Early this morning, before Bernie Sanders made his big speech endorsing Hillary Clinton today in New Hampshire, Sanders’s top policy adviser, Warren Gunnels, sent an email to a few dozen fellow Sanders supporters.
“The Senator made the difficult decision not to file minority reports,” Gunnels wrote in the email, which was sent to all of Sanders’s representatives on the Democratic convention Platform Committee and forwarded to this blog. “You should be receiving an e-mail soon from the Senator about the next steps in the political revolution.”
This dry language actually amounts to a very significant declaration: What it means is that the Sanders campaign will not further contest the makeup of the Democratic platform at the convention, even though Sanders did not get all the changes to the platform he had hoped for. Previously, the Sanders campaign had intimated that — even after he endorsed Clinton — it would file minority reports indicating his disagreement with various aspects of the Dem platform, which could have perhaps led to continuing disillusionment among his 13 million voters, whom Clinton very much wants to win over starting now.
This matters for two reasons: First, it shows that Sanders actually did get a great deal of what he had hoped for into the platform. And second, it suggests that, while there may still be some lingering conflicts over various matters involving rules, the convention will go a lot more smoothly than many had expected — and so will the process of Democratic unity.
In his speech endorsing Clinton today, Sanders said pretty much everything Clinton and her campaign could possibly have wanted him to say. He vouched unequivocally for the legitimacy of the outcome of the Democratic nominating contest, a message clearly designed to disabuse his supporters of the notion that the process was rigged. Sanders also declared unequivocally that Clinton would move us in the same direction that he would on may of his key goals, including universal health care, boosting wages, and combating inequality and climate change, an important signal to them that he and Clinton share many of the same broad goals for the country.
Sanders also allowed during his speech that there had been large differences between him and Clinton — but, crucially, went on to note that the process of assembling a platform had produced “a significant coming together between the two campaigns.” That declaration — in the context of an allusion to their very real differences — was another key message to supporters, i.e, that the post-primary process has produced real results for Bernie’s movement.
And it has. The simple fact is that Sanders, by withholding his endorsement and pushing for changes to the platform, actually had some real successes. There has been a lot of debate around this point, but there is no denying it any longer. In his email to fellow Bernie-ites on the platform committee, Sanders policy director Gunnels summed up their victories this way:
Thanks to your efforts, it is now the policy of the Democratic Party to increase the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, breakup too big to fail banks, pass a 21st Century Glass-Steagall Act, make public colleges and universities tuition free for working families, enact a price on carbon and methane, abolish the death penalty, establish a path toward the legalization of marijuana, expand Social Security, prevent the earned pension benefits of more than 1.5 million Americans from being cut, close loopholes that allow corporations to avoid paying taxes, create millions of jobs rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure, make it easier for workers to join unions, end disastrous deportation raids, ban private prisons and detention centers, move to automatic voter registration and the public financing of elections, eliminate super PACs, and pass a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, among many, many other initiatives.
It is often observed that Sanders himself didn’t come up with many of these ideas, and that the party was already moving to the left. But even if that is true, Sanders channeled and directed that energy into concrete changes to the platform. Would they really have happened at all if Sanders had never run?
Indeed, these changes are precisely the reason why Sanders has decided not to file minority reports, even though he did not get his way on the Trans Pacific Partnership and on Israel. As the email from Gunnels puts it:
As a result of our success and the realization that further platform fights would be portrayed in the corporate media as obstructionist and divisive, the Senator made the very difficult decision not to file minority reports. I know that many of you feel frustrated that we did not win every battle. I feel the same way. But all that means is that we must fight even harder to elect progressives at every level of government who will fight to advance our bold, progressive agenda….
In terms of the convention, there are still more battles to be waged. We are now focusing our attention on changing the rules of the Democratic Party in order to make it easier for progressive challengers to win elections. You should be receiving an e-mail soon from the Senator about the next steps in the political revolution.
This hints at how Sanders and his top advisers hope to reconstitute his movement and keep it alive. Rather than stoke further divisions over policy at the convention — which could be counter-productive — Sanders and his people are pocketing their meaningful victories and moving to the next step. In other words, the best hope for converting the Sanders movement into lasting influence is to channel it into electing Democrats to the White House and Congress, and, crucially into putting pressure on them, once in office, to move in the direction of the movement’s priorities. (As the email indicates there could still be potential fights over rules governing future nomination processes, but those will be more procedural in nature.)
It is often argued that Sanders’s success in shaping the platform is largely meaningless, because it is not binding on the nominee or the party. And that’s true. But the platform represents a party blueprint, a set of aspirations and principles and ideological goals that activists and organizers can use to measure the performance of party officials against — what Bill Scher calls a “progressive North Star” to use as a guide.
There are no guarantees that the Sanders movement will amount to anything over the long term. As John Judis puts it, “political history is littered with dissident campaigns that made a splash but didn’t have much impact after they were over.” But nonetheless, Judis adds, there are indications that Sanders has articulated a broad “framework” that “may set the Democrats eventually on a more visionary and inspiring course – one that isn’t bounded by the shadow of Republican congressional dominance and the business campaign funding that has narrowed the Democratic vision for thirty years or more.”
As I have argued, Sanders has attempted to shift our moral and ideological baseline, to get us to more forthrightly acknowledge the profound structural inequities and injustices that riddle our political and economic systems, and to stand more firmly for societal guarantees of a college education, health care, and a retirement with dignity, and for far more robust efforts to fight climate change and boost wages and the economy. Sanders has managed to help create a platform that demonstrates some real elite buy-in with his vision of where that baseline should be set. And as historian Michael Kazin points out, this has been a key ingredient in the eventual success of previous social movements in American history.
Whatever the Sanders movement is destined to produce, if anything, the months of bitter politicking and arguing through the primaries and caucuses, and the post-primary process, have had largely positive effects. The often contentious hashing out of differences throughout both, and, now, the overall outcome, have been good for the party, and not, as many feared, destructive. The result is a better, sharper nominee — and a party that is better positioned for a tough general election.