. Clinton: that the party was effectively an arm of Mrs. Clinton’s campaign,” many pundits have responded, not by apologizing for mocking Sanders supporters’ suspicions, but by downplaying and diverting attention away from the evidence confirming that the primary was unfair and undemocratic. It’s hard to develop a successful coalition when some members of that coalition can’t trust that others are engaging in good faith, and prominent Clinton supporters have a lot of work to do to show that they are.
To be clear, the behavior of these prominent individuals is not representative; most Clinton supporters already engage in good faith most of the time, and there are also Sanders supporters out there who distorted facts during the primary. It is incumbent upon everyone who truly supports power-balancing policy to make sure we’re adhering to the truth.
2) Respecting intellectually honest disagreement about the strategy most likely to achieve a common goal: Third-party voting, for example, comes with pros and cons for those who believe in social justice policy. The main con, as its detractors are quick to point out, is that it increases the chances that the worse of two major-party candidates will win an election (though it is not the same mathematically as a vote for the worse major-party candidate and, contrary to popular belief, is not the predominant reason George W. Bush became president in 2001). The main pro of third-party voting, on the other hand – one its detractors rarely if ever acknowledge – is that it increases voters’ leverage over the Democratic party and the likelihood of a meaningful challenge to America’s two-party system in the long run, a system millions of people continue to suffer under.
Whether you think the pros outweigh the cons depends on a number of factors, including how much optimism you have about a third-party voting bloc’s ability to use its power effectively and how much worse you think Trump is than Clinton. Reasonable people with very similar policy goals and visions for the world are going to disagree about whether third-party voting is worth it – some have even suggested alternative voting options – and rather than excoriating each other, we should have a robust and respectful debate.
3) Addressing legitimate concerns from coalition members and working together on areas of agreement: Third-party voting holds appeal because of the Democratic party’s very real failings, and those who wish to sway third-party voters should make their case not by belittling those voters’ concerns, but by working to make the Democratic party better. If Clinton gets elected and actively pursues the policies she borrowed from Sanders on the campaign trail, we will consider voting for her in 2020. In the meantime, those voting for third-party candidates in the general election this year must both help push those policies through social movements and make sure to be actively involved in electoral processes at the city, state, and congressional levels.
In short, there’s no reason unity has to be so divisive.
According to Politico, House Democrats booed Bernie Sanders during a closed-door meeting on Wednesday, July 6. They would like him to officially end his presidential campaign and were frustrated that, in response to calls to endorse Hillary Clinton, he stated that his goal “is to transform America,” not just “to win elections.” This reaction was unsurprising; as Politico noted, “House Democrats overwhelmingly supported Hillary Clinton during the presidential primary fight,” and the idea that winning elections might be a means rather than an end “plays better on the campaign trail than in front of a roomful of elected officials.” Even one of Sanders’ few congressional supporters during the primary, Raul Grijalva, has argued that a Sanders endorsement of Clinton has “got to happen prior to the [Democratic] convention.”
What doesn’t make any sense at all, however, is the argument many of Sanders’ detractors have been advancing for quite some time about why they think he should drop out. The idea that “he’s squandering the movement he built” by withholding his endorsement (advanced by a “senior Democrat, speaking on the condition of anonymity”) is obviously incorrect, but has been repeated over and over again by numerous journalists and pundits, including:
Gabriel Debenedetti and Sahil Kapur, who penned pieces entitled “Sanders loses convention leverage” (for Politico) and “Sanders’ Long Refusal to Endorse Clinton Hurts His Leverage” (for Bloomberg), respectively, on June 17;
Joan Walsh, who argued in The Nation on June 27 that “Sanders may…be setting himself up for less influence in Philadelphia, rather than more;”
Jamelle Bouie, who contended in Slate on June 28 that “the leverage [Sanders] held at the end of the primary just isn’t there anymore;”
Stuart Rothenberg, who wrote in TheWashington Post on June 30 that “Sanders is not yet irrelevant[, but] he reached a point weeks ago when his stubbornness became counterproductive;” and
Joshua Green, who asserted in Bloomberg on July 7 that “Sanders increasingly looks like an afterthought who’s squandering an historic opportunity.”
