Thank You, Bernie

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks at Barker Hangar on June 7, 2016 in Santa Monica, California.
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Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks at Barker Hangar on June 7, 2016 in Santa Monica, California. Sanders refused to concede defeat to Hillary Clinton late on June 7, vowing to 'continue the fight' for the Democratic nomination despite his rival declaring herself the party's flagbearer for the US presidential race. / AFP / JONATHAN ALCORN (Photo credit should read JONATHAN ALCORN/AFP/Getty Images)

Senator Bernie Sanders, barring extraordinary unforeseen circumstances, is not going to be president. He has fallen short of his goal of winning the nomination of the Democratic Party. No tricky delegate math is going to save him now. His campaign is now over, whether he wants to admit it or not quite yet. But I for one am thankful he ran, and thankful for what he did manage to accomplish. Because though his campaign is done, his political revolution should continue.

I should note that I say "extraordinary unforeseen circumstances" because that is what it would take for Bernie to win the nomination at this point. Hillary Clinton could become physically unable (by a medical emergency, for instance) to run for president before the convention -- but that is a truly despicable thing for any political candidate's supporters to wish for or pin their hopes on. It's not just despicable, in fact, it is downright inhumane to even contemplate. The only other circumstance which could lead to Bernie being nominated is something Bernie himself declared he was "sick and tired of hearing about" -- the F.B.I.'s report on Clinton's "damn emails." If she's indicted on serious charges before Democrats meet in Philadelphia, Bernie would be the obvious choice to replace her. But for Bernie supporters to now cling to this thread as their only real hope is to disavow their candidate's professed wishes, in fact. Bernie's refusal to attack Clinton's email problems is now seen in one of two ways -- as a huge political mistake (maybe he could have won if he had pressed the attack on her); or as the finest moment of his campaign, when he lived up to his promise of running solely on the issues and not descending into the muck of personally tearing down his opponent, outside of his agenda. How you see Bernie's strategic decision depends on how cynical you are about politics, in some ways.

I personally choose to see things optimistically. Bernie accomplished something to be proud of, even if he fell short of achieving his goal. Bernie Sanders proved that a real Populist (or even a Democratic Socialist) can inspire millions across the country with a vision of progress that (for once) includes Main Street and not just fatter profits for Wall Street. That, to me, is an enormous achievement.

Bernie fell short of his goal, but not by that much. In the end he got 1,876 delegates to the Democratic National Convention, a little over 500 short of the 2,383 he needed to win. He did far better than others who have run ideologically-similar campaigns in the past. Bernie's agenda and rhetoric wasn't all that different from John Edwards (who spoke of the "two Americas," rich and poor), or Dennis Kucinich, or Howard Dean, or even Jesse Jackson. They all ran similar campaigns, thematically -- but none of the others ever even won 600 delegates to the convention. Bernie got over three times what any of them did. That is the magnitude of his accomplishment, in historical context.

Bernie Sanders absolutely reawakened and invigorated what used to be called the "Democratic wing of the Democratic Party." By doing so, he yanked the entire party back to mainstream issues that they used to support on a routine basis. None of what Bernie proposed was radical, no matter how hard the press and his opponents tried to paint him as a "fringe" candidate. Virtually all of the issues he championed poll extraordinarily well with the American public -- the very definition of "mainstream" in politics. To some, Bernie was nothing more than a joke, but to many others he was a candidate who finally talked about goals most Democrats seem to have forgotten about in the past few decades. Sanders had a big impact on the rest of the party, from his opponent (who shifted towards Bernie's position on a number of issues during the campaign) all the way up to the president (who only recently decided to support expanding Social Security, instead of cutting it). Bernie's influence on the party's agenda will not end because he didn't win the nomination; it is here to stay. For which I definitely want to thank Bernie Sanders.

Bernie has paved the way for future Progressive (and Populist) candidates within the Democratic Party. His campaign proved something many thought impossible a year ago -- that a presidential campaign could be run without super PACs and big donors, and instead rely on small donations from people who strongly agree with the candidate's agenda. Everyone loves to decry "big money" in politics, but Bernie has now proved "small money" can be just as powerful. Bernie Sanders took on the Clinton money machine, and he fought it to a draw. Clinton couldn't simply outspend Bernie, because Bernie had just as much money as she did -- which was famously raised "twenty-seven bucks at a time." Bernie blew away all small-donor campaign records, and by doing so proved that it could indeed be done. Candidates have been trying to achieve this feat for decades, even pre-dating the internet. Jerry Brown ran his 1992 campaign by always reeling off his "800 number" whenever in front of a camera, for example. Others had similar successes using whatever technology was available, but Bernie showed the power the internet can have in today's politics like no other candidate has ever previously done. He matched Clinton's campaign chest in a way many thought absolutely impossible.

Bernie's revolution can and should grow beyond him, but Bernie himself will still provide a lot of leadership for the movement. Revolutions should always be bigger than one person, but at the same time revolutions can sometimes fall apart absent any leadership at all (as Occupy Wall Street did, achieving nothing more than changing the terms of the political discussion with their focus on the "99 percent" and the "one percent"). The next steps for such a revolution are getting much more involved in the nuts-and-bolts of politics -- grooming Progressive candidates for House and Senate races, for instance. And in working with whatever Congress emerges from the November elections. This is where Bernie will play a large leadership role, by helping to shine the spotlight on his entire agenda, made real in actual legislation. If Democrats regain control of the Senate, Bernie will be perfectly positioned to take on the role of pushing the entire party to actually propose laws that help average Americans. He'll have the wind at his back when he does so, because his ideas have all generated so much excitement within the ranks of the Democratic Party. That's something other Democrats are going to respect in Congress next year.

Which is why I am thankful for Bernie's run for the White House. I am thankful he got as far as he did, and he won as many votes as he did. I have seen many other Populist candidates fall far short of what Bernie achieved, and been disappointed in the Democratic electorate at large as a direct result -- for decades. This time around, I am gleefully optimistic that Bernie truly represents the future of the Democratic Party. Not only did he win over 10 million votes in the primary season, but he overwhelmingly won the votes of the youngest voters. They will ultimately determine where the Democratic Party heads in the decades to come, and Bernie's message inspired and uplifted them like no other candidate has ever managed. So, yes, I am thankful that Bernie achieved all this even though he didn't win the nomination. It bodes well for the future, and it bodes well for the next Progressive candidate to run (likely in an election without the complication of a family dynasty candidate).

Thank you, Bernie, for proving that all of this could indeed happen. Thank you for getting as far as you did. Thank you for reawakening a wave of excitement within the Democratic Party. Thank you for championing a list of issues that I could heartily agree with, and for refusing to be distracted from your agenda by the usual mudslinging and other negative campaigning tactics so common in politics today. Thank you for not selling out to big donors. Thank you for showing that all of this was even possible in today's political environment.

Thank you, Bernie, for running -- and for running the way you did. We'll all remember you and your campaign for a long time to come.

 

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