13 October 2015
The perils of Democratic party crashing
Supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders are urging people to register as Democrats, and to switch party affiliation if necessary, so they can be eligible to vote for their candidate in their state's primaries next year. This appeal for support from outside the party makes clear why it'll be more difficult for the Sandersites to pull off an insurgent campaign than it was for the Republican tea partiers, most of whom presumably came from the GOP's grass roots. It also begs the question of whether taking over the Democratic party is worth trying, though the question begs its own answer: the way the American political system works, seizing control of one of the two major parties is the only realistic path to power for any self-styled political insurgency. Sanders and his supporters are not so radical as to build a lasting third-party movement. He wants control of the Democratic brand and now must reckon with his lack of brand-name recognition, even after a summer of mostly-friendly publicity before his first true confrontation with Hillary Clinton and the other Democratic contenders tonight. As the Washington Post reminds us, Sanders remains an unproven quantity among black Democrats, who arguably form the core of the party's base, while Clinton can rely on her brand name and enduring good will earned by her husband. Sanders gets told repeatedly what he has to do and say to have any chance at mass black support, while any suggestion that black voters have any obligation to listen to him and consider more than their legitimate-but-still-parochial community concerns is snarled at and condemned as patronizing. You take a big chance, it seems, by suggesting that black voters, activists, party bosses, etc. may suffer from a failure of political imagination, even if you acknowledge how conditions set their priorities. I may take a bigger chance by wondering online whether complaints about Sanders's perceived aloofness or insensitivity actually cover a certain conservatism among the demographic long seen hopefully as the vanguard for radical politics, a reluctance to rock the boat too much. Clinton comes with the implicit promise that old-school machine politics can make the system benefit loyal constituents, while the Black Lives Matter gadflies often look like classic populists -- hence of little use to radicals -- in their implicit insistence that everyone has to change except them. Along with a less conspicuous but likely as formidable cadre of feminist deadenders who want a woman President at all costs, the inertia of black voters explains much of why Sanders supporters are calling as much for an invasion of the Democratic party as for an insurgency. Whether he runs as a Democrat or an independent, Sanders still has to reach out to black voters, and as far as I can tell that's what he's doing. But it shouldn't be up to black voters alone or any pet demographic of the Democrats to determine whether Sanders should appear on a presidential ballot in November. While he's certainly benefited by defining himself as the main challenger to Clinton, he might have been better off for the long run had he dedicated this year to building his own party and inviting blacks and everyone else, instead of loudly crashing a party that most likely will throw him out eventually.