Why Sanders Must Continue His Campaign

Sanders has shown over the past year that he is a figure without rival when it comes to galvanizing the progressive left in the United States. (Photo: Getty Image)

Why Sanders Must Continue His Campaign

With former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton now having finally won enough pledged delegates to sew up the Democratic nomination for president, the months-long calls for Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) to abandon his campaign have finally ceased being senseless. This is not, however, to say that they should be heeded. They should not. Sanders should continue his campaign, even as he lightly modifies its aims and tonalities. The modifications should track the reasons for continuing the campaign, which are three in number.

The first reason for continuing the campaign is the easiest and most obvious: Much still can happen between now and the Democratic convention later this summer. Clinton is not yet entirely out of the woods where her use of private email to conduct public business is concerned. While a full-on indictment looks unlikely, it is not yet out of the question; nor is further fallout from the secretary's inaccurate account of the State Department rules that she stands accused of having violated. It is accordingly important for the Democratic Party to have its other principal candidate for president at the ready, how ever unlikely it is that he will be needed for this particular purposes.

The second reason for Sanders to continue his campaign is much less speculative and far more concrete than the first. It is to maintain his active presence in the party up to and throughout the platform-formation process. Much has been made of how Sanders has brought the Democratic Party back to itself -- restoring to it its soul, so to speak. But that will be all but forgotten, and the energy and enthusiasm brought by this restoration all but lost, if the party now turns to triangulating by moving back rightward in search of a mythical "center."

The old political center appears to be evaporating even more quickly than the American middle class, and Trump is no ordinary "right-wing" candidate. His appeal overlaps in part with Sanders's, and the Democratic Party must attract and retain its appeal to Sanders's supporters if it is going to optimize its prospects against Trump. But that will not happen unless Sanders plays a critical role in formulating the party platform this summer, and maintaining his campaign and the mobilization of his supporters is essential to securing that role. The campaign, then, must continue straight through the convention.

This particular purpose, of course, differs somewhat from that of winning the actual nomination. It must be self-consciously harmonized, so far as possible, with the goal of winning the presidency for the party's actual nominee. Hence Sanders will have to walk a bit of a tightrope, with the peril of over-compromise lurking to one side, and that of under-compromise on the other. Yet apart from a few hotly contested months culminating in this week, this is precisely what Sanders has done through his campaign. There is no reason to suppose, then, that this slight tempering of the campaign in light of the modified goal will pose any particularly difficult challenge to Sanders.

The third and final reason that Sanders should continue his campaign is one that he himself has cited on multiple occasions. It is to keep the movement to restore the Democratic Party to its original vision, well, moving. As Sanders has often said, he is leading a peaceful political and economic revolution. While the revolution of course is, as Sanders also says often, larger than any one person or candidate, it is also the case that revolutions generally need leaders or galvanizing figures. This is what the New Deal had and what the Occupy movement, until recently, seems to have lacked.

Sanders has shown over the past year that he is a figure without rival where this requirement is concerned. He has routinely drawn crowds in the tens of thousands all across the nation, attracting and ultimately enfranchising entirely new generations of progressive Americans. These Americans will be needed not simply to win this November, but also and more enduringly to carry forward Sanders's revolution -- including by voting-in new members of Congress who also embody his message. And there is for now only one way to provide coherence and direction to this revolution on a nationwide basis: That is for Sen. Sanders to lead it.

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