Their arguments boil down to the following: The more Sanders waits to endorse Clinton, the more he alienates her team, encouraging them to ignore parts of his platform that they’d be otherwise inclined to support and to rely on other politicians, like Elizabeth Warren, for progressive credibility. Sanders’ “first and most prominent supporters have jumped off the bandwagon, congratulating and in some cases endorsing Clinton,” Debenedetti notes, and Bouie adds that Sanders has lost his chance to “claim credit” for the “natural movement to Clinton among Democratic primary voters” that has already begun to take place. Bouie believes Sanders could have taken “a starring role in the campaign against Trump,” opening “the doors to lasting influence,” but in the words of Rothenberg, “Clinton doesn’t need Sanders anymore.” If “Sanders delivers a late or halfhearted endorsement,” Walsh argues, Clinton may even turn to Republicans for votes.
Yet these claims are belied by recent events. As Jeff Stein observed in Vox, the draft Democratic party platform, released in full on Friday, July 1, “shows Sanders winning on at least six signature issues that reflect long-held goals of his movement…on top of victories Sanders [had] already won over the platform.” Bouie is right to point out that “Team Sanders…lost out” in platform discussions about “more contentious” issues like the Israel-Palestine conflict, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and environmental regulation, and Green isn’t far off when he says the platform is “a purely symbolic document,” but it’s also undoubtedly the case, as Stein notes, that the party is still “moving [Sanders’] way on several key issues.” Though Politico’s unnamed senior Democrat and Green ignored it, Clinton also just announced a new plan to make college free for families making under $125,000 a year, a proposal that isn’t quite as good as Sanders’ but represents a striking reversal from her earlier campaign rhetoric.
The reason for these concessions is simple: Clinton wants Sanders’ endorsement. Yes, some Sanders supporters already seem poised to vote for Clinton, but even they often have negative perceptions of her and are unlikely to volunteer and/or donate in the same way they would have if Sanders was the nominee. Clinton knows that generating the enthusiasm and votes necessary to beat Donald Trump in November would be easier with Sanders on board and the possibility that he won’t be is the best bargaining chip Sanders has got.
If winning more concessions from Clinton is a key objective for Sanders, he’d be crazy to give that chip up prematurely. It’s hard to believe that Sanders would have secured the gains he already has if he had followed the pundits’ advice and tried to ingratiate himself to Clinton.
At the same time, winning concessions from Clinton is not Sanders’ – or Grijalva’s, or many other Sanders supporters’ – only or even primary goal. Sanders has explicitly prioritized making “certain that Donald Trump is defeated and defeated badly,” as Bouie pointed out, and Sanders has both said that he will vote for Clinton in November and suggested that an endorsement may be imminent. That position isn’t unreasonable; though the differences between Trump and Clinton are often overstated, Clinton is undoubtedly the lesser evil facing those who believe in power-balancing policy. But it also deprives Sanders and his voters of a whole lot of bargaining power.
In fact, Clinton can court a growing list of Republicans not because of the delayed endorsement by Sanders that Walsh has feared, but for precisely the opposite reason: as one Republican strategist has explained, many Sanders supporters “have already shown, by and large, that they’ll fall in line and back” Clinton despite policy positions they dislike. The loss of bargaining power that pledging to vote for Clinton entails is also apparent in pressure from Wall Street about Clinton’s choice of a running mate: “moderate Democrats in the financial services industry argue that Sanders voters will come on board anyway and that Clinton does not need to pick [Elizabeth] Warren to help her win.” A commitment to lesser-of-evilsism is indisputably accompanied by a loss of leverage in situations in which you and the candidate you’re backing disagree.
Some Sanders supporters have already decided that a united front against Trump is more important than that leverage. Others believe that fixing a Democratic party that is seriouslybroken is a more pressing concern and that the concessions Sanders has won, while not meaningless, are very different than binding commitments Clinton would be likely to adhere to if elected; we wish Sanders had maximized his leverage by seriously entertaining a third-party run. Sanders, on the other hand, has been attempting to balance his attention to both goals, to influence the Democratic party platform as much as possible without materially affecting the Democrats’ chances in the fall.
