Simon Williamson

Sanders is wrong, and right

2016-06-06 07:31

Simon Williamson

Hillary Clinton supporters over the last week shared, en masse, articles and tweets by American writers correcting the Bernie Sanders' assertion that the primary process is fixed.

The great thing about being ahead, as Clinton is, by around 10% nationwide (where I am sure she will likely finish even though the largest primary state, California, is yet to cast its ballots), is that you get to care about nothing because winning feels good, and you can crap all over the loser and reply "sour grapes" and "Bernie Bros" whenever a real point comes up.

Clinton sycophants have spent the campaign thus far telling everyone Bernie is not a real Democrat (which is true) and that their preferred official is the actual Democrat who believes in the party. Clinton fans, however, could not be behaving any further from that diagnosis, if their lack of concern about the process by which Democrats choose their nominee is anything to go by.

I am not here to defend Sanders. As far as I am concerned he lost this thing the day he was unable to carry unionised Midwestern states, and lost Illinois, Ohio and Missouri on the same day, back in mid-March. But what has driven his supporters mad is a genuine feeling that the primary process was stacked against them, and that the preferred candidate of the Democratic Party, Hillary Clinton, received unfair advantages, sanctioned by the party.

Let's also agree to throw out the word "undemocratic" from this discussion because it is needlessly inflammatory, and also untrue. While the Democratic Party may have a fundamentally flawed way of picking its nominee, it is very democratic for a party to be able to choose a nominee in its own way. It is also democratic for the state parties to decide whether primaries will be open to independents or people who are not registered with the Democratic Party. None of that is undemocratic. In South Africa, for example, we don’t choose party leaders at all, and no DA supporters, for example, are accusing their own party of being undemocratic, as far as I know.  

But the Democratic process is easily manipulated, as has been the case this cycle by Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chair of the Democratic National Committee, who scheduled debates on weekends, while principal Clinton challengers Martin O'Malley and Sanders, were trying to increase their name recognition. Avoiding increased name recognition prevents the electorate from parsing ideas, because they don't even know who the other candidates are. Allowing voter apathy to become the centerpiece of your election strategy is hardly the inspirational message Democrats are supposed to be extolling. A similar strategy could have prevented the man, currently president, then a little-known Illinois senator, who came along and upset the apple cart in 2008.

Wasserman Schultz also blocked the Sanders' campaign's access to the 50-state voter-file, which contains massive amounts of data and is vital in modern campaigning, when she overreacted to a flaw in the DNC’s own system that allowed Sanders people to see Clinton information. The threat of a lawsuit is what finally allowed the Sanders campaign access again.

Superdelegates, brought into the system as an insurance policy against nominating another George McGovern (crushed by Nixon in 1972), are another weapon with which the process can be manipulated. Although they are yet to ever change the result, so many of them endorsed Hillary Clinton early on that if Sanders had won more primaries, the process could have been affected. Of course, he did not, so it is moot this cycle, but the potential remains. If a New Deal septuagenarian from the smallest state in the nation, who isn’t even a member of the Democratic Party, can win 45% of the primary vote against the most famous woman in the country, better candidates could have seen themselves run headlong into superdelegates while being a lot more competitive against Clinton.

Current claimants of who has the best interests of the Democratic Party at heart cannot forgo the problems and malleability for a preferred candidate by DNC leadership. The flaws in the system have been papered over this cycle by Clinton’s margin of victory, and Sanders' insistence about staying in the race. While it may be easy to throw about terms like "sour grapes" and "Bernie Bros" this cycle, the party has received adequate warning that the primary process has problems, and now has four or eight years to fix it.

Cracks were papered over by Clinton’s margin of victory – you can expect explosions if the next cycle is a 51%-49% race.

- Simon Williamson is a former journalist for News24 and Daily Maverick. He is now studying his Masters in Political Science at the University of Georgia, and worked a Democratic Senate race in 2014. He tweets whenever he is in a bad mood at @simonwillo.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    bernie sanders  |  hillary clinton  |  us  |  us elections 2016

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