Was that Bernie’s way of saying “uncle”? I’d imagine that most people who watched his video address tonight to his supporters didn’t think so, because he did not officially concede or endorse Hillary Clinton. But I say it was an unexpectedly accommodating affair nonetheless.
I thought he was going to lay out specific demands for the Democratic Party going forward these next few weeks and insist the demands be met or else. He did some of that. But emotionally, his emphasis was on other things. Metaphorically, he pointed his gun not at the Democratic Party’s head, but at its orotund midsection.
Consider the speech’s structure. It came in four parts. Part one, how amazing are the things I/we have accomplished. Part two, how important it is to defeat Donald Trump. Part three, how the Democratic Party needs to change more in his image. Part four, how the people’s revolution must continue beyond this year and manifest itself in Bern-feelers running for office and staying involved in politics far beyond this campaign.
That is to say, only one part out of four was directly confrontational to the Democratic power structure, and even that part picked its spots quite carefully. He ticked off 15 matters on which he suggested the Democrats ought to follow him. But on 10 of them, Hillary Clinton already agrees (and indeed on a few of them, like guns and equal pay for women, she’s done more than he has and is more committed than he—I’d even add health-care-as-a-right to that list, since as first lady she helped lead the charge for health care for poor children, the S-CHIP program, which is free for poor children).
There were five that left room for platform committee fights: the $15 minimum wage (she backs that in more expensive cities but says it could be lower in less expensive areas); a fracking ban, which she does not support and which a president has no power to impose anyway; a “modern-day Glass-Steagall” to break up the banks; free college tuition; and health care as a right for all, which she would say she backs but not in the sense that he means it (everything free for everyone, financed by taxes).
He then did take on what he euphemistically called the “Democratic Party leadership.” He never mentioned chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz by name, and never directly called for the removal of an unnamed chair. Instead he demanded that the Democratic Party pursue a “50-state strategy.” That probably comes from the people in the red states he won like Oklahoma and Idaho and so on, and it’s totally unobjectionable and even the right thing for the Democratic Party to do, as it was when Howard Dean proposed it as chair back in the mid-2000s (there’s an irony there all right, as there’s no love lost between these two Vermonters, and Dean is a Clinton endorser from the early days). But the important point is that it isn’t a confrontational demand, something that puts immediate pressure on the DNC. It’s a Beach Boys demand: wouldn’t it be nice.
Also basically unmentioned: any reform of the primary process. Sanders and Jeff Weaver—and maybe the media, to be fair—had led us to believe that reform of the voting process was going to be demand number one. But it wasn’t to be heard in Thursday night’s speech. I can’t imagine this was an oversight. It had to be a conscious decision to toss this demand overboard.
Then the last part of the speech, and the part that drew the most attention from Bernie people on Twitter, was the “the revolution must go on” part. This was the section that gave his people the signal that this was bigger than Bernie, and I give him credit for emphasizing it, because to me this was a campaign that had some cult-of-personality aspects to it from the start. But this was Sanders clearly signaling: “I know I’m 74, and I hope what I’ve started here survives me.”
So that’s how his people saw it. How actual Democrats saw it—and I don’t mean the banking lobbyist, I mean the state committeewoman from Illinois who is a public-interest lawyer in Evanston—I’m not sure. Less favorably, I’m sure. She no doubt hung on the key two sentences: “The major political task that we face in the next five months is to make certain that Donald Trump is defeated and defeated badly. And I personally intend to begin my role in that process in a very short period of time.” Those sentences, along with the election reform matter he left out, signaled a de facto endorsement of Clinton, whether his people want to admit that or not.
But I’m pretty sure my Evanston lawyer also heard the grandiosity that Sanders, a candidate who certainly did much better than expected but in the end lost by quite a large margin, assigned to himself. To her and to thousands like her—precisely the people forgotten in the Clinton-Sanders debate all these months, because they are representative of the “little people” who are for Clinton, which seems to most of the media oxymoronic, but they are real, and they number in the many millions—Bernie is now old news. And he’s just going to get older every week.