Expecting Sanders Supporters to "Close Ranks?"

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Expecting Sanders Supporters to "Close Ranks?"

Think again. Here's why many won't.

Sanders supporters "are part of the progressive majority that has not had a real choice in elections for decades, and they won’t be motivated by party loyalty," argues Atcheson. (Photo: Gage Skidmore/flickr/cc)

When the Clinton campaign and the corporate press call for Sanders to drop out and turn his supporters over to Hillary, they reveal just how out of touch they are. Sanders’ army is not his to command.  They arose out of a profound dissatisfaction over politics as usual, and many – if not most – will not be persuaded to vote for a status quo politician they perceive to be part of the problem, no matter how frightening a Trump Presidency could be.

Here are some of the reasons why:

"Expecting people to 'close ranks' around the Democratic nominee harkens back to a time that no longer exists."

Reason #1 – Party Affiliation Doesn’t Matter as Much as it Used to. In 1960, 75 percent of Americans belonged to one of the major political parties, and just 20 percent claimed to be independents. Today, 44 percent of Americans call themselves independents, and only a little over half of the people belong to a party.  Most of the dropouts came from the Democratic Party, which claimed 50 percent of Americans in 1960.  For the most part, Republicans have hovered between 20 and 25%, standing at 23% today.

Even those who belong to a party have less faith in it than they used to.  For example, some 60 percent believe the US needs a third major party, because – to quote Gallup’s finding – people think the Republican and Democratic parties "do such a poor job" of representing the American people. 

Expecting people to “close ranks” around the Democratic nominee harkens back to a time that no longer exists. Today, many people – including many Sanders supporters – vote on values or they don’t vote. The lesser of two evils and party affiliation simply aren’t enough to motivate them. 

Reason #2 – The Myth of the Centrist Majority and the Disenfranchisement of the People. Democrats’ share of voters fell sharply after Carter, and continued to fall thereafter, as the DLC brand of corporate centrist Democrats took over the party – something both Clintons embraced whole-heartedly.  In short, as the party abandoned the people, the people abandoned the party. The further Democrats drifted from the New Deal, the more ground they lost.

"The oligarchs controlling the Party believed people had nowhere else to go, particularly with Republicans having a protracted psychotic breakdown, and until Sanders, it worked."

This gives lie to the myth of the centrist majority, which has dominated political calculations since Reagan. The more the consultants and pundits pushed candidates to the center and beyond, the worse the party faired.

But it didn’t matter, because the mythical conservative “center” is exactly where the oligarchy wanted the party to go, and the myth fed their pursuit of power and their accumulation of wealth. And, in her own words, that’s exactly where Hillary has been for her entire political career. The oligarchs controlling the party believed people had nowhere else to go, particularly with Republicans having a protracted psychotic breakdown, and until Sanders, it worked.

But Sanders gave the people an alternative, and his supporters are reluctant to settle for the oligarchs' centrist choice.  And they are rightfully skeptical about Hillary’s cynical shape-shifting towards progressivism in this campaign, particularly when her staff is discussing how she can begin to tack to the center now that the nomination is “done.”

Reason #3 -- In Response to their Diminished Status, the Democratic Party Moved to Protect the Entrenched Status Quo, rather than to Assure a Democratic Process. Closed primaries shut out independents -- the largest block of voters -- and in some states, including New York, rules made it difficult for the young or newly interested voters to engage. Corporate media and elite pundits ignored or discounted Sanders; Debbie Wasserman Schultz and the Democratic National Committee stacked the deck for Hillary; and many unions and public interest group elites ignored the wishes of the rank and file and endorsed Hillary. All of this left a bad taste in the mouths of Sanders supporters, and a distaste for the pay-to-play power politics of Clinton, the DNC, and the establishment elite.

Reason #4 -- The Rise of the Oligarchy: In their landmark study, Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups and Average Citizens, Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page found that the US was functionally an Oligarchy, not a democracy. 

Two quotes from their work reveal how completely our democracy had been undermined:

  • "When the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy." (emphasis added); and
  • "In the United States, our findings indicate, the majority does not rule—at least not in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes."(emphasis added).

"In short, our country has been taken over as surely as if a foreign army had marched victorious across our lands from sea to not so shining sea." 

In short, our country has been taken over as surely as if a foreign army had marched victorious across our lands from sea to not so shining sea.  The only difference is that it was an inside job.  Sanders, with his populist and progressive message, gave many people who’d dropped out of politics a reason to reengage. These people rightfully perceive Hillary -- with her PACs, Wall Street ties, and neoliberal policies -- to be part of the problem, not the solution.

Reason #5 -- The Oligarchy used their victory to abscond with the vast majority of the country’s wealth. The disappearance of the middle class has been well-documented, as has the elite’s tendency to set the economic rules in their favor. Here’s a quick summary:

  • Analysis by economists Saez, Zucman, and Piketty found that since 1980, the average income for the top 10 percent grew three times faster than for the rest of us – which grew a scant .07 percent;
  • In the same time period, the average income for the top 1 percent grew four times as fast as for the 99 percent;
  • The top 10% now take home half of all income;
  • And it’s getting worse – since 2009, 58 percent of all income growth has gone to the top 10 percent;
  • When it comes to net wealth, the divide is even starker. The 20 richest people in the country now have as much wealth as the bottom 50 percent of Americans.

The disparity in income has gotten grotesque, and people are fed up. It got this way because both parties are beholden to the plutocracy in the game of pay-to-play politics. The  elite in both parties, the media, in unions, and in environmental and public interest groups – organizations that used to represent the people’s interest by serving as a counter weight to the power of the über rich and corporations -- no longer serve the people, they serve the über rich and corporations.  The average citizen has been muzzled and shunted aside. To many, Sanders gave people a way to attack this problem and they view Hillary – correctly – to be the kind of conventional politician that created the problem in the first instance.

Reason #6: Hillary is a Neocon and War Hawk.  Sanders has been an outspoken opponent of  wars of occupation, while Hillary seems never to have met a war she doesn’t like. Given that neocon policies have created more terrorists rather than reducing terrorism, and that most people favor ending the endless wars, Sanders supporters are loath to support a candidate who would expand upon this failed strategy.

"Despite painfully transparent attempts on Hillary’s part to pass herself off as a Progressive, she is—and always has been—a slightly right of center candidate."

In Conclusion, It’s About Values and Self Interest, Stupid -- Sanders voters are motivated by a chance to change the system so that power is restored to the people, and with it a just share of the nation’s wealth. They reject the status quo politics of pay-to-play candidates. They are part of the progressive majority that has not had a real choice in elections for decades, and they won’t be motivated by party loyalty. And many have come to believe there is little difference between Republicans and Democrats beyond rhetoric. 

Let’s be clear. Despite painfully transparent attempts on Hillary’s part to pass herself off as a Progressive, she is – and always has been – a slightly right of center candidate. Hillary Clinton serves the status quo – she is a creature of, by and for the corporatized version of American politics that has ripped people off and disenfranchised them.

She is, in many ways, exactly what Sanders has been running against, and even the bogeyman of a Trump presidency will not be enough to motivate many Sanders supporters to turn out and vote for her. 

John Atcheson

John Atcheson

John Atcheson is author of the novel, A Being Darkly Wise, and he has just completed a book on the 2016 elections, tentatively titled, WTF America? How the US Went Off the Rails and How to Get It Back on Track, which will be released in the Spring.

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