It’s perfectly fine to disagree with his relative weighting of priorities. But let’s stop pretending that he’s making a strategic blunder. Sanders knows exactly what he’s doing, and despite assertions to the contrary from media and “top Democrats,” he has actually done it quite well.
Journalists have been cautioning Bernie Sanders against “suggesting the entire political process is unfair,” insisting that doing so could have “negative and destabilizing consequences.” They contend that he must “argue to his supporters that the outcome of the [Democratic primary] process was legitimate” so that he can convince them to vote for Hillary Clinton. According to several recentarticles, this argument should be easy to make because “The Democratic Primary Wasn’t Rigged” and “Bernie Sanders lost this thing fair and square.”
The problem, however, is that the Democratic primary was anything but “fair and square.” It may not have been “rigged” in the narrow sense in which some of these writers have interpreted that word (to mean that there were illegal efforts to mess with vote counts), but it certainly wasn’t democratic. That’s why only 31 percent of Democrats express “a great deal of confidence” that the Democratic primary process is fair and is likely why the election conspiracy theories these journalists decry have gained traction.
Defenders of the Democratic primary results make several legitimate points. Clinton secured more votes and more pledged delegates than Sanders. When voting rules were less restrictive, she still won a greater number of open primaries than he did. Caucuses, which are very undemocratic, likely benefited Sanders. There isn’t evidence that the Clinton campaign coordinated efforts to purge voters from the rolls, inaccurately tabulate votes, or mislead Sanders’ California supporters into registering for the American Independent Party. While “the American election system is a disaster” and “should be reformed,” it’s not clear that the numerous and alarming voting rights issues that surfaced during the primary (from Arizona to New York to Puerto Rico) systematically disadvantaged Sanders. And discrepancies between exit polls and final voting results can happen for a number of reasons; they aren’t necessarily indicative of foul play.
Yet at the same time, these points skirt the very real ways in which the primary process was “rigged;” as Matt Yglesias and Jeff Stein have acknowledged, “the media, the party, and other elected officials [were] virtually uniformly…loaded against” Sanders from the get-go. The thumbs on the scale from these groups mattered a lot, more even than Yglesias and Stein surmise.
To quickly recap what those thumbs looked like, the Democratic party threw so much institutional support behind Clinton so long before she even declared her candidacy that political scientist David Karol asserted, in December of2014, that “Hillary has basically almost been nominated.” The Democratic National Committee’s debate schedule was “obviously intended” to insulate Clinton from challengers and scrutiny. The DNC, in response to inappropriate behavior from a Sanders staffer who DNC staff had recommended and the campaign had already fired, suspended Sanders’ access to important voter data in violation of its contract with his campaign. While Clinton was dinging Sanders on his ostensible disregard for party fundraising, the “so-called joint fundraising committee comprised of Clinton’s presidential campaign, the Democratic National Committee and 32 state party committees” was exploiting loopholes in campaign finance laws to funnel the bulk of its resources to Clinton and Clinton alone. Even into late May, DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz was leaning heavily into biased, anti-Sanders messaging, and leaked emails confirm that she and other DNC leaders actively sought to undermine the Sanders campaign. In addition, leaders of numerous groups traditionally affiliated with the Democratic party – unions and organizations generally more aligned with Sanders than Clinton on campaign issues – endorsed Clinton without polling their members (the groups that did open the endorsement process up to members typically endorsed Sanders).
Mainstream pundits and analysts were hardly any better than the Democratic party. From the moment Sanders entered the race, the mediainsisted – when they covered him at all, which was not very often – that he had “no chance of winning.” They continued to write off the possibility of a Sanders victory even as his popularity skyrocketed and he took an early lead in the popular vote, inappropriately including superdelegates in their reporting to make it look like Clinton was winning big. They asserted that the hundreds of policy wonks in support of Sanders’ ideas didn’t exist, subjecting Sanders’ proposals to far more scrutiny than Clinton’s, getting their analysis of some of Sanders’ plans flat-out wrong, and attempting to “boot anyone not preaching from the incrementalist gospel out of the serious club.” They began to pressure Sanders to drop out well before even half of all primaries and caucuses had been completed. They helped advance the false narrative that angry, sexist, illiberal White men fueled Sanders’ rise when his supporters were typically more power-balancing than Clinton’s and he was actually mostpopular among young women, young people of color, and poor Americans. They also helped the Clinton campaign propagate numerous misleading and/or untrueattacks on Sanders.
