Warning: Pop culture references ahead. Sorry if you don’t watch HBO.
It’s a strange experience for Greens: getting asked what we think. It does happen, though, usually at times like just about now.
Whenever the Titanic parties seem to have a prominent candidate with good progressive credentials running in the primaries, we’re asked if we’ll “support” him/her.
Let’s run through some things that might happen with such a candidacy. But first, some things that will definitely NOT happen:
Every bit as scripted and well-known to the actors involved, too. Even if his campaign is as sincere as I am when I order a chile verde burrito, a progressive platform such as his will never get the hundreds of millions needed for a successful campaign. That can only come from the .01%, and they ain’t buying it. That’s the stage of our history that we’re at, and it’s not changing any time soon.
Yes, they all say they’re “running to win”. See my earlier essay here.
(2) He will not, after losing the Dem nomination, launch an independent or “third” party campaign. Sanders has explicitly said he won’t act as a “spoiler” for Hillary, but beyond that, there are some states that have clear “sore loser” laws against this. An independent campaign would have to start a massive petition drive RIGHT NOW to get on the ballot in many states. For a “third” party campaign, it wouldn’t make much sense for a party that claims to make decisions democratically to nominate someone who didn’t run in that party’s primaries. As far as I can tell, Bernie is running in the Dem primaries, period. If anyone has different information, please tell me.
(3) He will not get any more attention for his progressive proposals than he would have got with an independent or “third” party campaign. He’s been nominally “independent” for many years now, and it’s got him the occasional interview on MSNBC. That’s about what he would continue to get if he stayed independent, and probably what he’ll get as a candidate for the Dem nomination.
(4) He will not “pull Hillary to the left”. She has positioned herself a bit more as a populist lately because she knows that’s where the rank & file of her party are. It says nothing about what she will do in office, as their campaign speeches said nothing about what her husband or Obama would do in office.
.What IS likely to happen?
(1) Much energy will be diverted from non-electoral activism into a campaign that promises pie in the sky. It doesn’t work with everyone, but lefties are usually as short-handed as Jaime Lannister, so losing just a couple more good volunteers pretty well ends anything like a local anti-war movement (killed by the Kerry and Obama campaigns) or whatever remains of Occupy.
(2) For “third” parties, the damage can be severe and permanent. Watching the numbers over the years, I’d guess that about 10-15% of our registrants want to re-register Dem just so they can vote in the Dem primaries whenever there’s a candidate like Kucinich or Sanders running. They might REEEEALY take their time re-registering Green when the season, and the character, end. It also means that, having registered with another party recently, they might not qualify to run as Greens for anything, including administrative posts within the Party.
10-15% might not sound like much, but we often hover pretty close to the number of registrants required to exist as a recognized party in some states. Once that status is gone, it’s very difficult to get back. Our party’s name would no longer be printed on the registration forms. It would be more difficult to get our candidates on the ballot. The extent of the damage varies a great deal from one state to another, but you get the idea, I hope.
(3) The failed candidate ends up with a mailing list of known “progressives”. Depending on just how they use it, this can be a major irritation to those on the list. If you once gave $5 to Bernie, you will forever get helpful reminders that he’s running for re-election to the Senate and really needs your support, or that he has friends with a plan for a grand “Progressive/Dem/Independent/Socialist coalition” or some such hogwash. Bernie will be 75 in 2016. He probably has just one more good fight left in him, and this is what he has chosen to leave it to.
What COULD have happened, but won’t now?
If he had decided to run as a Green, he probably would have swept our primaries pretty easily. Name recognition alone would have overwhelmed anyone else who was interested. His name on our ballot would have given quite a boost to the only party in line with his values that has ballot access in more than three or four states. Sanders has chosen NOT to help a movement, or anything, associated with independence of the monoparty, but rather to try once more to draw real grassroots activists into the Dem Party, where they will be quietly smothered. I wouldn’t want that as a legacy, myself.
So… What to do now?
Same thing we’ve been doing. We don’t have much wiggle room left, but there’s no reason not to use it.
Keep the lights on for candidates who might be electable. Get them elected as possible. Run a symbolic candidate for higher office here & there because sometimes we need a certain vote total to keep our ballot line in existence, and being on the ballot is often pretty cheap advertising for the Party.
And don’t take elections too seriously. It’s only one way of many to influence public policy. Most are hardly being used at all.