The Sanders Movement at the Crossroads: Hillary Clinton or Jill Stein?

(Randy Bayne/Flickr)

By Jack Rothman 

Individually signed posts do not necessarily reflect the views of DSA as an organization or its leadership. DSA’s perspective on the 2016 elections can be found here. Democratic Left blog post submission guidelines can be found here.

Bernie Sanders endorsed Hillary Clinton on July 12, generating upheaval among his supporters. On the first night of the convention he strengthened the endorsement and urged his followers in full throat to vote for her in the election. This has created a dilemma for DSA and other left groups working for a Sanders presidency within the Democratic Party. Many feel copious animosity toward the Democratic Party and toward Hillary Clinton. Both are seen as neoliberal agents of corporate elites and the billionaire class. The assumption had been that if Bernie could seize the wheel by being nominated, he might be able to steer the noxious party significantly to the left. That prospect is gone.

So the left has to decide whether to follow Bernie’s lead and embrace Hillary within the Democratic Party or break away and get behind an independent party like the Greens, under Jill Stein. This kind of choice has been a recurring quandary historically and the spectacular results of Bernie’s revolution intensify the dilemma. That’s because his success makes both sides of the argument stronger and more persuasive. Let me illustrate.

In an extraordinarily short time, Bernie Sanders and his revolutionary band have opened the American political dialogue to democratic socialist perspectives. He has gained 13 million supporters, won 22 state primaries, won about 45% of convention delegates, acquired $228 million in contributions through 2.5 million donors, and attracted to his rallies a million and a half enthusiasts. He has made himself and his movement a force that can materially reshape American political life. That creates grounding for transforming the party or propelling a left third party. It can be argued that the prime achievement of Bernie’s nomination run was to greatly expand and revitalize the left and create prospects for a range of progressive initiatives that didn’t exist before.

Maybe we have to reconsider the old and too-true catchphrase that the Democratic Party is the graveyard for progressive movements. Bernie, a long-term radical and change-agent, will now stand as a major figure within the party, having a large and vital following and wide public acceptance as an honest and authentic political figure. His delegate representatives at the convention helped mold a party platform skewed heavily toward his policy goals. His forces were able to clip the future role of superdelegates significantly. He has shown that he can raise funds and mobilize people to go into the streets and to fill stadiums.

He has committed himself to advance Democratic Party reformation by establishing a set of organizations explicitly designed to achieve that purpose. The Our Revolution group will support progressive candidates for office at every level throughout the nation. He has pledged to raise funds and campaign from the start for at least 100 candidates running for local school boards, state positions, and Congress. Bernie will bring in new grassroots candidates and give them tools and finances needed to win.

Another planned organization (or Institute) will have an educational focus, using media and documentaries to bring forward ideas the corporate media ignore. The educational program will seek understanding and support for issues stressed in the campaign—inequality, the neglected middle class, extreme poverty, problems of children and seniors. A third organization will create effective ads to champion first-time progressive candidates running for office. This mobilization of organizational power shows that Sanders is determined to push the revolution forward forcefully within the Democratic Party context.

Still, we have to ask whether even with his considerable assets, resolve, and support base he can remake the Democratic machine. The party, and Hillary Clinton, are deeply rooted in the status quo, interlocked with economic elites, and sustained financially and politically by them. She is not bound in any way to carrying out platform provisions that Bernie honed. Hillary has a deserved low trust rating and it is remarkable that with the volume of votes Sanders received and the momentum he achieved nationwide, only a handful of Democratic Party establishment figures came to endorse him, up to the very end, and the superdelegates, with very few exceptions, gave him short shrift.

