There are signs the Bernie Sanders campaign is nearing a bitter end. Which would be a shame, because he has come so far and has the opportunity to do so much more.
More high-level staffers have left. The fundraising momentum has slowed. Bernie’s sounding a little cranky on the stump, and some of his supporters are moving from denial to anger in the Five Stages of Grief.
I’m not here to litigate the details of the Nevada thing or any other offense against human decency slash blip on the radar screen. I’m here to lay out a productive way forward for the Sanders campaign.
He can stay in the race until the convention. Got no problem with that. He should, however, spend his time on the positive message that’s inspired his millions of followers, rather than focusing on the minutiae of process.
His campaign needs to shift away from fighting over convention rules or the platform or issue specifics for the Clinton campaign. That’s not the best way to carry forward the political revolution he claims to desire.
The best strategy is to concentrate on building a movement focused on electing progressive candidates across the country. An Organizing for America type group, maybe also a “Bernie’s List” modeled after EMILY’s List — an organization that focuses Bernie’s unmatched small-donor network on worthy candidates.
And here’s why.
First, nobody pays any attention to the goddamn platform or to the details of candidate policy positions. Even if a party or a candidate is completely sincere about their principles, things change once they take office.
Look at the last two men to become president: their plans were almost immediately wiped out by the onrush of events.
George W. Bush didn’t plan on waging two wars and creating a very costly national-security apparatus. But then 9/11 happened, and it defined his presidency.
Barack Obama’s presidency was shaped by two factors that had nothing to do with his 2008 platform: the Great Recession and the Republican takeover of Congress in 2010.
Both men, like every one of their predecessors, responded to the challenges laid before them. Some fundamentally changed their approaches to governing — like FDR, who campaigned in 1932 as a cautious moderate and wound up transforming America. Or Wilson, who counseled against war until he decided it was the best thing to do.
What that means for Bernie is, rather than trying to influence platforms and campaigns, he should be trying to elect good people to as many offices as possible. Then, when events overtake plans, we’ll have more liberals and progressives making the new plans and facing the unforeseen challenges.
Imagine a Congress with a couple dozen more progressives like Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown, and Keith Ellison. With Russ Feingold instead of Ron Johnson, Tammy Duckworth instead of Mark Kirk.
Bernie is in a unique position to create a lasting political movement, thanks to his one-of-a-kind fundraising appeal. He has succeeded where so many other lefties have failed: he’s found a way to financially sustain a progressive movement.
The sooner he shifts his focus away from the short term and toward broader, deeper, sustainable goals, the more he will be able to accomplish. And if he succeeds, he will go down in history as one of the most influential progressives in American history.