Bernie the spoiler.

Things are getting interesting on the Democratic side of the US presidential primaries. Although Hillary Clinton is on pace to win the nomination, Bernie Sanders continues to dog her steps with wins that keep him, if not within striking distance of securing the nomination himself, close enough in delegate count and popular support to narrow the gap between them to the point that she cannot claim a decisive mandate as the nominee. That is important because if the trend continues, and especially if he can stay close or win in California in early June, he can arrive at the convention armed with demands that will have to be met if he is to throw his support behind her in the general election. There is already talk of him running as an independent (which is what he was until he entered the Democratic primary). That would prove disastrous for the Clinton campaign and could turn the presidential race into a mirror image of two divided major parties having candidates from within their ranks running as spoilers against their convention nominees.

Let us be very clear on one thing: Bernie is right when he says that the Democratic nomination process is stacked against him. Between interest group super delegates whose loyalty is pledged to Clinton regardless of primary results to the closed primary process itself, there has been concerted effort by Democratic party bosses to keep his numbers down by denying independents the right to vote and counter-balancing the popular vote with super delegate selections. He has, quite frankly, been cheated on more than one occasion and that does not even take into account the more underhanded tactics used against him by the Democratic National Committee.

This spilled over recently in the Nevada Democratic convention, where a pro-Clinton state party chairperson overruled Sanders supporter’s motions and sat Clinton delegates rather than those pledged to Bernie. The convention descended into chaos and the chairperson, a woman, was inundated with vicious misogynistic physical threats mainly from the so-called “Bernie Bros,” presumably angry young men. Although Sanders issued a one line sentence condemning violence in a three paragraph statement about that convention, the bulk of it was dedicated to highlighting the underhanded moves made by the chairperson and her minions. He followed that with a victory speech after the Oregon primary (which he won handily) in which he remained defiant, belligerent and determined to take his campaign to the convention. He does not appear to be in the mood for reconciliation with Ms. Clinton.

Needless to say, Democratic Party leaders, Clinton supporters and many liberals are freaking out over this. They see Sanders as a sore loser given that he knew what he was getting into when he joined the party last year in order to run for the nomination. They see his candidacy as interfering with the streamlined selection process that was supposed to result in a unified consensus backing Clinton. More importantly, they see his intransigence and talk of a third party run as handing the keys to the Oval Office to Donald Trump, especially given that some Republican Party luminaries are lining up behind the Orange Crush as a matter of partisan duty regardless of what the consequences may be should he become president. In fact, however reluctantly, the Clinton haters within the GOP and their media surrogates appear to be coalescing behind Trump at the same time that the fractures within the Democratic Party are getting more pronounced. No wonder Democrats are freaking.

I am less concerned than my liberal US friends about this because I think that Sanders is playing his cards correctly. The reason is because I think that what he is playing is a variant of the “moderate-militant” strategy. A moderate-militant strategy is one where a militant objective is announced as a first negotiating point and pursued until an opposing actor makes moderate concessions to the militant. Rather than the militant goals, the real intent is to secure moderate gains. The militant starting point is just a negotiating ploy designed to force the opposing side to move towards it in the hope of securing an agreement.

In the Sanders version, the strategy is to run his campaign on “socialist” principles all the way to the convention. By playing hardball and not wavering before it, he forces the Clinton camp to accept the fact that without him they cannot win and with his supporters opposed they will certainly lose the general election. If Sanders arrives at the convention armed with a strong contingent of delegates in spite of all the manoeuvres against him, he can threaten to tell his supporters to either not vote or cast their ballots against her in the general election. In that case it is very likely that Clinton will concede on important issues and incorporate them into her policy platform before she is declared the nominee. This decision will be made easier by the GOP partisan consolidation around Trump, which brings closer to reality the heretofore unimaginable prospect of his presidency. Given her own negatives, she can no longer rely on loathing of Trump as a guarantee of a defensive vote turnout against him. She needs Bernie more than he needs her, and his playing tough all the way to the convention is a way of underscoring that point.

The worst thing that Sanders can do is concede or pull out of the race before the convention. Were he to do so he would lose any bargaining position he might have had at the convention because for the militant-moderate strategy to work it must be held steadfast until the other side makes a conciliatory move. Given their differences, including opposing views on whether to embrace corporate reform and accept special interest political financing among many other things (such as the US position on Israel-Palestine), it would be a waste of all the time, resources and effort he and his supporters have put into his campaign to abandon it before they have a chance to make their case at the common gathering. Instead, the best bet for his voice being heard strongly at the convention is to press on all the way to it, and then some.