A WikiLeaks release of thousands of emails revealed that the Democratic National Committee was tilting the scales for Hillary and undermining the Sanders campaign consistently. Debby Wasserman Schultz resigned as chair for presiding over this corrupt and deceitful operation (she was not fired), and was then promptly appointed by Hillary as honorary chair of the Clinton campaign. There was no sign of now bending in a progressive direction in Hillary’s pick of centrist Tim Kaine as her vice-presidential running mate. Kaine’s support of TTP and banking deregulation are directly counter to what the Sanders camp has been fighting for. The Democratic Party checks out as a weak reed to sustain the revolutionary aspirations of the Bernie movement.

Shifting to the independent party option, this is a choice among a substantial number of Bernie supporters. Polls are often iffy, but The Hill reported that one survey of millennials found that 48% favored voting for a third party. Just as the Bernie campaign has given impetus to prospects for change within the Democratic Party, it has given impetus to the advancement of independent parties.

The campaign validated socialism and political revolution as part of the dialogue of US politics and established the most solid foundation, possibly ever in American politics, for third party development. Under a revolutionary banner, the campaign generated supporters in the multi-millions, a striking army of volunteers, dedicated staff, an astonishing number of small donors, highly sophisticated campaign technology, and that famous momentum. Substantial numbers of members who fuelled that momentum are already shifting to the Green Party. Coincidentally, Jill Stein is a sharp, articulate and collaborative candidate, who even invited Sanders to head the Green ticket.

Among Stein’s fans is Cornel West, who was a staunch Bernie supporter and is a luminary on the left. He came out for Jill Stein of the Green Party right after Bernie announced the endorsement. He said that he disagrees with Brother Sanders’ view that Clinton would be an “outstanding president”; instead, she would be a “neo-liberal disaster.” West thinks that Hillary, in tandem with President Bill, created destructive social policies that depict her continuing outlook:

Clinton policies of the 1990s generated inequality, mass incarceration, privatization of schools and Wall Street domination. There is also a sense that the Clinton policies helped produce the right-wing populism that we are seeing now in the country. And we think she is going to come to the rescue? That’s not going to happen.

He also doubts that Clinton will exhibit the transparency and honesty needed to face up to profound problems needing remedies.

The American empire is in deep spiritual decline and cultural decay. The levels of wealth inequality and environmental degradation is grotesque. The correct response to this is: tell the truth about what is going on. Bear witness. 

In West’s view, Clinton is wedded to a calamitous status quo, while the Green Party, through Jill Stein, provides a means to break through our “lock-jaw situation.”

Third party movements have not been archetypes of success in American politics. But, under current circumstances they potentially could help revitalize and humanize American politics. Of all the Western democracies, the United States is the only one absent a viable left in its political life—limiting the range of policies the nation can mount and the choices citizens have about how to address their problems. This long-term structural shift needs to be weighed alongside the alternative of beneficial incremental change through established party machinery.

Bernie Sanders and Cornel West represent these different left strategies. Bernie is a warm friend of DSA and Cornel is an honorary chair. Both are men of high intelligence and conviction. One is a commanding political voice of the left and the other is a commanding moral voice of the left. Strivers for a fair and just society will find it daunting to choose between a Democratic Party or third party approach as framed by Sanders and West. Putting the hoary “two evils” analogy aside, under current circumstances it may be a matter of choosing between the better of two equals.

For DSA, the new and fluid political environment calls for giving the third party strategy upgraded consideration. That strategy has taken a back seat ever since founder Mike Harrington admonished DSA to hew to “the left wing of the possible within the Democratic Party.” Under current circumstances, emerging elements of the possible may exist in third party politics. Could that now be the better of the two equals?

(Adapted slightly from my LA Progressive piece, “Deconstructing the Sanders Movement.”)

 Jack Rothman is professor emeritus at the UCLA School of Public Affairs and a member of Los Angeles DSA.

Individually signed posts do not necessarily reflect the views of DSA as an organization or its leadership. Democratic Left blog post submission guidelines can be found hereFor DSA’s National Political Committee’s talking points on electoral activity between now and November, see here.


