Nevada Democratic Convention: The Goal Isn’t Process, The Goal Is To Win

Jon Ralston has a meticulously detailed rundown Saturday’s Nevada Democratic Convention. The whole thing is worth a read. As I argued here, while Sanders drifts aimlessly through the rest of the nomination, Clinton’s team cannot work with the DNC, state parties, and other campaigns to set up, fund, and engage coordinated campaigns that might help wipe out Republicans and put Democrats in control of Congress and state governments. What happened Saturday suggests that Sanders’ lingering candidacy is creating an additional problem, a wave of rancor and chaos that could wash over the Democratic convention in July, drowning Democrats chances of a big win in November.

Ralston is no fan of the Clintons. But he’s also no fan of duplicity and counterproductive purity preening, and he respects a political party that operates legally but with brutal effectiveness:

Reid, who endorsed Clinton shortly after helping her win the caucus, has iron-fisted control over the party apparatus and has for many years. Chairwoman Lange answers to him and his operatives, but that does not, as the twisted transitive property of Sandersophiles seems to conclude, mean she is corrupt.

What’s more, the whole arrangement has worked pretty well, turning the Nevada Democratic Party into one of the most formidable organizations in the country. Since 2008, and with last cycle the only blip, the Democratic Party in Nevada has overseen two presidential victories, a miraculous Reid re-election and many lower-ballot wins, thanks to a legal money-laundering operation and a massive voter registration vehicle.

Sometimes the Establishment is, you know, the good guys, especially when, you know, they win a lot of seats. That’s what parties are suppsoed to do, not be outlets for malcontents who have empty social lives or rabble rousers without a cause.

Many Sanders supporters just don’t like Hillary Clinton, or prefer his policies such as single payer health care and free college tuition (and are unbothered by the absence of any plausible theory of how he would pass and implement his proposals). But for some, Sanders is a way of flipping off the Democratic party for no reason other than it’s a political party. That is very juvenile, and very stupid.

Sanders often speaks of his candidacy as a movement. It’s not. It’s the candidacy of a guy who joined the oldest political party in America so he could get easy ballot access and do what he’s done most of his adult life: run for office. Unlike Paul Wellstone, who ran for the U.S. Senate after a primary career in academia but also a full and frenetic life of activism on behalf of good causes and in support of just about every marginalized population or constituency in Minnesota, Bernie Sanders runs for office. He hasn’t done much to help others run for office, much less win elections. He hasn’t trained a cadre of activists. He hasn’t organized communities, or linked organizations in pursuit of common goals, or mobilized people in pursuit of something other than getting him votes. He runs for office, and not much more than that.

That’s all fine. I don’t care if Bernie Sanders actually has built or led a movement. But I’m tired of the confusion between social or political movements, an electoral candidacy, and an effort at political party reform. Sanders claims he’s leading a movement when he’s actually running a campaign, and his most motivated supporters are focused primarily on reforming a party.

But is it a party that needs their reforms? What’s their complaint, and what’s the purpose of their proposals? The goal of a party isn’t about participation, it’s about winning. Those aren’t incompatible goals, and most people believe that a more inclusive Democratic party will win more elections. But ultimately it’s about organizing candidates, resources, and voters to win elections, and the purpose of winning elections is to achieve the power to advance shared goals, grounded in shared principles. Process is important, to provide legitimacy and order and efficiency. But party process not as a means, but as an end, is wankery.

As Michael Kazin recently argued, the Nevada Democratic party is one of the rare examples of an actual political establishment that has significant intra-party power, and as Ralston said, it’s ruthlessly effective not just at controlling it’s internal processes, but at defeating Republicans in a tough partisan environment. If the goal is to defeat Republicans and secure governmental power, and then to use that power to advance the policies supported by your base and for common good, Nevada may be the worst place in America to attack the legitimacy and effectiveness of the state’s Democratic establishment and the institutional Democratic party. Doing so showed that a faction of Sanders’ supporters, who his campaign encouraged, or at least did not constrain, care only about process, are wrong about the process, and don’t care about results. They’re a bunch of wankers, and they need to be shut down. It’s long past time for Sanders to stop blathering about leading a movement, to recognize his proposals for party reform are mostly unnecessary or even counterproductive, and to end his candidacy.

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