The views expressed in this article are the views of the author.
I remember shortly after the elections in 2016, I got a lot of flak for supporting Bernie Sanders in the primaries but not Hillary Clinton in the general. I am certainly not the only one to experience this. In the wake of that election, a number of thought pieces ran online, in the media and even in Clinton’s own biography which pushed a persistent narrative of how the election was lost by the interference (or, lack thereof) of Bernie Sanders and his supporters.
It is no surprise, then, with another election approaching and Sanders once again running, that many of the same pundits who blamed us for Clinton’s loss are now asking if we have “learned our lesson” and will finally vote for whoever it is the Democrats run in 2020. For me, at least, my answer is simple: no, I will not.
If my vote, or rather, if the vote of progressives who back Sanders is essential to winning in 2020 then the Democrats need to run someone we support. Instead, we are met with a terrible sense of entitlement from the establishment that begins with the assumption that anyone the Democrats run is worth voting for simply because they are Democrats. This political worldview is toxic, and buying into it denies me and other voters on the left of the DNC a scant amount of agency that still remains in this political system.
This is not a radical idea anywhere except in the US. Certainly, in 2015, Britain’s largest progressive party, Labour, was in an eerily similar situation. They had lost 26 seats in parliament while under the leadership of center-leaning establishment politicians, due in large part to more progressive voters swinging to other parties or staying home. The response of the Labour party was to embrace the Left and adopt a socialist as their party leader, which gained them 30 seats in the very next election.
In sharp contrast, the Democratic Party seems to have done little more than demand “unity” from its members, though seemingly only in one direction. While we most definitely might see calls for “unity” when the racists are exposed within the party, they were nowhere to be seen when top Democrats condemned Ilhan Omar or when some Democratic senators joined their Republican colleagues to attack the Green New Deal.
Frankly, this is the real spot where Clinton failed in 2016. She ran a campaign that did not even visit many of the supposedly solid blue states that swung for Trump because she assumed she had their support. She made no real attempts to reach out across the political divide within the party, doubling down by selecting a running mate that was even further right than she was, largely again out of this assumption that everyone who was inspired by Sanders’ message would then vote for her.
The fact is, if the Democrats want to win in 2020 they need to inspire voters and reach out to their progressive base, not just assume that that base will support them. If Clinton lost the election in 2016 because she lacked the votes of Sanders supporters, the responsibility was on her to have secured those votes. If she was unable to gain that support, she was a weak nominee who should not have been the nominated in the first place, and the same very well may be true in 2020.
For all the drama that came of 2016, one thing must be clear: if the Democrats need Sanders supporters to win their election then they should work to earn those votes. Or, failing that, they could just run Sanders because he has already put in the effort to earn my vote.