Showing 30 reactions

commented 2016-08-14 11:22:46 -0400 · Flag
So, is DSA endorsing Jill Stein’s presidency, or choosing to not endorse?
commented 2016-08-02 11:23:03 -0400 · Flag
The GOP establishment has lost control of its party due to the popular uprising against the status quo. What is left is a rump organization with regional appeal, but little to no funding from the usual sources. The GOP establishment is rapidly migrating to the Democratic party, with new defections announced almost daily. The establishment, which has until recently had the luxury of owning the only two parties of consequence in the US finds itself reduced to a last bastion, the Democratic Party, which is itself weak and in disarray.

In these circumstances, the door is wide open to rapidly create a party that actually represents the interests of the 99%. Tactically, the Green Party is in the best position to do that. It’s position in online polls, at least, is rapidly strengthening and it expects to be on the ballot in almost all the states. It is in a position to recruit nearly all Sanders’ supporters and to attract defectors from Trump. Furthermore, the can appeal to the many people who don’t vote because they don’t see anyone who represents them.

On the other hand, putting hope in a Clinton victory and subsequent adherence to even a single plank in the Democratic platform is a very risky position. Clinton is now experiencing her post-convention bounce, but there is absolutely no guarantee that her polls won’t return to dismal or worse in the near future.
commented 2016-08-01 22:21:35 -0400 · Flag
Ask for too much, and you will get nothing. Just sayin.
commented 2016-08-01 21:40:11 -0400 · Flag
This is not a difficult decision. Side with the people who spit in our faces, and rejected us from their convention, or side with a candidate who represents our progressive values and interests. I will choose the latter any day.
commented 2016-08-01 19:52:36 -0400 · Flag
Im over 50, I remember a Clinton White House, I rermember her coming to NY, my state and her BS about what she would do for us, she did nothing. I have suffered the Clintons for 30 yrs. I will not vote for her, EVER. Her record speaks for itself, her lies are out there for all who care to see. It is not a lesser of two evils for me, its about integrity, honesty and loyalty to US the people. I would have givin my vote to Bernie, but since the DNC and Clinton stole that from me, I will now work very hard to elect Dr. Jill Stien the Next President of The United States of America.
commented 2016-08-01 14:05:02 -0400 · Flag
Stein is projected to be on the ballots in 47 states before the General Election.
commented 2016-08-01 13:38:46 -0400 · Flag
Problem is that right now the green party is only on ballots in half the state’s. Still wish Bernie and Nina would go independent. Tulsa as SOS, and Jill head of FDA OR USDA. Now that would be a dream ticket.
commented 2016-08-01 08:02:06 -0400 · Flag
Never Hillary or Trump. V3P.
commented 2016-08-01 00:16:19 -0400 · Flag
Sanders surrogate Nina Turner has been asked to be the VP candidate of the Stein campaign. I think the GP campaign would be much stronger if Turner was the PRESIDENTIAL candidate and Stein was running for VP.

