I signed the Writers For Bernie proclamation, along with a number of other writers whom people have actually heard of, including Julia Alvarez, Gina Apostol, Arna Bontemps Hemenway, Laila Lalami, Holly LeCraw (who kindly invited me), Marie Myung-Ok Lee, Jonathan Lethem, Corey Robin, George Scialabba, Lizz Winstead (she invented The Daily Show, you guyyyyyys!), my best friend, and my wife.
That I voted for Bernie Sanders in the Michigan Democratic primary will surprise nobody who knows me.
I’ve heard, at this point, all the counterarguments, and I have to say I’m not impressed by them. The merely pragmatic case for Hillary Clinton, which we heard in 2008, is no truer now than it was then. The woman is deeply unpopular, for both good and bad reasons; as of right now, in head-to-head national polling matchups (admittedly, these don’t account for the electoral college), Sanders beats Trump in the popular vote more decisively than does Clinton. Moreover, Sanders can convincingly outflank Trump on the one issue—trade—where Trump has ever seemed to offer voters anything more substantial than his usual thuggery, racism, and bottomless nastiness. Clinton can’t. Hell, her behavior in the past week raises doubts about whether she even wants to win.
As for the non-pragmatic case for Hillary: God bless her, there isn’t one.
If she’s the nominee, sure, on election day, I’ll be one of the millions of left-liberals holding our noses and casting a vote against Trump or Cruz. Bernie, I am pretty sure, will be among those millions. If given the choice to affect the outcome in a zero-sum contest between “slightly embarrassed corporate rule” and “unembarrassed corporate rule,” we’ll all nudge the system toward the former. And then we’ll go back to the hard dailiness of trying to make better possibilities imaginable, articulable, inevitable in our jobs, neighborhoods, households. What you do there is your real politics.
Bernie Sanders is the second viable national candidate in my lifetime to claim anything close to my politics in that highest sense of the term. Barack Obama was the first. And Obama remains one of the only national politicians whom I wouldn’t peremptorily throw off my doorstep if he turned up there. But the “change” he promised was always threatened by his own near-mystical faith in the wisdom of technocratic consensus and the magic of dialogue. Dialogue is magic, sometimes, when people participate in it in good faith; Obama for some reason keeps pretending to us, to himself, that there’s a single Republican in Congress whom “good faith” describes. Sanders thinks unflinchingly in terms of class, and as a result he knows better. So when people mumble the names “Carter,” “Obama,” etc., in a deprecatory way around us Sanders supporters—which they’re starting to do now that he’s shown he can win primaries, and maybe the election—well, I don’t think the analogy holds up. I think when Americans see a President who advocates for them, who doesn’t arrive in Washington on the crest of a transformative election only to immediately place people like Larry Summers and Tim Geithner in his own way, who doesn’t treat government as if he were writing Team of Rivals fanfiction, who isn’t squeamish about speaking over the head of Congress directly to citizens: Yeah, I think that may have an impact on midterm turnout. (Especially if working-class white conservative Christians finally admit to themselves, in the wake of Trump, that overturning Roe vs. Wade is off the table, and that supporting the Republican Party really does get them nothing but pink slips.) I think Bernie is the pragmatic choice. I also think, of the options presented, he’s the morally right choice.
Those are more often the same thing than we care to admit.