original to The Matt Gonzalez Reader, November 7, 2016
Painting by Michelle Guintu exhibited in the “Welcome to the Left Coast” exhibition at the Luggage Store Gallery, San Francisco, May, 2016.
Defending Bernie or Bust
by Matt Gonzalez
The only reason we’re even talking about this is because we have a system of voting that doesn’t accommodate much other than candidates from the two-major parties. Asking Bernie Sanders voters to vote for Hillary Clinton is in effect asking them not to vote for Green Party candidate Jill Stein, the other candidate in the race with whom they are most closely aligned.
The argument is like this: a vote for Stein is a vote for Trump, or at least a wasted vote that isn’t helping to defeat a candidate Sanders supporters loathe.
But the very idea that we have an election process that only allows for two candidates, and lends itself to this pressure to make voters who support 3rd party candidates re-enter the fold, needs to be examined.
Efforts to reform this system, so that 3rd party candidates, who hold legitimate views different than the major candidates, have not been supported by these two major parties. Candidates who hold percentages in the polls significant enough to bear supposed responsibility for turning the elections, are nevertheless held out of debates based on the same percentages.
The two major parties would prefer to pressure Sanders voters or those supporting Gary Johnson who is running as a Libertarian, to vote Republican or Democratic rather than reform the system, because if they reform the system they would lose support. They would rather play this game, that favors them, they will be in office at least half the time, than supporting a reform that would let voters cast legitimate anti-war, anti-corporate, anti-banking establishment votes.
The recent Wikileaks release of Clinton campaign chair John Podesta’s emails provides a unique and unsettling window into just how expressly major parties employ this strategy. One memo, from April 2015, shows that a full year before the GOP field would be narrowed to Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, the Clinton campaign had detailed their plans to “elevate” the two “extreme” candidates, along with Ben Carson, and to discredit more established candidates. In other words, the same campaign now relying on the danger of a Trump presidency to dissuade 3rd party voters from voting their conscience, was strategizing to promote Trump a year earlier — creating precisely the predicament under which they now insist everyone must vote for Clinton.
So if the two major parties like it the way it is, and they aren’t interested in reform, what is actually happening when they attack the Bernie or Bust movement?
Every Sanders voter that now goes to Clinton is in effect helping to prop up this illegitimate two-party system and ensuring it will not get reformed.
Moreover, the revelations that the Democratic party strongly favored Clinton and undermined the Sanders candidacy means that by now voting Clinton, you are implicitly condoning those actions. It got the job done, so why would the establishment ever change their tactics in the future? Think about it: to supposedly clean up the DNC after revelations of the Party’s bias was revealed by Wikileaks — the Party replaced DNC President Debbie Wasserman-Schultz with Donna Brazile, who, while operating as a “neutral Democratic CNN contributor”, was feeding the Clinton campaign debate questions in advance during the primary against Sanders. This is not a party that shows any intention to reform.
Sanders is taking the high road and being a good sport. But he undermines his supporters when he asks them to take their loss well. Sanders represents a single candidacy. He may have been the vessel for people to wake up to what was happening, but this doesn’t mean he’s in control of their votes and that anyone should follow him.
Every four years I hear that it is about the Supreme Court. Yes, I would likely be in disagreement with Trump’s appointments to the high court. But I have greater faith in the ability of social movements and cultural shifts to fight against any wayward Supreme Court than in the efficacy of voting for a party I don’t agree with and which routinely engages in such demonstrated improprieties. President Obama, himself, who now urges the importance of court appointments refused to join Democrats in filibustering his predecessors extreme appointments to the federal bench when he was a U.S. Senator. On numerous occasion he voted in favor of cloture, to end filibusters, and helped get conservative jurists confirmed on both the 5th and D.C. Circuits. At some point we have to draw the line.
If you want to vote for Clinton, go for it. I promise I won’t call it silly or a wasted vote. But I’m not interested in following you. I’m tired of the same pleas every four years telling me that I shouldn’t vote for who I want. If the system is broken and your party is in office roughly ½ the time, how about insisting on some change other than the undemocratic solution that I shouldn’t vote for who I want.
In 1992 Bill Clinton was elected president with 43% of the vote. He was elected because Ross Perot, the Reform Party candidate, took votes away from President George H. W. Bush. I’ve never once heard a single Democrat complain about this.