In general, as often happens when political and media establishments are threatened, they progressed from “polite condescension” towards the Sanders campaign to “innuendos” to “right-wing attacks” to “grave and hysterical warnings” to something close to a “[f]ull-scale and unrestrained meltdown.” It’s not clear exactly how much of that progression was coordinated, but it takes minimal effort to dismantle theclaim that the Democratic party and mainstream media outlets were mostly neutral. Whether Clinton surrogates were praising her on TV without disclosing their ties to her campaign or technicallyunaffiliated newspaper outlets were blasting Sanders in headlines and post-publication edits to their articles, media sources consistently parroted misleading Clinton campaign talking points. Evidence indicates that the DNC was along for the ride.
It is true that Clinton faced a large amount of negative media coverage herself – much of it in the summer of 2015 and by some metrics the most out of any presidential candidate – and it is also true that the Sanders campaign had its issues, especially when it came to reaching out to and addressing the concerns of older Black voters. But that doesn’t change the fact that Clinton got way more coverage at a critical juncture of the race, a huge asset because “[n]ame recognition is a key asset in the early going [and,] even as late as August of 2015, two in five registered Democrats nationally said they’d never heard of Sanders or had heard so little they didn’t have an opinion.” It also doesn’t change the fact that Clinton was considered the de facto nominee even when media coverage was otherwise unfavorable, a dynamic that surely benefited her among Democrats who prioritize uniting the party in the general election above all else. Though Sanders’ popularity increased as voters became more familiar with him, the initial lack of media coverage of his campaign, Democratic party opposition to his candidacy, and the idea that a Clinton win was inevitable all hamstrung him greatly. If the media coverage he received had been more equitable and accurate, it is easy to show that he might have been the Democratic nominee.
That’s why, when writers argue that superdelegates did not “decide the nomination for Clinton,” they’re only half-right. Clinton certainly won the popular vote under Democratic primary rules, but the superdelegates’ early allegiances and the media’s reporting on those allegiances also certainly influenced that popular vote. Roadblocks from Democratic party elites and misleading or downright untrue attacks from the Clinton campaign, itsmanyhigh-profilesurrogates, and the mainstream media were ubiquitous throughout the primary process and certainly influenced the vote as well.
As Glenn Greenwald summarized, premature media reports that Clinton had won the election on June 6, besides depressing turnout in the next day’s primaries, constituted “the perfect symbolic ending to the Democratic Party primary: The nomination [was] consecrated by a media organization, on a day when nobody voted, based on secret discussions with anonymous establishment insiders and donors…[T]he party’s governing rules are deliberately undemocratic; unfair and even corrupt decisions were repeatedly made by party officials to benefit Clinton; and the ostensibly neutral Democratic National Committee…constantly put not just its thumb but its entire body on the scale to ensure she won.” Combine many Democrats’ staunch denial of these problems with undemocratic voting practices that have favored Clinton and that her supporters have too oftendownplayed, and it’s little wonder that some people believe the election was a sham.
Journalists who disagree should absolutely make their case. They should also, however, more seriously consider where voters’ concerns come from and stop insisting the system isn’t “rigged.” People think “the entire political process is unfair” because it is. And many doubt that “the outcome of the [Democratic primary] process was legitimate” for good reason.
It’s not Sanders’ responsibility to convince people that the primary was something it wasn’t. It’s our collective responsibility to fix our democracy in the months and years ahead.
Sanders has some ideas for how to go about doing that, and they’re a good start, but there’s still much more to offer in this area. Stay tuned.