Then we’d have a serious four-way race, like back in the 1910s and 1920s.
commented 2016-08-01 00:04:43 -0400 · Flag
In addition, Senator Sanders has now LEFT the Dems, announcing his return to an Independent status… If Bernie can do it, why should Berners vote for a terrible candidate like shillary when they can support the Green’s Dr Jill Stein, who endorses well over 90% of the Berners agenda!?!
commented 2016-07-31 23:23:41 -0400 · Flag
finally, a good article dealing with the central issue. Clinton did not legitimately win. That is the problem, how can people who loved a man for his integrity support her? That is the beginning middle and end of this issue. Someone start asking the establishment about this and keep asking and keep asking and keeping asking. We have a false nominee.
commented 2016-07-31 21:00:00 -0400 · Flag
I see that Clinton supporter Peter Dreier has several posts here. Be aware of his comments — e.g, that Jill Stein is crazy — and scoff at his claims that Hillary Clinton will be good for the progressive cause in any way.
commented 2016-07-31 20:59:25 -0400 · Flag
Peter Dreier,
It sounds strange for a socialist – someone who wants to overthrow capitalism and replace it with an international system of economic democracy – advocate for the Hillary Clinton, the preferred candidate of Wall Street and military contractors. Its fine if you want to vote for Clinton, but to imply that she deserves the votes of socialists is preposterous.
commented 2016-07-31 20:47:23 -0400 · Flag
Sanders is intent on bringing about a progressive resurgence within the Democratic Party. If the Clintons are back in the White House, and the Clinton Democrats still dominate the party, they will have the power, and the Machiavellian ruthlessness, to prevent any progressive resurgence. On the other hand, if she loses, and the Clintons are departing the national political stage — finally! — the Clinton Democrats will not be so dominant and a progressive resurgence in the Democratic Party will be much more possible.
Then, in 2020, a progressive candidate will have a good chance of winning the nomination, especially considering the support in the grass roots and among voters for a strong progressive agenda. That candidate will be running against a weak incumbent in Donald Trump. A major victory would help Democrats (progressive and otherwise) win state races as well, which would give Democrats a stronger voice in re-districting after the census.
On the other hand, Clinton will make three ruinous treaties — TPP, TTIP (its trans-Atlantic equivalent) and TiSA — the law of the land. America would then go from having a de facto oligarchy and a corrupted democracy to having an actual oligarchy and a corrupted facade of democracy. This is the number one reason (there are numerous others) why clinton MUST NOT be the next president.
commented 2016-07-31 20:37:44 -0400 · Flag
People in red or blue states can vote for Stein without worrying about electing whoever they consider the Greater Evil. Only people in swing states need to weigh their decision.
commented 2016-07-31 19:28:55 -0400 · Flag
1) Voting should not be viewed as a form of personal self-expression or moral judgement directed in retaliation towards major party candidates who fail to reflect our values, or of a corrupt system designed to limit choices to those acceptable to corporate elites.
2) The exclusive consequence of the act of voting in 2016 will be (if in a contested “swing state”) to marginally increase or decrease the chance of one of the major party candidates winning…
Conclusion: by dismissing a “lesser evil” electoral logic and thereby increasing the potential for Clinton’s defeat the left will undermine what should be at the core of what it claims to be attempting to achieve. — Noam Chomsky
commented 2016-07-31 17:15:38 -0400 · Flag
commented 2016-07-31 15:52:57 -0400 · Flag
Also, given that Sanders lost a rigged fight in the DP primaries, the Sanders delegates had every right to boo Clinton supporters on stage. Bernie lost an unfair fight.
commented 2016-07-31 15:49:49 -0400 · Flag
Jill Stein is not nuts. The mainstream liberal press is consistently lying about her.

Furthermore, the Sanders delegates and Stein voters aren’t the KPD, Hillary Clinton is not the SPD, and Trump is not Hitler. The Weimar Republic analogy does not hold and people should not use it.

