Time for Sanders to grow up

Sen. Bernie Sanders is 74 years old. And, it is time for him to grow up.

This past weekend, supporters of the Vermont senator's bid for the Democratic nomination not only disrupted the state party convention in Nevada, they threatened the party chair. They threw chairs. That is not democracy in action. That is a mob.

In response, the senator and his campaign could not manage a real apology. Sanders said it "goes without saying" that he is opposed to violence and intimidation, but before that and after it, he hedged his repudiation of the mob-like tactics with charges that the system is rigged, that the party needs to change its policies, that he has not gotten a fair shot from Democratic National Committee Chair Debbi Wasserman Schultz. It was like listening to some prelates apologize for covering up the sexual abuse of children 15 years ago, more self-justification than contrition. If your child offered the kind of apology the senator offered, you would sit them down and explain what a real apology sounds like.

The turmoil in Nevada is not the only reason to question the maturity of Sen. Sanders. It has been obvious for weeks now that there is no viable path for him to attain the Democratic nomination. Ever since the April 2 primaries, in which Clinton won the primaries in Connecticut, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Maryland, and the last three by wide margins, and Sanders took only Rhode Island, she has had an insurmountable lead in pledged delegates. She has received 3 million more votes than Sanders. How is the system rigged? And, if even Sen. Ted Cruz knew that once there was no path to the nomination, it was time to get out of the race, why does this simple mathematical calculation, and the political consequence that flows therefrom, evade Sanders?

I would have no objection to Sanders staying in the race if he were merely focusing on the issues that are closest to his heart, such as income inequality and overturning the Citizens United decision that opened the floodgates to more money and less transparency in politics. The problem in Nevada was that his supporters were questioning the legitimacy of the nominating system itself. His whining about his loss in the New York primary similarly focused on the fact that the primary there is not open to unaffiliated voters, as if it was somehow illegitimate for a political party to restrict voting in the selection of its nominee to members of the party. More than that, even if the DNC's chair favored Clinton, even if a closed primary favored Clinton, there has been nothing "rigged" about the process and, what is more, it is hard to imagine any amount of rigging that would account for a 3 million vote differential.

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I would also have no objection to Sanders' staying in the race if so many of his supporters were not young people. Young people usually do not vote as often as do older demographic cohorts but they became a key part of the Obama coalition and the Democrats will need them in November to offset the strength of Trump among white working class voters. Young people also are less seasoned and more impressionable, more susceptible to the narrative that the nomination is being stolen from them. "Just look at all the people at his rallies?" they think. "Surely that should translate into more victories at the polls!" But, that has never been the case. The ability to draw 10,000 enthusiastic people to a rally does not translate into an ability to draw millions of people to the polls. By placing the implausible charge that the system is rigged in front of the people most likely to believe it, Sanders is doing a grave disservice to the Democratic Party's chances, not only to win the White House, but to take back the Senate. The Dems need young people to flip control of the Senate too.

There are clearly some divisions within the Sanders camp. Tad Devine is an old school Democratic operative: He has begun to measure his words. Jeff Weaver has more the flavor of a Naderite. The comparison is illustrative. It is Ralph Nader who ran for president in 2000 telling people that there was not a whit of difference between Al Gore and George W. Bush. That was not only irresponsible, it was a lie. In the event, the irresponsibility mattered more than the lie: Campaigns survive lies. But, the 97,488 votes Nader received in Florida from people who believed the lie proved the real life consequence of his irresponsibility. Those who shout "Bernie or Bust" at his rallies may not appreciate the comparison, but their devotion to his person is as creepy as the adulation showered on Trump.

What is most frustrating for me is that I agree with Sanders on most of the issues that differentiate him from Hillary Clinton and I have never, ever liked Clinton. But, if she is the only person with any chance at keeping Donald Trump from the White House, then I'm with her as the slogan goes. Politics, and adulthood, is about choices. We must be responsible for the choices we make. And it is totally irresponsible of Sen. Sanders to be questioning the legitimacy of Clinton's victories and the Democratic Party's nominating process.

If he, like Nader, helps elect Donald Trump, he will not further the causes he cares about and he will have educated a whole lot of young people in foolishness and moral stupidity. That should not be Sanders' legacy. Stay in the race? Sure. Point to your policy differences with Clinton? Sure. But Sanders needs to stop telling his supporters that the only reason they are not going to win is because the game was rigged.

[Michael Sean Winters is a Visiting Fellow at Catholic University's Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies.]


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