Dear Bernie Supporter,
It pains me that my enthusiasm for Hillary (and skepticism about Bernie) comes across as smugness or arrogance. I cannot recall a time when I have ever told a Bernie supporter to "fall in line" or to stop dreaming. I truly don't feel that way. Everyone has the right to support whomever they choose. And our two-party system often suppresses that freedom. I do feel, though, that Bernie supporters are so fed up with the system that they often can't understand why we Hillary supporters actually like her. I'm not supporting her with my nose held and doing my duty. I do so because I admire her temperament, personality, worldview, heart, and humor. I think she's a good person and the best person to be president. She has endured withering criticism for 25 years, has accomplished much in that time, and has the mettle to keep fighting for what she believes in.
I also believe that our millennial generation (especially) is conflating two very important (and very distinct) citizen duties. The first is to select the most progressive person we can to preside over the broken levers and institutions of government... to make slow, ugly progress that will help the most people. This is how civil rights victories have been won. This is how our social safety net was created.
The second task, which requires sustained attention and is -- in my view -- wholly separate from the job of picking a president, is to remake our institutions of government and our civil society. This is the work of a generation, and will bring to bear the massive technological gains we enjoy today, and the most talented minds of our time. This will take 20 years and it still won't be done. This is how we'll rid the system of endless money, political gerrymandering, a race to the edge of political discourse because that's the only way to get elected. I do not believe there is a shortcut, and I do not believe that both tasks can be accomplished at once.
I think the thing that annoys you most about our conversation is when I express such confidence that Hillary will win. And it's not because I have a crystal ball or blind confidence. And nothing is certain in politics. I just have a strong belief in her as a candidate, in her patience, in her temperament, and in her true understanding of what's at stake. I don't think Bernie lacks any of that, but it does seem very clear to me now that Hillary will be our nominee. Again, is it certain? No. But, as anyone who supported Hillary in 2008, and saw her win state after state but never catch-up to Obama, it's about the delegates. And it seems Hillary has a lead that, barring a huge shift in the dynamic of the race, is insurmountable.
And so my utter confidence that she will be the nominee and will win the election must seem as annoying to you as it did to me in 2008 with Obama supporters. And hearing things like "Bernie has been so important to the debate" and "He's made her a stronger general election candidate" must also make you want to punch someone. I get it.
You believe Bernie stands for ideals that are so powerful that he will attract new people to the process who have been sitting on their hands. And I agree with you. But I have not been convinced for a moment that this wave of support is strong enough, broad enough, or diverse enough to usher in an electoral wave that could alter control of Congress or even put Bernie in the White House. And so, as funny as it may sound to say about one of the most divisive figures in the history of American electoral politics, I think Hillary is better suited than Bernie to build an electoral coalition and to preside over a fractured government.
Bernie's supporters often try to convince me that he is, in fact, more electable than Hillary, and they point to polling to back them up. Here's why I don't put any stock in these polls: Hillary Clinton is defined to the American public. She's the most famous woman in the world. She is known. Are all of her policy positions? No. But fundamentally, every voter knows who she is and has an opinion. Bernie is largely unknown to the average voter. The fact that someone who was unknown to almost the entire American public just six months ago is winning primary states is a testament to his strength as a candidate, the resonance of his message, and the brilliance of his campaign team and passionate supporters.
Billions of dollars have been spent over decades trying to take down Hillary with manufactured scandals. These efforts have been so sustained and clever that, over time, they have contributed to a feeling about her that she is tainted, dishonest, bad, has an albatross around her neck. But, with rare exception, these things have been proven time and again to be baseless. And she plods along, a happy warrior, day after day delivering in detail her progressive policy positions. Will she bring revolution? No. Will she bring genuine presidential leadership to issues like wage increases and economic inequality? Yes. Will she move swiftly to root out racism in our institutions? Yes. Has Bernie shaped the priorities of the Democratic party and of the country in ways that will leave ripple effects for years to come? Yes. Is this all happening at a time when the other main political party in the country is tearing itself apart? Yes.
I believe that, if Bernie were the nominee, he would face a horror show that would make "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" look like a matinée. I worked for John Kerry in 2004. He was a Vietnam war hero, a distinguished Senator, a great mind on foreign policy, who was running against a president who had limped into office in one of the most controversial elections in our history, and was presiding over a deeply unpopular war that most of the public believed by then to be baseless. And Kerry was sunk by a few tens of millions of dollars of fictional ads. At first, the campaign didn't even respond because the ads were so insane, so beyond the norms. The Koch brothers have said they would spend $900 million to win this election. They wouldn't need $100 million of it to do the same type of smear campaign to Bernie. By July they would have every voter in the dwindling, persuadable political center believing that Bernie is a scary socialist who wants to turn America into Sweden. And that would be the nicest thing they would say about him. So that is why I believe, if he were the nominee, he would lose.
And looking ahead to the general, I believe that Trump is tapping into two powerful dynamics:
1. a fundamental distrust of elites of both parties to get anything good done for average people (an appropriate debate to have), and
2. he gives voice and permission for views that have been out of bounds in political discourse to be back on the table (from a larger-than-we'd-like-to-think element of our society that is racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, religiously intolerant, and generally scared of "the other"). These worst parts of our society, which people have worked so hard to sideline, are invested again in the political process. And they speak in code, saying they are frustrated with "political correctness" when what they really mean is that they're mad as hell that they see a future in which being born white or a male might no longer give one a leg up in life. It's sickening.
But despite what a total circus our political system seems to the world right now, I have great faith in our civil society. When push comes to shove, our press (one of the freest in the world), our advocacy organizations, and our progressive activists will - I believe - not stand for the possibility that someone whose political views could easily have seemed out of the mainstream even 100 years ago could be president of this country. I believe that Hillary's fundamental decency and future-oriented vision for a more inclusive country will stand up well to: "let's build a wall, let's make it high, China/immigrants/Muslims/etc are bad."
The debate I would like to have with Bernie supporters goes far beyond this presidential election. Bernie has attracted some of the most brilliant minds of our time, many of the people who have the best ideas for how to make our society more just and fair. As President Obama's most ardent supporters know (many of whom now support Bernie): electing a president is not enough. Our government cannot fix all of our problems.
So how can we come together to build durable movements to get rid of money in politics, to end political gerrymandering, to make voting easier, to increase economic opportunity, to achieve a clean energy future, to protect our planet, to invest in schools instead of prisons? A Republican Congress is never going to work with us on any of this, whether the president is named Obama, Clinton, Sanders, or Warren.
This is the conversation I would like to have, and it is so much more important than whom our next president will be.