While still conceivable after New York, Bernie Sanders’ chances of winning the Democratic primary have now become highly improbable. Improbable, but not impossible. And for that reason alone I think he should stay in the race. (For the record, this is exactly what Hillary Clinton did in 2008. She stuck it out until June of that year, even after it was apparent that she was on the ropes.)
But as a Sanders supporter, I wish he and his campaign would stick to their original, long-standing – and accurate – critique of U.S. political economy. That is, that our democratic republic has been hijacked by plutocrats, who are using the power of their money to distort our politics and economics to serve their interests and not those of most Americans.
What I don’t want is to see his campaign descend merely into constant sniping and criticism of fellow progressives and the primary process in general. Yes, suspicious activity – like the voter registration changes leading up to the New York primary – need to be thoroughly investigated. And yes, there are a variety of reforms needed in the way the Democratic party primaries are managed, including the existence of superdelegates.
But at this point, these are short-term tactical matters, having to do with this campaign alone. It is also important to play the long game, and Sanders is clearly winning that. He has energized young people. He’s proven that a sizable portion of the Democratic party electorate – roughly 40% – wants to see the party lean in the direction of democratic socialism, rather than stick with a centrist, corporatist approach to politics that has dominated the party for the last 30 years. (With any luck, Sanders will stay in through California, and we’ll have something of a national referendum on this issue.) And he has done all of this mostly as an outsider with largely small donations, proving that there is room to maneuver in U.S. political institutions for people-centered candidates and movements. All of this is a base upon which a new political economy can be built – and upon which a new Democratic party can be built, complete with the primary election reforms mentioned before.
But to do any of this, Sanders and his campaign – and his supporters – need to maintain the moral high ground, which is so clearly won. That’s what makes more centrist Democrats squirm. And I’m not inclined to let them off the hook or give them excuses to ignore the central message of the Sanders campaign, which is that their approach has proven to be a misguided failure for most Americans and that a new way is needed.