The last Democratic primary – the District of Columbia – took place on Tuesday. Bernie Sanders met with Hillary Clinton that night. He announced he would address his supporters online on Thursday. The chattering class is abuzz with speculation on what Bernie will do. Commentators are lathered up about whether and when he will endorse Clinton, whether he’ll work to elect her, and whether he’ll “fold his followers” behind Clinton.
The hand-wringing and rumor-mongering are pure melodrama. Sanders has already made it clear – repeatedly – what he will do. The real question is not about what Bernie will do, but about what Clinton will do. Here’s what Bernie has told us he will do:
1. Challenge Clinton
No doubt, Sanders will challenge Clinton to commit to run a campaign championing bold progressive reform. He’ll urge her to speak forcefully against big money in politics and to push hard for an aggressive agenda to make this economy work for working people. He’d be wise to seek commitments about ending the Wall Street-to-Washington revolving door. He’ll push her to name a progressive champion as vice president.
The question is what Clinton will do. Will she run a campaign of experience against Donald Trump’s idiocy, seeking to capture the center while sacrificing any mandate for bold reform? Will she embrace the need to become a candidate of change rather than continuity?
2. Rewrite the Democratic Party Platform
No doubt, Sanders will take his case into the Democratic convention. He will seek to get the Democratic Party to adopt, in his words, “the most progressive platform ever passed by the Democratic Party, a platform which makes it crystal clear that the Democratic Party is on the side of working people.” He’ll fight to include his signature issues, from breaking up the big banks to tuition-free college.
The question is what Clinton and Democrats on the platform committee and in the convention will do. Will they embrace the Sanders agenda – that probably enjoys majority support from the delegates were they free to vote their personal preference? Will they seek to avoid clear commitments – on the $15 minimum wage, the banks, the trade deal, college costs and debts – substituting gauzy language about goals for clear platform pledges?
3. Reform the Party
No doubt, Sanders will seek to change the rules of the Democratic Party, forcing it to decide, as he put it, whether it will “open its doors and welcome into the party people who are prepared to fight for real economic and social change” or choose to “maintain its status quo, remain dependent on big money … with limited participation and limited energy.” He should seek the resignation of the utterly compromised Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz. He’ll seek to end voting by superdelegates, to open primaries, to ease voting rather than make it difficult. He’s likely to push to ban super PACs and secret money in Democratic primaries and more.
The question is what Clinton will do. Will she want her convention to be opened by Wasserman Schultz and greeted by mass booing by the assembled delegates? Will she embrace reform or defend the rules on money and superdelegates that helped consolidate her victory?
4. Rally the Nation Against Trump
No doubt, Sanders will speak to the nation in prime time during the convention. He will use that occasion to repeat his call for a political revolution to transform our rigged economy and corrupted politics, while arguing that defeating the threat posed by Donald Trump is necessary to that cause.
The question is what the Clinton campaign will do. Will they seek to control the content of Sanders’ remarks? Will they try to get him to drop his own agenda and simply focus on Trump? Will they push him to paint Clinton as a progressive reformer, rather than someone who deserves support in the cause of stopping Trump?
5. Rally His Supporters Against Trump
No doubt, Sanders will rally his supporters to defeat Trump, to help take back the Senate, to elect progressive “Sanders democrats” to the House and in down-ballot races.
The question is what the Clinton campaign will do. Will it accept that Sanders is building a political movement with its own trajectory, even as they are allied in the mission of defeating Trump? Or will it generate bitter feuds demanding control of the “Sanders list,” his schedule and content of his remarks?
6. Urge His Supporters to Vote
No doubt, Sanders will seek to get his followers to come out to vote for Clinton in order to defeat Trump. But he isn’t the Pied Piper. He can’t order them to turn out. He’ll make the case to them and they will decide.
The question is what Clinton will do. Will she work hard to appeal to the young voters and independents and blue-collar workers that were the core of the Sanders base? Will she offer them the hope for change that clearly inspired them about Sanders? Or will she decide they have nowhere else to go, and focus on winning the votes of moderate Republicans in swing state suburbs?
7. Keep Building the Movement for Fundamental Change
No doubt, Sanders will seek to keep building his “political revolution.” He’ll seek to identify, recruit and support Sanders Democrats up and down the ticket in this and future races. He’ll mobilize his supporters to rally around fundamental reform battles, with the first test case coming in the lame duck session if President Obama decides to submit the Trans-Pacific Partnership for ratification, despite the stated opposition of all three major candidates for president. He’ll continue to inspire an emerging generation with the understanding that there is an alternative to our current course if they organize to clean out our corrupted politics.
The question is what Clinton will do, assuming she is elected. Will she champion bold reforms that gain the enthusiastic support of the Sanders movement? Or will she ratchet up our intervention in the Middle East, heat up the emerging cold wars with Russia and China, seek a “grand bargain” with Republicans on austerity, go back to championing trade deals, ignore the need for immediate action on climate change, and usher Wall Street’s bankers back into Washington’s drivers seats? That would force the Sanders movement to build in opposition to her on key issues, not in support of her.
The Mug’s Game
The mainstream media is peddling a mug’s game. Clinton wins the nomination, but somehow it is Sanders’ responsibility to unify the party. Clinton captures virtually all of the part’s deep pockets, but somehow it is Sanders’ responsibility to help fund the campaign. Clinton will decide how she wants to run, what mandate she seeks, what coalition she wants to put together, but somehow it is Sanders responsibility to bale up his voters and deliver them to the nominee no matter what she decides. And if Clinton were somehow, unimaginably, to blow the election to Trump, no doubt Sanders will be blamed for not endorsing her soon enough or enthusiastically enough or loudly enough.
Nonsense. Sanders has been clear all along: He’s building a movement for radical change. Clinton won the nomination. She gets to choose whether to embrace that movement or ignore it, whether to adopt that platform or avoid it, whether to change the party or maintain the old order. We know what Bernie will do. The question is what Clinton will do.