As the absurd Trump convention grinds on, somewhere in Philadelphia I imagine there is an army of volunteers inflating one hundred thousand colorful balloons. It is no secret that not all of us are going to be in a celebratory mood when those balloons rain down upon the heads of the new nominee and that of her husband, the 42nd President of the United States. My bittersweet moment of excitement will have come and gone by then. It will take place on Monday night, when Senator Bernie Sanders will make his speech to the convention.
Many have been the calls for unity before those balloons are released. Many have been the angry, accusatory columns written by Democratic columnists decrying the “Bernie Bros,” the “millennials,” the “unrealistic,” and the “naïve.” Just to be clear, I happen to not be any of those things. But what if I were? Despite being neither millennial nor naïve nor bro, I still resent every one of these slights. They are unhelpful at best. At worst, they are insulting, dehumanizing and marginalizing of the very best of human intentions. What exactly is wrong with being a millennial? Being hopeful and idealistic? Wanting everyone to get a fair shake? Being against war and for justice? Being concerned about the poor, the working class, and the middle class? Is it really so wrong to be disappointed with the way partisan politics, including on the Democratic side, has been going?
You can marginalize us and minimize our concerns, you can seek unity with us, but you can’t do both. Unity requires dialogue. It is in this spirit that I am writing this letter to you.
Some things just won’t work. Pointing out your Trump card, who is actually named Trump, is not enough to achieve any sense that we are on the same page. All progressives are horrified at the prospect of Trump as president. That, however, is not enough to cause me to celebrate when those balloons drop. A common opponent is not unity.
So here is my little attempt to communicate across a divide. I am saddened, first of all, by the fact that I have no idea where to send this. To the email addresses of every superdelegate? To Debbie Wasserman Schultz herself? To the letters to the editor section of a local newspaper? To Slate or Salon, The Nation or The Atlantic? After this year, I have no idea how a progressive voter who has been dissatisfied with the Democrats for his entire life can hope to be heard.
In 1992 I served as a delegate for Jerry Brown to the Vermont state Democratic Convention, when we were trying to beat the first Clinton. Bill won the presidency promising law and order and an “end to welfare as we know it.” He was so in favor of the death penalty that he left the campaign trail to see that a mentally handicapped man on death row was executed in Arkansas. As president he signed the North American Free Trade Agreement, the first of a series of “free trade” agreements that have decimated the middle class in the years since. He signed the legislation that ended the Glass Steagall Act. He and his supporters ended whatever was left of FDR’s Democratic Party and replaced it with what was essentially pro-choice Republicanism. A kinder and gentler Republican Party.
Democrats rejoiced. After years of wandering in the wilderness of Reagan and Bush Sr., Bill Clinton had showed the way to win again. As a bonus, Democratic coffers surely filled with money from big business now that the party had so solidly come into their fold.
I did not rejoice. Nor did Bernie Sanders. We wanted to continue the proud tradition of being the liberal party, the party of the working class.
An argument ensued, an argument that has not ceased to this day. The argument that unfolded between Hillary and Bernie this year was not new. It has been going on for decades. The Clinton forces argued that we could no longer be the party of the New Deal. We could no longer win that way. The country had changed.
Our job, the liberals countered, was not to give in, was not to emulate the Republicans in order to win, but to fight for our ideals, to educate. To bring voters back to us through consistency and truth.
A quarter of a century has passed and certain results are now in. The cries for “law and order” have left the United States with the most people in prison in the entire world, more than authoritarian China. That is shameful. The endless tax breaks for the rich and corporations have left our once great infrastructure in shambles. The calls for “free trade” have led to the complete decimation of our manufacturing base and of our middle class, just as was predicted.
One can only wonder what might have been if the negotiations for those agreements had focused on protecting our workers and the environment instead of simply giving corporate America places to make their stuff as cheaply as possible. One can only wonder how much better things might have been if we had said to China, “If you want to make our gadgets, your workers must have democratic rights, the right to organize, and a living wage. Your environmental standards must be comparable to ours, both on paper and on the ground. We will not give up these environmental and work standards that our people have fought for, for generations, for a quick buck.”
So clear are the results of the Democrats’ twenty-five year experiment with Republican-lite, that even Hillary Clinton, one of the original champions of the so-called Third Way, now claims to be an economic progressive.
So here I am, dredging up the past and crying “I told you so.” Of course that can’t be the point. The point is that not everyone got these things wrong. The liberal and progressive voices of our party, who have been marginalized year after year, stand before you vindicated. Bernie Sanders stands before you vindicated.
Your candidate says, “I voted for the Iraq war. I was wrong.” “I was for “free trade” agreements, hell, I was even for TPP not long ago. I was wrong.” “I called certain of my fellow Americans ‘superpredators’ and said we have to ‘bring them to heel.’ I was wrong.” But not only that. Not only are you choosing a candidate who consistently finds herself on the wrong side of history, you are choosing a candidate that is insincere even in her flip-flops. If you were wrong about the Iraq war, then why advocate for the Libyan one, creating yet more chaos and yet more space for ISIS? If you were wrong about “free-trade,” then why won’t you sign off on an anti-TPP statement in the Democratic platform? If we are honest, we all know the answer to these questions.
So why? Why should we continue down this terrible path? Everyone knows the answer to that too: money. Money that comes out of the pockets of working Americans and goes into the pockets of the rich and powerful. Money that is diverted from building the modern infrastructure that our country needs to succeed and goes instead to paying for tax-cuts for the wealthy. Money that is desperately needed to pay for healthcare and education and instead is squandered on prisons and foolish military interventions. Money that should be fairly paid by the rich as taxes that instead is spent on lobbying lawmakers who then pass rules that send that same money to stockholders and executives instead of workers.