If Clinton loses it’s her own fault because her negatives are so high. Few trust her, and for good reason. The best way to stop Trump isn’t by mobilizing for Clinton, which won’t work, but by demonstrating against him and disrupting his events. A candidate associated with chaos won’t win. (See: Hubert Humphrey, 1968.)
commented 2016-07-31 14:29:40 -0400 · Flag
No matter where a progressive intends to end up in November, it makes sense for all to work their hearts out to ensure that third parties get into the national presidential debates.
In this volatile season full of damning revelations and Occupy-gone-mainstream, throw the conventional wisdom about third parties out the window. BELIEVE IT IS POSSIBLE for a progressive coalition of Berners,Socialists, Greens, independents, millennial and new voters, BLM, etc to actually win the white house in 2016. That coalition is already coming together behind Jill Stein, and her polling is skyrocketing. WORK TOWARDS THE PROGRESSIVE OUTCOME YOU REALLY WANT until November, THEN you can put your finger to the wind (polling) and make your strategic vote— dont foreclose now on a better future.
That work means (1) challenging the fraudulent primary and demanding a resolution; (2) trying to convince Bernie that a coalition led by him and Jill on the Green ticket has a the best chance of defeating Trump; and (3) doing everything we can to quickly prevent splintering of progressives, and instead bring all of us together towards one unified strategy- Green for 2016 since they will be on the presidential ticket for almost the entire nation.
Ask yourself: is it POSSIBLE that Jill (with Bernie?) could pick up all the Berners and be polling ahead of Clinton in late October?
Now let’s make it happen, starting with getting her into the debates and getting Bernie to collaborate.
commented 2016-07-31 10:24:50 -0400 · Flag
I personally have been at a crossroads this entire election. I’ve seen multiple organizations get involved in the hopes of transforming our country. I decided a few weeks ago to leave the DSA for Socialist Alternative. S.A. seems to have provided the best path forward in politics which is building movements and using elected office to get people involved in the political process. I thought the path of reforming the Democratic Party would have been the most pragmatic path but it’s clear that party will not let socialist politics exist.
commented 2016-07-30 14:04:26 -0400 · Flag
I was an ardent Sanders supporter from the beginning. I wrote at least a dozen articles – in The Nation, American Prospect, Dissent, etc — supporting him. I was quoted in lots of major newspapers in support of Sanders. But the primary is over and he lost. The choice in front of us: Trump or Clinton? There are two reasons NOT to vote for Jill Stein. (1) It will help elected Trump. (2) She’s nuts, proof of which can be found here: Any DSAer who votes for Stein is hurting the progressive cause.
commented 2016-07-30 12:18:14 -0400 · Flag
After being a Progressive for over 40 years, I can no longer accept some possible incremental change. The Democratic Party has been thoroughly overtaken by Neoliberals and now they have manipulated a Primary to cause defeat of a Democratic Socialist, a Populist (with even high up Dems RedBaiting Bernie). The Democrats are beating the war drums (appalling), Obama is promoting TPP and has signed the Dark Act, and Hillary’s despicable hired gun David Brock had not only bought up Liberal Media but actively worked against Berner supporter. Many Democrats have even tried to peg Bernie as racists, sexist and as promoting violence as well as his supporters. A big NOPE on supporting any of this or voting for Hillary Clinton. I left the Dem Party now and will only vote for Progressives no matter their affiliation. No more supporting Dems who favor corporations or try to lock us into the a two party system that leads to limited choices and stifles spirits.
commented 2016-07-30 11:54:17 -0400 · Flag
HRC is a neolib centrist and will govern accordingly. Choosing Kaine, which would bring up Honduras, and hiring DWS even after collusion was made public, are both big ‘fuck you’s to the progressive left. The platform means nothing and it’s already forgotten to them.
Voting for HRC will only give her a false validation and further embolden the DNC to take advantage of you because they know every four years you got nowhere else to go, since there are only 2 choices, ad infinitum.
Voting for Stein sends a loud and clear message that we won’t be taken advantage of anymore and won’t be used to further their neoliberal/corporate agenda that continues to decimate working class quality of life.
If HRC wins, we will be in a constant battle, as usual, but the left will mostly go back to sleep/ be on the defense for Clinton, while she furthers corporate interests and military exploits, just like with Obama.
If Trump wins, we will be in a constant battle, but have an antagonistic left, in addition to a right that is increasingly uncomfortable with far-right positions. (Look at embrace of lgbtq at RNC)
As far as SC appointments, Congress has to approve them. Focus on getting good people in congress who can block shitty appointments, whether it’s from HRC or Trump.
commented 2016-07-30 11:30:32 -0400 · Flag
As long as we keep voting for the established controlled parties no meaningful reforms will ever take place.

