Supporters of Bernie Sanders, you have some work ahead of you.
I am not referring to the long odds you face in the delegate math on the way toward getting your candidate nominated. I’m talking about what you’ll need to do if you manage to pull it off.
This past weekend I had the privilege of serving as a delegate at the Maine Democratic Convention. (I obviously did so using my real name.) I was there in support of Hillary Clinton. However, like most Clinton supporters, I went into the convention fully prepared to support her opponent if he ends up with the nomination.
While what happened there didn’t change my mind about how I might vote in November, it sure made the climb there steeper.
Sanders supporters booed, heckled, harassed, and persistently shouted down voices speaking against positions they preferred or in support (perceived or otherwise) of Clinton. For a voter who does not yet #FeelTheBern, it made me want to put on flame-retardant clothing.
The first sign of trouble began with discussion of the role certain Democratic party leaders and elected officials — the now-infamous “superdelegates” — play in choosing the nominee. Sanders won Maine’s caucus and was allotted more pledged delegates, but only one of the state’s superdelegates has thus far committed to voting for him. His campaign has argued that superdelegates in states he’s won ought to support him.
As the Portland Press Herald euphemistically put it, things got “lively” when an amendment to award superdelegates proportionately was introduced on the floor. Those who had the temerity to defend the status quo were loudly booed. In the end, the amendment’s supporters carried the day and in 2020 the superdelegates will be divvied up in accordance with the popular vote, pretty much obviating the point of having them in the first place.
Things took a further turn for the worse when former Representative Barney Frank took the podium as the official surrogate for Clinton. As he made a point of mentioning, since the outcome of the pledged delegate tally wasn’t going to change no matter what he said, he focused on why Bernie supporters should be willing to support Hillary if she ends up being the nominee. He paid specific attention to the Supreme Court, which currently hangs in the balance.
But Frank’s pragmatic rhetoric and focus meant little to some vocal opponents in the crowd. They tried to shout him down. They heckled him with cries of “sell-out” because he dared to support the other candidate. They interrupted him at countless intervals.
As Frank himself asked at numerous points while trying to make himself heard, is this how people in the Sanders camp think a democracy ought to run? That debates between themselves and their opponents should be little more than shouting matches, the loudest side winning?
Because you don’t become one of the most effective liberal voices in the House of Representatives without being pretty damn redoubtable (not for nothing is Frank’s name on the legislation passed to regulate the financial industry in the wake of the 2008 crisis), he was able to hold his own. “One heckler at a time, please” he politely requested while trying to have a nuanced discussion about fracking. If this past weekend’s events are any indication, the Clinton campaign should fly him to all the upcoming state conventions. I’ll chip in for airfare and lozenges.
To their credit, I heard some members of the Sanders camp admonish their side for its behavior, and some personally apologize to Frank for his treatment. But that spirit of comity was sadly limited.
Toward the end of the convention, the Democratic candidates for Maine’s two congressional districts addressed the assembly, including Chellie Pingree, the 1st district incumbent, a reliably progressive voter in the House.
Did her voting record buy her much goodwill with the crowd? Not when her perceived support as a superdelegate for Clinton was on the line.
“As soon as Pingree took the stage, people around the arena started yelling her down,” a fellow delegate from my county reported to me. (I had to leave before the very end of the Convention, due to babysitter-related constraints.) “There were cries of ‘change your vote!’ and boos. She asked that she be allowed to thank the person who introduced her, and tried to start her prepared remarks. About half a dozen young men up in the stands, so they probably were guests and not delegates, all yelled ‘fuck you’ together repeatedly. Chellie just kept talking.”
That’s just lovely.
Except Pingree went on to criticize the superdelegate system herself, and express support for proportionate allocation of delegates. She also said she is not yet committed to voting for either candidate and will decide in July, so those “fuck you”s were a bit premature.
Throughout the convention, the heckling and booing came entirely from one side. The calls for unity came almost entirely from the other. (They were conspicuously absent from any of Sanders’s official surrogates’ remarks, and I was listening for them hard.)
I am not going to make any idiotic bluffs about not supporting Sanders if he ends up being the nominee. The stakes are too high, and the GOP opposition too ghastly. Just within the past several days, assured Republican nominee Donald Trump has not only said that women have it easy in the balance between the sexes, but has suggested he will handle the national debt by destroying the world’s economy. There is no option whatsoever for me to vote for him.
But I have no great enthusiasm for supporting Sanders much at this point, either. I’m not a member of the Clinton campaign, just a solitary voter who actually prefers her as a potential President based on both her experience and her approach to policy. (Also, I actually like her.) And I have very little desire to go knock on doors or sit down at a phone bank alongside people who think it was reasonable and appropriate to insult and mau-mau those who supported the same candidate I did.
All the talk about unity within the Democratic Party has focused on Clinton’s task of reaching out to Sanders supporters, which makes sense given her lead in both the pledged delegate count and the popular vote. But if by working the same superdelegate system they loudly decry the Sanders campaign manages to make him the nominee, there will need to be outreach in the other direction, too. There are about 2.5 million more people who voted for her than him, and our votes and support will be important over the next six months.
So for people who want me to #FeelTheBern, I suggest you point your flamethrower somewhere else.