Since all of this is known to all informed adults in this “our” party, am I really out of line when I point out that one of our major candidates has made, with her husband, 153 million dollars for giving speeches in the last 15 years, including 6.7 million dollars for speeches since the beginning of 2015 alone, and 2.7 million dollars by Bill after Hillary officially kicked off her campaign, while the other seems satisfied to live on his Senate salary and social security?
Bill and Hillary Clinton are not Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. They did not bring the world Windows or the iPhone. They did not create thousands upon thousands of jobs. Their income derives simply from their political influence. It may be old-fashioned, but many people still feel that the political influence of a member of the liberal, we the people’s party should not be for sale.
As of today, neither candidate has gotten the nomination. According to the rules, neither of them has gotten enough pledged delegates to win. It will be the superdelegates who will decide. It was profoundly wrong and undemocratic for hundreds of them to declare their allegiance to Clinton before a single vote was cast. That is done, but before they finish the job and vote at the convention I feel obligated to point out yet another thing:
Having a candidate or president who always skirts the rules has very negative effects on everyone in the United States. This goes beyond the simple selling of influence, which unfortunately remains legal in this country.
We all remember the impeachment of Bill Clinton. We were all horrified that the Republicans would abuse their power in such a blatant way and drag us all through that sordid affair over what was essentially a private matter. I certainly do. The loss to the country in dignity and time wasted and policies not considered can never be measured. The fact that the Republicans shouldn’t have done it does nothing to change the fact that the President of the United States should not have been having sex in the Oval Office with an intern who was 22 years old at the time. He should not have lied about it to the public. He certainly should not have lied about it under oath.
The Republicans have proven that given the chance, they will do these things. The simplest way to avoid this kind of destructive situation is to elect presidents who are honest and dependable, whose character and decision-making are unassailable. People like President Obama. People like Bernie Sanders.
Hillary Clinton should not have tried to shield her emails from public recordkeeping laws, FOIA requests and congressional investigations. However unimportant you believe it to be, the fact remains that she did so for approximately six years. She only turned over these government records when asked to by the State Department. This is only the latest of these highly questionable personal decisions that seem to constantly come up when she is involved. You can be sure that when she is president, Republicans will spend ridiculous amounts of time and tax-payer money on these so-called “issues.” Our political process will again be hijacked by this endless, needless, utterly unproductive argument about her character. This is just what is meant by the term “Clinton fatigue.”
There are those who say that this is just what makes her a great candidate. She has been “vetted.” She is tough and has taken endless attacks and abuse. She is “ready to fight.” That is a ridiculous argument. The fact is that these kind of issues are a waste of the people’s time, their money and their good will. They are completely unnecessary.
For proof that they are unnecessary, look no further than President Obama. He is as hated by Republicans as Hillary is. Yet he is not under investigation. The FBI has not recently called him “extremely careless” with state secrets. He has not been caught in multiple public lies this year. Surely the Republicans would gladly do to him what they have done to Clinton if given the chance. The fact is that he has not given them the chance. He is clean. This makes a huge difference, both in terms of what a president can accomplish in his or her limited time, and in how the world sees the United States of America.
By ignoring this, you are condemning the United States to an unending and destructive argument about the Clintons’ decisions and character instead of a focus on important issues. This need for us to focus on issues is why Bernie Sanders famously declared that he was “sick and tired of your emails.” The Republicans will have no such priorities. Bernie Sanders, like President Obama, is clean. His presidency would have been one about the issues facing the American people.
As I have said, the high point of the convention for me will be Senator Sander’s speech. I am sure many of you are hoping that his speech will be full of effusive praise for Secretary Clinton and an exuberant declaration that she is the one true answer to all of the problems that America faces. I certainly hope not, for that will rob me and millions of others like me of even that bittersweet moment. Rather, I hope (and expect) that the senator will decry the destructiveness of Donald Trump and the importance of keeping him out of the White House, a position I agree with wholeheartedly, and leave it at that.
I expect the rest of his speech will be the very same one that he has been making for all of the last year, and really, for decades: full of broadsides against millionaires and billionaires who should not be able to buy the U.S. government along with everything else that they have usurped, cries for justice and dignity for the poor and the working class, a hopeful list of the things that we can create if we just all pull together: a single-payer Medicare for all healthcare system, free public college, a new and modern infrastructure instead of the sadly crumbling one we now possess. All of the greatest hits.
Bernie has said many times over the course of his campaign that it isn’t about him, it is about us, about millions of people coming together to say “enough is enough.” That is true. It is also about policy. It is about finding real solutions to real problems and then fighting for them everyday. You Democrats are angry at me for saying that this is not what you have been doing all along. I am angry at you for all of the reasons I have listed.
Can we unify? Maybe. Perhaps not by the time you celebrate your balloon drop, but over the course of the next years as all of these young awakened people come into their own and use all that they’ve learned in the past year to fight for a better world? Maybe.
For us, it will begin with your party showing us that you want it to be our party too.
We can find unity if together we can field honest, ethically-clean candidates. Candidates who have spent their careers in service to the public, not to their own personal power and their wealthy contributors. Candidates who are ready to stand up to the economic royalists, as FDR so rightly called them.
Bernie Sanders and the rest of the progressive wing of this party are ready to move forward with the momentum that they’ve gained this year. Will you treat them with respect? Refrain from marginalizing them? When in the majority will you give their bills a vote on the floor? Will you work with them to create a better, more progressive America?
I hope so. That will be what I call unity.