Establishment Democrats Have No Leverage Over Progressives Anymore

A Unity Tour is an odd concept if you really stop and think about it.

Theoretically, traveling across the country to curate a sense of purpose and bringing people together makes sense and it’s honestly something we need right now. That said, the Tom Perez and Bernie Sanders unity tour is forcing people like me to wonder if it’s meant to create unity, or the illusion of it?The unclear answer points to a much more foundational problem.

Tom Perez’s approach to this tour has been to hammer the idea that we are a strong, united party. If that’s true, it actually raises a couple more questions: Does unity matter if a party isn’t winning? If we are united, why is a unity tour necessary? Clearly the booing Perez has been receiving at these events shows, and the media narrative surrounding these events, paints a different picture.

Another wedge in Democratic Party unity presents itself as the criticisms leveled at Sanders as well. His lukewarm, but steady, support for moderate Democrat Jon Ossoff was criticized by those hoping to fashion Ossoff as a leader of “The Resistance.” Bernie was blamed for Ossoff moving on to a run off election simply through hesitation to call him a progressive. He’s been lambasted for supporting  pro-life Democratic mayoral candidate Heath Mello, with loyal Democrats rebuking Bernie’s notion that flexibility is required to create a 50 state party. Howard Dean, on MSNBC, hypocritically condemned Bernie’s rationale while also stating economically moderate Democrats deserve a place at the table. Even more egregious to the vote-blue-no-matter-whos is his outright refusal to register as Democrat. Long story short, read the social media comments on any article about this narrative and you’ll know the true state of the Democratic Party.

Democratic loyalists forget quite conveniently that one of Clinton’s biggest surrogates after the convention was the very same Bernie Sanders. That doesn’t stop many from simultaneously accusing him of costing Clinton the election, and trying to squash any honest dialogue by warning against reopening the wounds of the primary.

That’s the biggest hole in their argument; however, as the wounds of the primary never really closed. Recently, Rachel Maddow made the accusation that Bernie Sanders fell prey to Russia-sanctioned fake news operations that influenced how they’d vote last November. Progressives roll their eyes at this propaganda because they remember the fake news narrative that Sanders delegates were violent at the 2016 Nevada Democratic Convention. The sources for that narrative however, were not trolls in a Facebook group. They were every mainstream media outlet in the country. This was a story that was ultimately proved to be false, resulted in the breaking journalist losing his job, and correction that was swift and barely covered. Progressives are hip to the gaslighting, and they’re over it.

Criticism of the Bernie or Bust sentiment within the party has also re-emerged in liberal political discourse. Bernie or Busters are blamed for withholding the votes that may have put Clinton over the top in electoral votes. They are accused of being impractical, short sighted, and selfish. They fail to realize that the hypocrisy of that attitude is exactly what provoked the Bernie or Bust response. These voters could see that Donald Trump was a serious possibility and could see the liability posed by the Clinton campaign and the overconfidence in her odds.

It was always obvious to Bernie-or-Busters that the power structure of the Democratic Party was completely invested in a Clinton nomination. The leaked emails regarding Tulsi Gabbard’s resignation from the Democratic National Committee to endorse Bernie Sanders gave a glimpse into how dissent would be treated. There are many different reasons Bernie-or-Busters either voted third party, or simply stayed home on election day but it doesn’t really matter why they did. 

Blaming them will not fix the problem, and it won’t change the results of the election. Party loyalists made a huge gamble on Hilary Clinton. Some scandals involving Hillary were based in fact, some weren’t. Either way, she always seemed to be involved in one and it makes no difference if she did or didn’t deserve it. If the ultimate mission was to win the presidency, putting forth a polarizing scandal magnet defies objectively common sense. Her reputation aside, she had already lost the party’s nomination once before, making it crystal clear that the entirety of the party was not in line with her views. We can say this was about sexism, but had the party mechanism behind Clinton not been there, perhaps a scandal-free, populist female candidate could have really posed a strong contrast to Donald Trump. Most progressives would agree that if the 2016 Democratic Primary had been between Bernie and Elizabeth Warren, for example, Warren would have been received much more warmly as a nominee than Clinton ever was. This theory ignores the fact that Warren would go on to throw progressives under the bus but the point is this: The Democratic Party is really the Clinton Party, and because of that, lost everything.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter who’s to blame for the true lack of unity in the Democratic Party. It exists, and any attempts to hide it without truly addressing it are doomed to fail. Regardless of whether or not loyalist Democrats want to admit it, they needed progressive votes in 2016. To be clear, they did get a majority of them (at Bernie’s urging), but the votes they failed to win didn’t just stop mattering after election day. They still need them to win back the majorities they lost in the House, Senate, and state governments. Progressives have something the establishment and all their resources don’t: leverage. Centrist Democrats can keep trying to make demands of progressives to fall in line as they have in the past, but obviously that’s not working for them anymore.

Progressives must fully realize the position of power we now occupy. Simply put, it’s time to tell the Democratic Party to bend to our demands for single-payer healthcare, tuition-free college, radical shifting of our energy market, holding Wall Street accountable, and ending their antiquated superdelegate system. We can make these demands knowing that they need us so much more than we need them. In fact, they should consider themselves lucky some of us are still engaging with their party at all. We must make it clear to the establishment that if they dig their heels in too far, Bernie Sanders the independent may decide the campaign to draft him for a people’s party isn’t so crazy after all. If that happens, and I think they’re aware of this on a certain level, the Democratic Party is finished.

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