Update (7/23/16): The following sentence fragment was added to this piece after a Wikileaks release of DNC emails: “and leaked emails confirm that she and other DNC leaders actively sought to undermine the Sanders campaign.” In addition, an earlier version of this piece contained a sentence that read “New evidence suggests that the DNC was along for the ride,” but that sentence was updated to read “Evidence indicates that the DNC was along for the ride” due to corroborating evidence in the Wikileaks release.
Update (10/8/16): Another email leak provides further confirmation that the DNC “anointed [Clinton] the presumed nominee even before the campaign formally began,” as Michael Tracey notes.
Update (10/16/16): Thomas Frank, in a qualitative analysis of Washington Post coverage of Sanders during the primary, finds that clearly negative stories about Sanders outnumbered clearly positive ones by a “roughly five to one” margin, whereas the ratio for Clinton coverage “came much closer to a fifty-fifty split.”
Update (11/2/17): Donna Brazile, who was Vice-Chair of the DNC during the primary, publishes a piece describing how the Clinton campaign “rigged the nomination process” in 2016. Brazile wrote that the joint fundraising agreement between the Clinton camp and the DNC allowed the Clinton team to “control the party’s finances, strategy, and all the money raised. Her campaign had the right of refusal of who would be the party communications director, and it would make final decisions on all the other staff. The DNC also was required to consult with the campaign about all other staffing, budgeting, data, analytics, and mailings.”
For a long time now, CNN and other mainstream media sources have misled voters about the results in the Democratic primary. They’ve often combined pledged delegate totals for each candidate, which are tied to voting results, with superdelegate totals, which have nothing to do with voting and are subject to change at any time. While most superdelegates currently support Hillary Clinton, they almost certainly will end up backing whoever wins the pledged delegate race (if they don’t, they will be brazenly flouting democracy in a way that could quite possibly destroy the Democratic party), so including them when reporting election results makes Clinton’s lead seem much larger than it actually is. The networks occasionally note that there are two different types of delegates, but they rarely explain that the superdelegate totals don’t really matter and more often than not display delegate counts across the bottom of their broadcasts which, by erroneously suggesting a huge Clinton advantage, may discourage people from turning out to vote.
In case that practice isn’t bad enough, CNN decided to move its delegate math from misleading to downright false during Saturday’s Alaska and Washington caucuses. “Sanders would need 75% of remaining pledged delegates to win the nomination,” a rotating banner at the bottom of the screen declared, a statement that was egregiously wrong.
According to CNN’s own numbers (note how their headline graphics show the misleading combined delegate totals without explanation), Clinton had 1229 pledged delegates and Sanders had 934 before the caucuses took place. CNN estimates a total of 4053 pledged delegates, so a candidate would need 2027 (just over half) to win the nomination. Going into Saturday’s caucuses, Sanders therefore needed 1093 (2027 – 934) of the remaining 1890 (4053 – (1229 + 934)) pledged delegates, or just under 58 percent of those still on the table.
I decided to tweet this fact at CNN. They did not correct their banner. One of their pro-Clinton commentators, Bakari Sellers, then proceeded to echo their inaccurate number. When someone on Twitter pointed him to my tweet, Sellers responded by claiming that he was actually referring to a total that included superdelegates. Yet in addition to the fact that he had explicitly said “pledged delegates” on air, the number that included outstanding superdelegates – which still would have been misleadingly high – would only have been 68 percent (the only way to get 75 percent would have been to include superdelegates in Sanders’ target delegate total while excluding them from his possible delegate count, an approach which is obviously incorrect). I gave Sellers this information. He did not respond.
Sanders ended up winning Alaska, Hawaii, and Washington in landslides, likely earning about 74 percent of the 142 pledged delegates available on what pundits are calling “Western Saturday.” Since the networks may have trouble accurately presenting the math moving forward, here it is: to win, he should now need fewer than 57 percent of the remaining pledged delegates.
In other words, if his supporters continue to donate, phone bank, canvass, and turn out to vote, Sanders still has a very legitimate (albeit obstacle-laden) path to the nomination. Don’t let CNN – or anyone else for that matter – tell you otherwise.
