Disappointed Bernie fans resist Sanders’ hopeful view of Hillary Clinton

Bernie Sanders tries to convince his fervent supporters that Hillary Clinton is not evil incarnate.
(David Horsey / Los Angeles Times)

Monday evening, Bernie Sanders stood on the stage at the Democratic National Convention as the most influential loser in a presidential primary race since Ronald Reagan in 1976. Except for the hard reality that he is not the party’s nominee, Bernie’s prime time address was truly a victory speech.

Leveraging the power of his remarkable campaign and his 1,846 pledged convention delegates, Sanders not only became the driving force behind adoption of what he called “the most progressive platform in the history of the Democratic Party,” but he shifted his opponent’s policy proposals significantly toward his own. So dramatically has he influenced the philosophical direction of Hillary Clinton and her party that he had no problem adapting the famously consistent themes of his campaign speech into Monday night’s endorsement of Hillary Clinton for president.


And it was not a tepid endorsement of the kind Donald Trump has gotten from so many Republican leaders. Early on in his speech, Sanders declared that any objective observer would conclude “Hillary Clinton must become the next president of the United States.” Because of her ideas and her leadership skills, he said, “the choice is not even close.” He resisted taking the nostalgic, self-pitying approach that Sen. Edward Kennedy took when conceding to President Jimmy Carter at the 1980 Democratic convention. There was no “the dream never dies” conclusion to Sanders’ speech, no sentimentality, only a reiteration of his complete support for Clinton.

Sanders certainly would rather be the nominee himself, but he has been an activist and office holder for half a century. His long political career has taught him that partial victories eventually add up to revolutions. He spoke of that in his address, saying, “Together, my friends, we have begun a political revolution to transform America, and that revolution — our revolution — continues. Election days come and go. But the struggle of the people to create a government which represents all of us and not just the 1% — a government based on the principles of economic, social, racial and environmental justice — that struggle continues.”

Many of his supporters on the convention floor were far less hopeful. Some were tearful and sobbing as he spoke. Others sent up a chorus of boos whenever Clinton’s name was mentioned and even when Sanders endorsed her. In interviews on NBC following Sanders’ speech, his delegates displayed a level of idealism that spilled into naiveté. They said they still cannot imagine voting for Clinton, a woman they see as the loathsome personification of corporate influence in politics. Sanders’ forceful arguments in Clinton’s favor did not appear to have shifted their thinking at all.

The Vermont senator had pointed out that he and Clinton reached significant agreements on plans to grant free tuition at state universities for 85% of aspiring students, to raise the minimum wage, to provide a public option for healthcare and to allow citizens at age 55 to opt into Medicare. He also noted that Clinton believes scientific evidence that global warming is dangerously real, while Trump and the Republicans insist climate change is a hoax. And he pointed out what a radical difference there would be between the Supreme Court justices Clinton would appoint and those a President Trump would nominate.

It is mystifying that people can be so passionate in their support of a candidate, yet not give credence to his sage advice when it comes to Hillary Clinton. Those who are young have the excuse of tender age and inexperience. The older Bernie enthusiasts are simply too ideologically absolutist to recognize what Sanders, in his wisdom, sees: Hillary Clinton, like other establishment Democrats before her — Lyndon Johnson comes to mind — can respond to both political pressure and a heightened vision of justice to become an agent of progressive change.

Bernie Sanders is a realist. He knows there are many elections in a lifetime and a revolution that lasts is not won in a single shot.


Follow me at @davidhorsey on Twitter


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