I’m speaking as a man who believes in the Democratic Party.
Since the start of the year, I’ve written several pieces for Salon insisting that Bernie Sanders supporters vote for Hillary Clinton in the general election should she be tapped as the Democratic Party nominee. There are several reasons why I have done this: although I prefer Sanders over Clinton, I genuinely believe she would be a fine president; the prospect of a Donald Trump or Ted Cruz presidency is so terrifying that it makes the contrast with Clinton all the more flattering to her; and, most importantly, I personally know many fellow Sanders supporters who have said that they would abstain from voting or cast their ballots for a third-party alternative in the likely event of a Clinton-Trump election.
As former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich recently observed, though, the conventional narrative that Sanders is doomed hasn’t held up. He has won six of the last seven primaries by an average of 40 points and is gaining momentum in the remaining 22 states, which contain almost 45% of the remaining pledged delegates. As such, it is time for Clinton supporters to face the same question that I posed to the Sanders camp–would they swallow their pride and vote for Bernie over Trump or Cruz in November?
While I may not be a Hillary supporter at present, I am a Democrat, and as such can appeal to Team Clinton on those terms. More specifically, I’d like to raise a single main points:
If you’re supporting Clinton for the same reasons that she’s saying you should vote for her, it behooves you to make sure that a Democrat is elected president this year.
As I explained in a recent piece for Quartz, it isn’t unreasonable for Clinton to receive the benefit of the doubt when it comes to her leftward ideological shift. If we’re honest with ourselves, we will have to admit that most progressives and/or Democrats have changed their views over the years, and even acknowledge that such ideological evolution is actually quite healthy. At the same time, if we are going to take Clinton and her supporters at their word, it would make very little sense for them to stay home in November if Sanders instead of Clinton is heading the national ticket. While he is still much more liberal than Clinton on most issues (the notable exception being gun-control), they represent varying degrees on the same scale rather then substantially different political philosophies.
This is not an inconsequential detail. We live at a crossroads in American political history. From the start of Thomas Jefferson’s presidency in 1801 until the waning years of the John Q. Adams administration in 1828, we were in the Jeffersonian era; from 1828 until 1860, it was the period defined by Andrew Jackson’s presidency (1828-1860); from the start of the Civil War until the assassination of William McKinley in 1901, it was the Gilded Age; then the Progressive Era occurred from 1901 until the election of Warren Harding in 1920; and then, after a dozen years of a second Gilded Age, we had the New Deal era from the start of Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency in 1933 until the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980.
Now we find ourselves at a point when history can diverge in one of two directions. If we elect a Democrat, there will be a de facto third term for President Obama. It is worth noting that, for all of the eras that I just described, the new phase in American political history was ushered in by one of the two major parties winning a much-sought-after-but-quite-rare de facto third term: Jefferson was followed by Madison in 1808, Jackson by Van Buren in 1836, Lincoln by Grant in 1868, McKinley/T. Roosevelt by Taft in 1908, Harding/Coolidge by Hoover in 1928, F. Roosevelt by himself in 1940, and Reagan by the first Bush in 1988. Indeed, there has never been an occasion in which one party has controlled the White House for more than two consecutive terms without this ushering in a new phase in American political history.
If Clinton supporters are sincere in wanting to continue the values for which she stands, they should embrace this opportunity to elect a third Obama term regardless of whether it is their own candidate or Sanders who appears on the ballot. If they are good Democrats – nay, good people – they won’t pass this up.