“The 2016 Democratic primary effectively ended Tuesday night, with Hillary Clinton as the all-but-certain winner,” the media has declared. Bernie Sanders needed some wins, they tell us, and “his path to the nomination is now essentially blocked.” Since Clinton is over 300 pledged delegates up on Sanders – more than twice as many as Obama ever was on Clinton in 2008 – the president of Clinton’s Super PAC insists that it “is all but mathematically impossible for Bernie Sanders to overtake her lead.”
The only problem with the media and Clinton campaign narratives? They’re not true.
That’s not to say the results on Tuesday, March 15 weren’t disappointing for Sanders supporters, who were hoping for a repeat of Sanders’ historic upset in Michigan a week before. But that result was always unlikely; Sanders wasn’t actually predicted to win a single state on Super Tuesday II. As the graph below shows, Sanders came close to meeting expectations in Ohio and exceeded them in Florida, Illinois, Missouri, and North Carolina. In other words, while it was a tough night for Sanders in terms of pledged delegates, it was a pretty good night for Sanders relative to projections, not to mention the massive polling deficits he faced mere weeks ago.
Sanders also still has a clear, albeit outside, shot at winning the Democratic nomination. We’re only halfway through the primary calendar and he is likely to do well in upcoming contests. Tuesday put him behind the targets he would need in one possible path to the nomination, but there are a number of large, delegate-rich states left, including New York and California, and a good run in the next round of primaries and caucuses would keep Sanders well within striking distance of Clinton. Again, winning the nomination is definitely a long shot for him – he’d need to pull off more Michigan-like upsets to do it – but if Sanders supporters keep donating, phone banking, and otherwise volunteering their time, it’s also definitely still possible.
Despite these facts, the media and the Clinton campaign will be selling a different, inaccurate story. It will be up to Sanders supporters to make sure that voters don’t buy it.
The National Education Association (the union to which I used to belong) is considering an early endorsement of Hillary Clinton. This decision, like the American Federation of Teachers’ endorsement of Clinton on July 11, would be a huge mistake.
One reason is that it would violate members’ trust. As Peter Greene, Steven Singer, and Anthony Cody have noted, teacher voice is too often ignored in education reform conversations. If the NEA follows the AFT and makes a presidential primary endorsement without ample membership involvement, its teachers will feel silenced by their own union. Not only would that likely depress voter mobilization efforts and spark a backlash within the union, it also runs counter to the very principles of what a union is supposed to be.
An early Clinton endorsement would also be a mistake because she’s a suboptimal candidate. While Clinton is far more union-friendly than anyone running for the Republican nomination, her labor credentials are significantly worse than her main challenger in the Democratic primary, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.
Sanders has been a steadfast union supporter since the 1970s. His advocacy on behalf of workers as mayor of Burlington, Vermont in the 1980s helped foster the growth of the city’s socially-responsible business culture. “Thanks to the enduring influence of the progressive climate that Sanders and his allies helped to create in Burlington,” The Nation reported in June, “the city’s largest housing development is now resident-owned, its largest supermarket is a consumer-owned cooperative, one of its largest private employers is worker-owned, and most of its people-oriented waterfront is publicly owned. Its publicly owned utility, the Burlington Electric Department, recently announced that Burlington is the first American city of any decent size to run entirely on renewable electricity.”
Sanders has continued to advocate for the same causes in Congress over the past 25 years. In 1994, for example, he introduced the Workplace Democracy Act, legislation designed to strengthen collective bargaining rights. He currently supports the Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it easier for workplaces to hold union elections, and plans to introduce a new Workplace Democracy Act this fall. He has “convened annual meetings of labor activists to help them develop more successful organizing and bargaining strategies” and still walks picket lines with workers.
To be fair, Clinton also supports the Employee Free Choice Act. Her campaign rhetoric is pretty pro-union, and the promises she makes in her video to NEA members don’t sound all that different than those made by Bernie (videos below).