Under no circumstances should Sanders accept Clinton’s assurances on key policy issues in return for his quitting the race and throwing his support to her. I would not trust the DNC and Clinton camp as far as I could throw them. Instead, he must make a condition of his support that the party write in the concessions to his policy demands into the presidential campaign platform adopted at the convention. It may not make for an airtight guarantee once she is elected but it will be much better than relying on her good faith that what was promised will be delivered come January 2017.

If the Clinton camp is smart they will realise that Sanders has brought something new into the party, which given the polarisation of the country and who they are running against, can be a key to their success in November. They must understand how he is playing the game and why he is doing so. They must understand that offering him a position in a Clinton administration is not what he is after and would not suffice to mollify his supporters in any event. They must study their positions in advance and see where they can concede readily and where negotiations on substantive issues will be harder. But what they must understand most is that the chances of a Clinton victory in November rest as much on gaining his support as they do on her own qualifications and experience.

If that is understood, the remaining primaries can be contested vigorously (if not honestly) with a mind towards clearly demonstrating the policy-based platforms of the Democratic candidates versus the empty rhetoric, simple-minded prescriptions and opportunistic bombast coming from the other side. Once that is done, the convention can become not only an arena of contestation between contending ideas about how to take the country forward, but also an opportunity to exchange concessions in order to present a unified front to the voting public. Therein lies the recipe for success in November.

12 thoughts on “Bernie the spoiler.

  1. Or DNC could point out the real comparisons between Sanders and Maduro and tough it out. Centrists are not going to vote for a leftist platform. The only real question is whether they gain more in the centre than the lose on the left from those willing to see a trump presidency on a point of socialist principle.
    Clinton is going to tough it out. She must have a very thick skin after all these years
    Genuinely curious as to your view on what FBI will do.

  2. Phil:

    if you want to be taken serious, then do not start in with specious hypothetical DNC comparisons between Sanders and Maduro. That is just plain stupid. Your second sentence is slightly more interesting but ignores the fact that in a polarised environment that has Trump as one option, there is little “middle” to court.

    As for the FBI–no crime was committed so it has no reason to make a case.

    I expected better of you.

  3. I could be wrong but if I had to guess I would say that Clinton wants Bernie out first and foremost and only if he wont go would she accept him.

    As you have suggested, Bernie in the race, either as a independent candidate, or as part of team Clinton would not be what she wants.

    Its going to be an entertaining convention(s) this time round.

  4. The extraordinary ideological eruptions on the left (or at least, left of centre)in the USA and UK throw into stark relief the complete ideological and intellectual failure of the NZ Labour party. They are still wedded to neoliberalism, are as relentlessly anti intellectual as any NZ institution has ever been, and seem becalmed in a sea of mediocre muddle.

  5. Actually, it is a mixed bag. Although there seems to be a small resurgence of the Left in some parts of the Anglophone world, in Latin America a reverse tide is evident, what with the troubles of the PT government in Brasil, the Maduro led Bolivarian meltdown in Venezuela, and challenges to Evo Morales in Bolivia (I will not include the Sandinista administration in Nicaragua because it gave up being leftist a long time ago). Correa in Ecuador remains more a populist than a true leftist, so it is up to the Frente Amplio government in Uruguay and the Concertacion govt in Chile to hold the banner, and of these only the Frente Amplio are truly counter-hegemonic.

    For its part, the Left in Europe has been compromised by the various EU crises and outflanked by rightwing nationalists. So the situation for the global Left is far from resurgent.

    Having said that I agree that Labour are hopelessly co-opted and behind the times. They seem incapable of defining the terms of debate on a single policy item and consequently resort to mostly ham fisted reactions to government initiatives or media revelations of malfeasance and scandal. That, it seems to me, is as much rooted in Labour’s adherence to neo-Third Way “principles” as much as it is in the ineptitude of its leadership.

  6. Labour’s other big problem is it has a caucus utterly bereft of talent, due to a hopelessly compromised candidate selection process that places more weight on internal factional horse trading than it does on actual talent, energy and vote winning ability.

  7. Pablo
    The irony of your defence of ea writing about key wanting to throw people out of helicopters whilst criticising the conflation of two socialists has bemused me all day. I might even bother looking up some policy similarities.
    Your certainty that Clinton has committed no crime is just wow.
    If you had used a personal email address whilst working at DOD to avoid security compliance do you really believe you would have hung onto your job. Not attempting to criticise you at all just really curious about where that absolute view comes from. The server admin has been busy talking to FBI with immunity. You make pretty confident statements.

  8. Phil:

    I should not have snapped at you and therefore apologise for being rude. However, I have pretty much had it with people making ridiculous comparisons between Sanders–who best is described as a social democrat–and autocratic morons like Maduro. That sort of Fox News oversimplification gets old fast.

