Not with a bang but with a whimper.
Endorsing Hillary Clinton today, Bernie Sanders at last ended the Democratic primary in more than just a mathematical sense. The last two months have seen his people in negotiation over convention committee representation and the official Democratic platform. There’s also a plum speaking slot at the convention set aside for him. But unfortunately for so many people who believed in his political revolution, Sanders’ endorsement was a full-throated backslide on principles that achieved little tangible gain other than cementing Sanders’ personal position in the Democratic party.
The words “honest” and “authentic” were used to describe Sanders so frequently during his campaign that I started thinking there must be a sponsorship deal in place. This refreshing honesty and authenticity was frequently contrasted with Hillary Clinton—not least by Sanders himself. He charged that consistent policy beliefs are instructive to one’s character. He frequently called on Clinton to release transcripts of her Goldman Sachs speeches and pointed out that a politician taking money from large banks may not be able to effectively regulate them. He asserted that when it came to Clinton’s judgment “something is clearly lacking” and cited her Wall Street donations, her support for the war in Iraq, and her use of a super PAC to raise money. He identified all the ways she was a flawed candidate, unsuitable to be president of a country that had been harmed—he claimed—by the very policies she had and still did support.
Fast forward to today. The argument that allows Sanders to endorse Clinton and retain his halo is that he has pulled the Democratic Party to the left, succeeded in adding policies such as a $15 minimum wage to the party platform, and made Hillary Clinton a more liberal candidate. But did he? As Bill Scher points out on Politico, the one policy subject to immediate action that Sanders and Clinton disagreed on—the TPP—received no mention in the platform at all and that likely signals the end of Sanders’ ability to influence the Democratic party: “The TPP fight was nothing less than a proxy battle over who really steers the party ship. And the evidence is that Hillary still has the conn.” So Sanders got his $15 dollar minimum wage and other concessions, but—as has been widely noted—the party platforms become irrelevant almost immediately after the conventions. And after Election Day the goals on that platform are easily derailed by Congressional opposition. The various platform planks and policy proposals may remain nothing more than lofty sentiments no matter who wins the White House. But the TPP is a live issue now, is before Congress now, and could be impacted by a candidate making a full-throated argument against it. Its defeat would be a shot in the arm to Sanders’ followers—a sign that the political revolution hadn’t been turned into platitudes by a triumphant Hillary Clinton but was alive and well in her campaign and—maybe—her future administration. Such a victory would have been worthy of an endorsement from the authentic and honest Bernie Sanders, but it was not to be.
Far from an honest leader holding the line on real principles, Sanders’ failure to achieve anything concrete and actionable before offering his endorsement to a candidate who he has suggested in strong terms is unfit to be president betrays his surrender to the Clinton as the action of a candidate who—whatever his reason for running at the outset—had become focused on winning and on personal success. Despite his strong rhetoric in opposition to the Democrats, Sanders owes all he is in Congress to the party. Sanders ran without Democratic opposition thanks to the party. He’s been a useful fundraiser for Democrats and received money from such events. He holds his committee positions through their magnanimity. Failing to endorse Clinton—to say nothing of continuing to oppose her—would have put all that at risk. Rather than commanding a position of power and visibility in a Democrat held senate under a President Hillary Clinton, he likely would have been banished to irrelevance—something he perhaps could no longer tolerate after spending time under the spotlights. Whether Bernie Sanders was authentic and honest when his wild ride began, his final performance at the head of his political revolution fell in line with his behavior throughout his career and was nothing more than a bending the knee tribute to politics as usual.