But Clinton’s record is significantly worse than Sanders’. She served on the board of directors of Walmart – which to this day remains one of the nation’s most notoriously anti-union businesses – from 1986 to 1992, for instance. According to reports that surfaced in 2008, Clinton sat through dozens of board meetings without ever speaking up on behalf of organized labor. Instead, she stated that she was “proud of Wal-Mart and what we do and the way we do it better than anybody else.” Though she has since renounced Walmart’s business practices, Clinton maintains close ties with Walmart executives and lobbyists. And during her presidential campaigns, she’s surrounded herself with staffers who have troubling anti-union connections.
The following meme, describing cumulative donations the candidates have received over the past thirty years, is illustrative:
Clinton has worse policy positions on key union issues as well. Bernie Sanders has been a leader in the effort to oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a “free trade” deal that could undermine environmental and consumer safety protections and have harmful impacts on workers both in the US and abroad; Clinton, despite recent attempts to distance herself from the TPP, was heavily involved in negotiating and promoting it. Sanders has been a vocal proponent of a $15-an-hour federal minimum wage by 2020, which workers around the country are campaigning for; Clinton long resisted taking a specific position on the issue and only recently spoke favorably about raising the federal minimum to $12-an-hour.
Sanders’ positions on education issues also tend to be more power-balancing than Clinton’s. Both candidates have called for universal pre-K and increased college affordability, but while Sanders believes education is a right that should be guaranteed free of charge to all students, Clinton hypocritically opposes free college for “kids who don’t work some hours to try to put their own effort into their education.” At the K-12 level, Sanders also has a stronger vision and record. After initially supporting the House of Representatives’ version of No Child Left Behind in May of 2001, he voted against the final version of NCLB that year because he foresaw problems with “the bill’s reliance on high-stakes standardized testing to direct draconian interventions;” Clinton, on the other hand, cast her vote in favor of NCLB. Sanders believes that “the federal government has a critical role to play” in education policy, one that includes “guaranteeing resource equity,” “increased emphasis on a well-rounded curriculum,” and providing “the resources necessary to provide effective professional development;” Clinton might not necessarily disagree, but while Sanders asserts that he will “direct education funding toward the low-income students who need it most” in his response to the AFT’s candidate questionnaire, this commitment is noticeably absent from Clinton’s writeup.
In fact, on practically every topic – from criminal justice issues to health care to foreign policy – Sanders has Clinton beat. His platform isn’t perfect, but it’s far and away more in line than Clinton’s with what typical Democratic voters profess to want. As far as I can tell, nobody at the AFT (or NEA) actually argues that Clinton has better policy positions than Sanders; their endorsement processes seem to be driven by the belief that Clinton is more electable.
The problem with that thinking is twofold.
First, Sanders is actually just as electable, if not more so, than Clinton. In national polls that pit potential Democratic nominees against potential Republican nominees, Sanders and Clinton do about as well as each other. If Sanders had anything like Clinton’s name recognition, he’d almost certainly outstrip her; among voters who know who he is, Sanders’ favorability is much higher than Clinton’s (see page 5). He’s shooting up in Democratic primary polls as more and more voters learn about him and now holds sizable leads in New Hampshire, Iowa, and Oregon. College students prefer Sanders to Clinton by more than a 3-to-1 margin, policy positions like the ones he holds are wildly popular across the board, and his campaign is showing no signs of losing momentum.
Second, the biggest impediment to a Sanders victory is none other than the political calculus the unions seem to be engaged in. Politicians are electable if people are willing to support them, while concerns about electability generally undermine progressive goals and become self-fulfilling prophecies. Rather than settling for Hillary Clinton because they – erroneously – think she’s the best that people will buy, unions should rally behind the better candidate – Bernie Sanders – and start selling him to the American public.
Labor for Bernie, a grassroots movement started by rank-and-file union members, could ultimately prove more important than endorsements from the major national unions. And Sanders already has the support of National Nurses United. Nonetheless, it’s incumbent upon NEA leadership, and the leaders of other major unions, to start paying attention to why so many union members feel the Bern. Sanders, much more than Clinton, deserves organized labor’s official support.
Update (10/3/15): The NEA endorsed Clinton – without any explanation of why members should prefer her to Sanders.
Update (10/26/15): For those interested in the analysis behind the updated meme below, which compares donations during the 2016 presidential campaigns alone, see this post.