I recently received an email from an old friend I had not heard from in several years. She included me along with a few dozen other friends and acquaintances she felt needed to know her mind.
Seems my old friend is a Bernie Sanders supporter — a passionate, angry, uncompromising Bernie supporter.
“It will most likely not surprise y’all to hear that I have transformed myself into a walking billboard for Bernie Sanders,” she writes. “Anytime I go anywhere where I will be around the public, I wear either a Bernie T-shirt or one of my Bernie pins.”
In a fashionable local grocery store she engaged a cashier — a young man she apparently knew from previous trips through the checkout line. He was a Hillary Clinton supporter. “Well, it’s a free country and you are certainly entitled to support your candidate of choice,” she said.
Then the young man called her out on her righteous rant. “Do you know the difference between the supporters of your candidate versus mine?” he asked. “We will come out and support Bernie if he gets the nomination, but you people will not support Hillary.”
She responded, “Some Bernie supporters will support Hillary, but true progressives like me will not. We simply cannot vote for a DINO [Democrat in Name Only] who is a warmonger and a corporate tool.”
And in that sanctimonious outburst we have the recipe for a disaster on Election Day in November.
My friend could not bring herself to vote for Clinton because, “for some of us who feel we have been put into the position of having to vote against our moral beliefs time and time again to keep the awful Republicans out of the Oval Office yet settled for Democrats-lite who were influenced by the corporados. [We] simply cannot force ourselves to do it again.”
I have heard these arguments before. I am old enough to remember George McGovern in 1972 and Al Gore in 2000. In both cases, there was too much self-righteousness and not enough sense of reality and responsibility. In both cases America elected disastrous presidents, and we are still suffering the consequences.
In 1972, it was possible that no Democrat could have defeated Richard Nixon — certainly not the bland and moralistic McGovern, no matter how often he criticized the Vietnam War on the floor of the Senate. But another Democrat — perhaps Sen. Edmund Muskie of Maine, who washed out early — could have prevented the 49-state Republican landslide.
In 2000, the contest between Gore and GOP nominee George W. Bush was muddied by the presence of Green Party candidate Ralph Nader, the virginal pure consumer and environmental advocate who had never run for political office but had spent his lifetime lecturing, pontificating, and writing books. Gore, by contrast, came from an old political family. He had been in Washington for years, wheeling and dealing, accruing power, playing the game very skillfully.
Democratic purists said Gore was tainted, compromised, unfit for the presidency. They would cast their vote for the unsullied Nader, rather than sully themselves voting for Gore. Party leaders warned that a vote for Nader was a vote for Bush, but the true-believers said there was no difference between Bush and Gore.
And so, on Election Day 2000, Gore won 450,000 more popular votes than Bush, but Nader took 2.7 percent of the vote and swung the Electoral College to Bush, who became president and gave us perpetual war and the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression. In his retirement from politics, Al Gore won a Nobel Prize for his work on climate change.
No difference between Bush and Gore? Really?
In her email, my friend denounced President Barack Obama gratuitously and meanly, criticizing him for not giving us single-payer healthcare, ignoring the fact that he came to office with the pharmaceutical industry, the insurance industry, the banking industry, and Republican Party arrayed against him, sworn to block any healthcare reform or banking reform and to make him a one-term president.
Despite intractable and irrational opposition, Obama gave us the Affordable Care Act and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, saved us from another depression, made historic diplomatic openings to Iran and Cuba, and many other accomplishments in one of the most consequential administrations of the past century.
The final irony is that my friend, in her hyperbolic and ill-tempered email, sounds like no one so much as Donald Trump. And in her refusal to vote for Hillary Clinton in November, she looks like Trump sitting out a recent GOP debate in a fit of pique.
The truth is that a tantrum is not a political statement, and it has never made the world a better place.
Will Moredock is the author of Living in Fear: Race, Politics & The Republican Party in South Carolina.