    Hillary Clinton has never been charged, much less tried or convicted of any crime, and that includes Whitewater and the Vince Foster death. My understanding is that in this day and age, in part to avoid directed attacks on government servers including those used by State, senior officials are allowed to handle low level classified info (Confidential and Secret) on their personal, private email accounts. I am not sure what the rules are for social media such as Twitter or FB. So I am not sure that there is a case to be made against her, especially given the historical precedent set by the Bush 43 administration, where hundreds of classified documents were routinely transmitted over a number of private email accounts, including those of Cheney and several senior WH staffers.

    Plus, in an election year the FBI will be extremely reluctant to bring a case against a presidential candidate unless there is some major crime committed. So I believe that this, just like the Benghazi witch hunt, will fizzle rather than pop.

    E.A. has a distinctive writing style and is responsible for the content of the posts published under that moniker. I may not share the sense of humour displayed in them but am in no position to censor them either. You and others can and should feel free to criticise remarks that you find offensive.

  9. Pablo.
    No offence taken no apology required.
    That is exactly what I was looking for. An expert explanation of the Clinton situation. I simply could not understand it in the commercial context I am accustomed to. But distributed network makes sense. I had no idea of the allowable custom and practice. Thanks.


    Pablo – a decent article explaining your position. I had simply heard Sanders describe himself as a democratic socialist. Whilst Maduro also elected the obvious difference is Sanders not proposing nationalisation.

    Maduro was democratically elected, as was Chavez before him. The autocracy simply came when their policies did not work and they needed someone to blame. Perhaps Sanders is trying to avoid a “European” tag by not calling himself a social democrat.

  11. Phil:

    As you well know the US appropriation of political terms has led to a bastardisation of them. Hence “liberal” has become associated with progressive, state-oriented policies rather than the original market-focused approaches of European liberals. Likewise, Sander’s use of the term democratic socialist, just like his overuse of the term “revolution,” stretches the term beyond its proper usage. He is, at most, a social democrat, and not quite the socialist he and others would like him to be.

    As for the strange comparison with Maduro. I do not want to be pedantic about this because I wrote a fair bit about regime types etc when I was an academic. Fascists and populists enter office via elections but then restrict political liberties and participation so that effective opposition becomes impossible. They adhere to a statist-nationalist economic line rather than a real socialist line. They become an authoritarian elite that mouth socialist or nationalist platitudes but which are essentially about aggrandising themselves. Add to that gross incompetence on Maduro’s part and you have the Boliviarian disaster now unfolding.

    Social democrats and democratic socialists work within electoral systems and accept defeat in voting contests. They use taxation and policy reform to humanise the capitalist system and try to keep a strong state overseer presence in it. They are not about consolidating power and restricting opposition.

    At best, Sanders is a variation of the latter.

  12. While I appreciate Pablo wading in on my behalf I feel I should add my own two cents to the related aspects of the discussion.

    Phil: The style of writing I have adopted for this blog was a deliberate choice. It is, as I have said, sometimes offensive but not intended to offend.

    I have acknowledged my “inspirations” for my writing style and much as them seek to not only poke and prod the subject matter but be deliberately outside the norm and also provocative in my writing style.

    Its in part a direct response to the more formal style of many blogs on this subject matter where there are a wide range of well written academic analysis on the situation in NZ and if I was to write in that style (and I can if I wished) I would simply be just another voice in the range of voices.

    Therefore I have adopted a more direct style and approach which may mass the work, research and analysis I do before I post.

    I do expect criticism of my writing when I post and I did express my thoughts/concerns to Pablo before he kindly let me post here. He is correct though, he is not responsible for my content, I am, I take full responsibility for what I write and you may have noted that I respond to all criticisms and do take them on board.

    That said how I write here is how I write here. In my day job I write boring, normal reports and documents and watch my P’s and Q’s to the Nth degree and suffer endless edits and re-writes my senior management who are over cautious and fearful of any negative response. Therefore you could say that this blog is a chance for some cathartic venting (and I genuinely consider politicians to be low and politics a deeply murky occupation).

    I as a rule and not fearful of criticism, I kind of enjoy it and take the time to respond as carefully as possible. I add, and you may have already noted, the difference in tone and style between my actual posts and my responses which is a good reflection of how I am using a certain style for my posts.

    My suggestion is that if you do continue to read my posts you treat them as one might approach a satirical yet intelligent work such as Mad magazine, HST or Jon Stewart (those who I have said are my inspiration for how I write here). If it is genuinely offensive then please skip them over, but if you can stomach the content you may find it an acquired but enjoyable taste.

    I could go into things further but I feel that the current level of explanation around my writing is sufficient to serve as fair warning and that I believe your right to express disapproval in my work is as much the same as mine to post how I do.

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