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Still Licking Our Wounds and Hoping for Change

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Bernie Sanders’ campaign for the presidency was one hell of a run that was indeed quixotic.  There hasn’t been anything like the Sanders’ campaign in decades! Whether a celebration or lament about his presidential primary campaign fortunes, as reported in “In Hindsight, Backers of Bernie Sanders Lament What Might Have Been,” (New York Times, October 18, 2016), the fact that Sanders came as close as he did to the Democratic nomination was remarkable within the limits of electoral politics. When the Sanders’ campaign is compared to the disastrous outrage of the last several months that has passed for presidential politics, the nostalgia for the good old days of his campaign in undeniable.

Many believe that if the recently released WikiLeaks e-mails had been published during the primary season, which  document Clinton’s support for the expansion of war… her great admiration of Wall Street and support of those monied interests… her support for so-called free trade… her disparaging and mildly insulting remarks and those of her campaign staffers (and Democratic Party officials) about the senator’s campaign, then the outcome of the primaries would have been different.

RoseAnn DeMarco, executive director of National Nurses United, a key player in the Sanders’ campaign says “Bernie could have won the election, and that’s the most irritating and painful thing. It would have made a world of difference.”  DeMarco continues, “Now we are going to have a dynamic status quo… It’s going to look like change. But it’s not change.”

DeMarco is only partly right, but not even the appearance of a messiah could have reversed the fixed game that the primary season was, including in New York, where I worked for several weeks for Sanders. In New York, a perspective presidential primary voter was forced to declare his/her party affiliation a full six months before the April 2016 primary, thus ensuring that those registered as independents or Republicans could not cross party lines and vote for an insurgent candidate like Sanders. Indeed, six months before that important primary, Sanders was hardly known as a presidential candidate in New York.

Clinton’s victory may not have been fair, but she did carry important constituencies such as older African-Americans and the senior vote, and that coupled with stringent primary voting rules,  Clinton’s funding base, and her campaign organization on the ground were obstacles that Sanders apparently could not have overcome.

Robert Reich, a Sanders supporter, who now supports Hillary Clinton, makes reference to an October 2008 message to John Podesta—now Mrs. Clinton’s campaign manager—from Michael Forman, a former Citigroup executive who is now a U.S. trade representative. Forman offers a potential list of names for posts in the Obama administration and “Many on the list were later named to the very posts he suggested.” No surprises there: That’s the way patronage and Machiavellian politics has worked since The Prince in the 16th century and for centuries before that.

For those who hoped that Clinton would choose Sanders as her vice-presidential pick, there is some dry humor in “No. 39 on Hillary Clinton’s Running Mate List: Bernie Sanders,” (New York Times, October 18, 2016). Many felt that Sanders would enhance the Clinton ticket with his massive youth following, but that was not to be, as the senator came in dead last on the list. The words of the character Lloyd Christmas spoken to the woman he has romantically pursued across North America in the movie Dumb and Dumber (1994) come to mind: He interprets her 1 in 1,000,000 statement about his chance of having a relationship with her as an encouraging: “So you’re telling me there’s a chance.”

Believing in the urgency of supporting down-ticket candidates, I began volunteering in the Upstate New York Congressional race working for Zephyr Teachout. Teachout is running against a Republican, John Faso, who has worked for big oil as a lobbyist and opposes late-term abortion, the latter of which has never been made an issue in campaign ads. He held office in the state legislature, rising to a leadership position. Faso is funded by the dark money that Citizens United unleashed on the political system. Watching his anti-Teachout ads is something of a throwback to political campaigns of the 1940s, 50s, 60s, and 70s, with dark images of Teachout, libels against her for supporting the nuclear deal with Iran, and charges that she is an out-of-town “liberal.” The ads are almost humorous and some begin by labelling Teachout as a “professor,” (she has taught law at Fordham University) in the worst anti-intellectual tradition of U.S. politics.

Electoral politics is only one slice of the pie for bringing about change and there’s always a protest vote, or a third-party vote, or staying away from the polls altogether. The environment, war and peace, Wall Street vs. Main Street, jobs, education, medical care, income inequality, housing, nutrition, civil liberties and civil rights are some of the issues where it’s the shoe leather that meets the street and where demands for change are made and won.

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Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He is the author of Against the Wall: Memoir of a Vietnam-Era War Resister (2017).

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