To All the Clinton Supporters on the Left—Please Come Home!

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To All the Clinton Supporters on the Left—Please Come Home!

Attendees listen to U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton at a campaign event in Iowa City, Iowa, United States, January 21, 2016. (Photo: REUTERS/Jim Young)

Despite the beyond-some-of-our-wildest-dreams strides the Bernie Sanders campaign has made since he launched his then longshot bid last April, there are obviously still considerable numbers of people backing Hillary Clinton whose actual ideas and histories would seem more closely matched to that of Sanders. Some presumably have stuck with her, even as her nomination no longer seems inevitable, out of the belief that the possibility of the first female president outweighs their being closer to Sanders on the issues. That’s a judgement not particularly subject to argument – but most of the other reasons are. And since a lot of these folks supporting Clinton for some of these other reasons have done some great things in the past, I hate seeing them left on the sidelines now that we have a major presidential candidate actually embodying so much of their values. If I only could, I’d love get to some to overcome their hesitations. Because mostly I’d just like to tell them that they should come home.

Is Clinton the stronger candidate?

First of all, I’d like to make sure that they know it just ain’t necessarily so that Clinton would be the more formidable November contender. Sure, that could actually be true; there’s none of us who can predict the future. But most polls actually show Sanders running stronger than Clinton against most of the potential Republican nominees. A lot of people will say that polls on such faraway hypothetical match-ups are of dubious value at this point. And on that they’re probably right. But the fact remains that there’s no actual evidence backing the conventional wisdom of the greater strength of the Clinton candidacy. Still, for many the stronger Sanders polling numbers just seem flat out counterintuitive. After all, Clinton’s the one closer to the political center, so how could she not pick up more voters “in the middle” than Sanders could coming from her left? In its report on polls conducted from January 2-7, 2016, NBC News did come up with an answer, one that may seem obvious once we hear it: “The primary reason why Sanders tests better in these general-election matchups is due to his stronger performance with independent voters.” Where we see left, right, center, many other people see Democrat, Republican, Independent. And Sanders is, let us not forget, the longest serving independent in congressional history.

Remember how we thought campaign finance reform was crucial, but perhaps impossible?

The traditional campaign finance reformer stance is the one Clinton has taken – she supports it, but until the law actually changes, she’s not about to “unilaterally disarm.” This isn’t hypocrisy; it’s a reasonable attitude. However, one of the many astounding things about the Sanders campaign is that he has managed to do just that. Could we really believe that the “little people” would rally to fill in the financial gap if a presidential candidate walked away from corporate cash and Super Pac’s? Well, we’ve had the answer since the end of last year when Sanders passed the million donor mark and his total 2,513,665 separate donations passed the record set by incumbent President Barack Obama. His average donation in the fourth quarter of 2015? $27.16 – not much over 1 percent of the $2,700 maximum! We once would have said that the idea of a presidential run financed by people giving 25 bucks a pop was delusional. But it turns out that it was we who were deluded back then. Sometimes reality doses can actually be really refreshing.

How many times have you heard someone say they wish there were more young people in “the movement”?

This month’s New York Times/CBS News poll found Sanders leading Clinton by a 60 to 31 percent margin among Democratic voters under 45. We’ve always hoped that if you gave young people something to believe in – like a candidate who really did want to break with a system where the really wealthy have it all their way – they would respond. And they have. We’ve all seen the crowds. Just like with Occupy, we didn’t see them coming, but they’re there. The future has arrived. Do they make the mistakes we associate with youth? Some do. Are there young male Sanders supporters dissing Clinton? Apparently so – and they are regrettable. But in the end, this race is not fundamentally about whether Sanders supporters dissing Clinton are worse than Clinton believers giving Sanders continual short shrift in the newsmedia, or vice versa. Things do tend to get a bit testy in these situations. But we shouldn’t let that cause us to lose sight of the fact that it’s not the worst behavior of the candidates’ supporters that we need to compare. It’s the best parts of the candidates’ ideas.

But don’t most African-Americans support Clinton?

There’s no question that for all of their shortcomings, the Clinton White House years, coming between 12 years of Reagan and Bush I and 8 years of Bush II, were a breath of fresh air for the traditional constituencies of the Democratic Party. We may recall that there were those who referred to Bill Clinton as the first Black president. And, as First Lady, Hillary Clinton was obviously in the thick of that, while Sanders has never held office outside of Vermont, which has the second-lowest percentage of African-Americans among the 50 states.

We may also remember that Hillary Clinton was once heavily favored over Obama among this group. Will her lead melt away again? Impossible to know, and of course her primary opponent last time did go on to actually become the first Black president. But even though he is not currently all that well known among the African-American population, Sanders is anything but a newcomer to their issues, having participated in the March on Washington in 1963. (Here, age does have its rewards.) And as we have seen already, when people realize that Sanders really and clearly does stand with the 99 percent and against the domination of the 1 percent, they do tend to come around.

But how can he do all of those things he says he wants?

Could Sanders conceivably accomplish all of the things he says America needs to do? Probably not. If he did, it would be a first. But while you are never guaranteed to accomplish something if you try, you can be pretty well sure you won’t achieve it if you don’t even attempt it. For instance, could a Sanders presidency produce the single-payer, Medicare-for-all type health care system he advocates? Maybe not. Certainly we know the votes aren’t there in Congress right now. Does this mean that we should simply work on small improvements in the current system and devote most of our attention to other issues as some now advocate? Well, it might, were it not for the 29 million still uninsured and the billions of dollars wasted in the private, for-profit health insurance regime we currently have.

The Sanders campaign has already tapped deep well springs of support that conventional political thinking simply could not imagine existed. Could an actual Sanders presidency really bring such a sea change that things not currently deemed feasible become possible? Maybe, maybe not. But one thing we can be sure of – we will not get this sort of change in health care, which polls show most Democratic voters support, from a Clinton administration.

No one in politics can guarantee success for their proposals. There’s always someone pushing the other way and when you’re talking about threatening big corporate profits, the push back will huge. Really, the only thing that candidates for public office can guarantee is the direction of their leadership. And I really haven’t seen many of Clinton’s supporters on the left arguing that their candidate has the edge in this regard.

Tom Gallagher

Tom Gallagher

Tom Gallagher is a former Massachusetts State Representative and the author of 'The Primary Route: How the 99% Take On the Military Industrial Complex.' He lives in San Francisco.

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