There are two stories to be told about the Nevada Democratic Party Convention – what really happened, and Sanders’ response to it. The first story is one of confusion, partisanship, passion, and poor choices. The second leads me to conclude that, while I still support most of Sanders’ policies, I can no longer support Sanders himself.
I first heard about insanity at the Nevada Democratic Party Convention via my Facebook feed. I have a lot of friends and associates on Facebook who are supporters of Bernie Sanders, and others who are supporters of Hillary Clinton. And so I got two radically different perspectives on what happened.
The Sanders supporters alleged that the Nevada Democratic Party was corrupt, had been bought, and were “in the tank” for Clinton, and they largely supported the disruptions that Sanders’ delegates caused at the state convention. The Clinton supporters, on the other hand, alleged that Sanders’ delegates were rude, that they had tried to pervert the popular vote (and the associated number of delegates to the national convention), that they became violent, and that they’d issued death threats.
Given the divergence of these claims, it’s tempting to say that reality has to be somewhere in the middle. The problem is that it’s entirely possible for both Clinton and Sanders supporters claims to be true, false, or true and false at the same time. After some digging, it’s pretty clear that reality is a confusing mix of fact, fiction, and partisanship resulting in a circular firing squad.
There is no question that Sanders’ supporters were occasionally disruptive at the Nevada state convention. This is well documented via video here and here. There is also no question that there were threats of violence directed at Nevada Democratic Party chairwoman Roberta Lange, as played on the air during an NPR story here. And as PolitiFact has pointed out, the rules that Sanders supporters were protesting had been in place for years and they ruled that statements made by Sanders’ campaign manager alleging corruption at the convention were “false.” But at the same time, an investigation by Snopes found that there was no confirmation that a chair had been thrown (raise in the air and put back down, yes, but not thrown), even though many Clinton supporters have made this claim.
So far as I have been able to determine after reading too many articles about the clusterfuck that was the Nevada state convention, no-one really behaved well, and supporters of both Clinton and Sanders have valid complaints about how things worked. But I found a comment from Andrea Morelli, a Sanders convention organizer, to be particularly enlightening:
We had 4,000 of the most passionate people in this Valley, who got in a room together, and you put in them in this confined space for 15 plus hours and who have little access to food and three bars outside of the convention center that were put there specifically for us, and I don’t know where that wouldn’t have created high emotions.
In other words, people make poor choices when they’re hot, tired, hungry, and drunk. And that’s a fact no matter whether you support Clinton or Sanders.
Unfortunately, this explanation doesn’t excuse the statement that Sanders made following the Nevada mess.
Let me start by making a few points clear. Before the Colorado caucuses, I was undecided about supporting Sanders or Clinton. I ultimately came down on the side of Sanders, but was out of town during the caucus so I didn’t have a chance to participate in the process myself (for the record, I dislike caucuses in part for this very reason). I think that Sanders has done amazing things for the Democratic Party this year. He’s energized a massive number of voters by speaking to the radical unfairness of an economic and political system that has been stacked against them for decades and that continues to become more so. And as a result, he’s forced Hillary Clinton to move the left.
Most of Sanders’ policies are needed. For example, the price of a college education is rising out of control, to the point where my wife and I have started discussing the possibility of sending our children to Germany (where tuition is free) for college. The Supreme Court’s Citizens United vs. FEC decision gave corporations and the wealthy permission to influence elections with unlimited, untrackable money, and that has made a mockery of the democratic concept of one person, one vote. The Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”) was a good first step toward a fair and functional health-care system for every American, but it wasn’t nearly enough. And the US needs to tax wealthy individuals and corporations more, inject some more sanity to the US financial system, block corporations from moving assets overseas to shield them from US taxes, and generally stop favoring the interests of the ultra-wealthy over the interests of the majority of Americans.
But after the shit hit the fan in the Nevada, Sanders had a moral responsibility to castigate those supporters who threatened violence or got so wound up (or so drunk) that they nearly tossed a chair. In my opinion, his official statement falls far short of what was necessary. I’ve reproduced the first three paragraphs of his statement, copied from his campaign website, below:
It is imperative that the Democratic leadership, both nationally and in the states, understand that the political world is changing and that millions of Americans are outraged at establishment politics and establishment economics. The people of this country want a government which represents all of us, not just the 1 percent, super PACs and wealthy campaign contributors.
The Democratic Party has a choice. It can open its doors and welcome into the party people who are prepared to fight for real economic and social change – people who are willing to take on Wall Street, corporate greed and a fossil fuel industry which is destroying this planet. Or the party can choose to maintain its status quo structure, remain dependent on big-money campaign contributions and be a party with limited participation and limited energy.
Within the last few days there have been a number of criticisms made against my campaign organization. Party leaders in Nevada, for example, claim that the Sanders campaign has a ‘penchant for violence.’ That is nonsense. Our campaign has held giant rallies all across this country, including in high-crime areas, and there have been zero reports of violence. Our campaign of course believes in non-violent change and it goes without saying that I condemn any and all forms of violence, including the personal harassment of individuals. But, when we speak of violence, I should add here that months ago, during the Nevada campaign, shots were fired into my campaign office in Nevada and apartment housing complex my campaign staff lived in was broken into and ransacked. (emphasis added)
To me, this statement reads as “my supporters’ anger is justified, lead or get out of the way, and oh, by the way, violence is bad.” This statement makes his condemnation of unconfirmed chair throwing and confirmed threats of violence an afterthought. Sanders could have reordered his statement to put his condemnation front and center, and that alone would have been enough for me. It wouldn’t have been enough for everyone, given his tone in the rest of the statement, but at least it wouldn’t have left me feeling like his condemnation of violence was only half-hearted.
I find Sanders’ response insufficient and unsatisfactory. It’s one more thing that makes me question his judgement. And as a result, I’ve come to the conclusion that while the US desperately needs Sanders’ policies, I can no longer support Bernie Sanders the candidate.