Bernie Sanders unequivocally endorsed Hillary Clinton today. Good for him. Good for the Democratic Party. And, hopefully, good for the country.
Since I have spent a lot of time criticizing him for his behavior up until today, I owe him my thanks for belatedly doing the right thing. I watched his speech today in New Hampshire, and when he got around to talking about Hillary Clinton, he didn’t mince words. He actually endorsed her like he meant it, even though he knew that doing so would disappoint and aggravate some of his most loyal supporters. He effectively contrasted her positions on the issues with those of Trump and reminded everyone of something essential:
If you don’t believe this election is important, take a moment to think about the Supreme Court justices that Donald Trump will nominate, and what that means to civil liberties, equal rights and the future of our country.
I don’t think those of us who have been critical of Sanders should ignore just how important today is. Sure, Bernie’s delay was somewhat damaging, as was some of the things he and his supporters said and did during the primary season. But it was close to essential to get Bernie on board Clinton’s campaign. His passion and energy, as well as the passion and energy of those who will follow his lead, will help Democrats at all levels. We need all hands on deck. As Bernie mentioned today, Democrats not only need the White House, but the Congress, if there is any hope of getting progressive policies enacted.
Bernie also said something that Democrat-friendly people, who don’t necessarily like Hillary Clinton personally, should think about:
This campaign is not really about Hillary Clinton, or Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders, or any other candidate who sought the presidency. This campaign is about the needs of the American people and addressing the very serious crises that we face. And there is no doubt in my mind that, as we head into November, Hillary Clinton is far and away the best candidate to do that.
If you have any amount of sympathy for what Bernie Sanders was fighting for, if you have any amount of sympathy for the principles the Democratic Party represents, then it is imperative to get past your difficulties with Hillary Clinton’s personality or with her much-examined history. There is just too much at stake.
But Bernie statement above isn’t quite correct this election cycle. In an important sense, in a sense Bernie never touched on today, this election is about a candidate, a very unusual and unstable candidate. Trump’s utter unfitness for office, his manifestly disqualifying temperament, should be on voter’s minds. If Hillary Clinton is to win, she must focus not just on addressing the needs of the American people, but in reminding them, again and again, of just how existentially dangerous Trump is. Those tempted to not vote for her because they think she’s not progressive enough or because she has taken money from big shots or because they just can’t stand her personality need to know what they are risking.
I was talking to a neighbor the other day, a highly educated neighbor who said she was considering voting for Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson. I asked her why. She said she thought Hillary Clinton was too ambitious, and it was clear she didn’t much like her. It really didn’t seem to have all that much to do with Clinton’s policy positions. It just appeared she didn’t like Clinton. Of course I challenged her on that “ambitious” remark, saying that I don’t often hear people criticize male politicians for their ambition. But I also challenged her to think about the fact that a vote for Johnson, or any third-party candidate, is in effect a vote for Trump. It’s a vote that Hillary should get but won’t. And multiplied that could mean a Trump victory that would hurt a lot of people, both here and around the world.
I don’t know what she thought about my challenge, but I do know that people need to think about not just the policies that would flow out of a Clinton or Trump administration, or the personnel that would populate the government by virtue of a win by either, but people need to think long and hard about the damage—long-term damage—that Trump can do to our country by the sheer force of his incorrigible ignorance and chronic bigotry and self-obsessed temperament.
It occurred to me, after hearing Trump cynically say last night, “I am the law and order candidate,” that no one would be all that shocked to hear him say, upon taking office, “I am the law.” That is why Sanders’ endorsement today was so important. And that is why, again, I want to thank him for not being Ralph Nader.