It’s time for us to reject the fear based two party system that will continuously try to force us to choose between the lesser of two evils. This is just a game they play and will continue to play as long as it works. Both parties are controlled by the same people, so ultimately it really doesn’t matter which party’s candidate gets elected, the end results and policies will be the same.

For any real change to take place we need to start voting for our hopes, not our fears. As long as we respond to our fears the establishment will keep playing on them to control us. Only by rejecting the politics of fear and embracing the politics of hope will we ever succeed in breaking the political chains that bind us.
commented 2016-07-30 11:10:40 -0400 · Flag
I am still with Bernie. I, and others like me, did not throw a dart to choose our candidate. We chose to support Bernie because of his integrity, honesty, unwillingness to sling mud, and we were right. Senator Sanders may have run the cleanest campaign possibly ever.
Yes, we understand we lost. We also understand that the DNC wasn’t going to let us win. Since the first day of the Dem convention, I (we) have been called stupid, babies, ridiculous, irrational… and these are the nicer slurs. We are already being blamed for a Trump Presidency. Essentially being “bullied” to vote against our conscience. Each time I read these posts, I lose a bit of respect for that person. This is “vote shaming” us, suggesting we are on the wrong side of issues about race, women’s rights, LGBT rights, and the environment, despite Sanders being more progressive on these issues. It’s bad enough that I will think less of myself if I choose to vote for a party that has exhibited less than honest behavior!
It’s a bitter fucking pill that you are asking us to swallow. Let us work up to it instead of forciing it down with insults.
Well, there are 90 plus days until the election, and it is your turn to be active for YOUR candidate like we were with ours. Do not ask me to do it again for your candidate. In that time, I may get over being cheated and vote the lesser of two real evils…but I will need time to reflect on that. You have about 90 days… do you want to spend it calling me names and berating me, making me hate your party and candidate even more? Or do you want to use that three months promoting your candidate, trying to entice more votes, not coerce them? You can create more divisiveness among progressives during this time, or you can work on unity by making your candidate more appealing rather than less scary. You cannot claim to be the rational, reasonable ones while trying to win us over by blaming us for the outcome and calling us names.
Use your time wisely, instead of driving us
away…use it to try to bring others in.
And this time try to do it without the god-damned cheating!
commented 2016-07-30 08:18:38 -0400 · Flag
I meant: “Supporting Jill Stein ISN’T being idealistic.”
commented 2016-07-30 08:16:44 -0400 · Flag
There was no serious “upheaval” of Sanders delegates in Philadelphia. It was, at most, 200 delegates out of about 2000. The media gave them disproportionate coverage because “Sanders delegates boo Hillary and then boo Sanders” provided the 12,000 reporters on the scene with a good story. As I wrote in this article for American Prospect, Sarah Silverman was right, they were “being ridiculous.” ( Either Clinton or Trump will be our next president. DSAers have to ask a simple question: which one do you want as president? A vote for Jill Stein is a vote for Trump and is an objectively reactionary act. I once admired Cornel West but he’s become a foolish, self-absorbed egomaniac. Susan Sarandon, who spend the entire campaign telling people that Clinton was worse than Trump, is also a fool. Encouraging people to vote for Jill Stein, especially in the 10 key battleground states, is foolish if it helps Trump win the White House. We should rally behind Clinton and once she’s in the White House keep the heat on her and Congress to adopt a progressive agenda. That’s what Sanders is going to do and he’s right. The Bernie-or-busters who refuse to vote for Clinton are like the Communists in Germany in the 30s who called the Socialists “social fascists.” ( As a former member of DSA’s board and still a member, I think that any DSA member who supports Jill Stein should be ashamed of her/himself. Supporting Jill Stein is being idealistic. It is being self-destructive. A Trump victory shuts the door on any possibility of progressive momentum. A Clinton victory keeps the door open.
commented 2016-07-29 21:08:31 -0400 · Flag
commented 2016-07-29 18:55:31 -0400 · Flag
Democratic Socialist Party – Yes!

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