“You Need Us!” Yeah, About That

One of the common responses I’ve seen to the past few days of criticism of Sanders supporters and campaign workers over their behavior at the Nevada state convention, and of Sanders himself over his abysmal response, is “You need to be nicer to us Sanders supporters. You’re going to need us in November!”

Um, yeah, about that? If you’re one of those people, there are a few things you should be thinking about.

Hostages

There are the purely social aspects of trying to change people’s behavior with threats. When you tell me you’re willing to engage in behavior that will put Donald Trump in charge of the U.S. and hurt me and others as a result, I don’t exactly feel warm and fuzzy about you. Let me quote myself from months ago, because I’ve already told you this.

Those of you out there now saying you’re determined to let a Republican win if your choice for Democrat doesn’t get the nomination? You don’t even get to claim religious fervor. You’re just straight up holding hostages, and you’ve chosen the most vulnerable among us to throw between you and the gun.

Sepia-toned photo of words cut out of magazines lying on the floor as though ready to be made into a ransom note.
“Ransom?” by Michael Lewkowitz, CC BY-SA 2.0

As it turns out, hostage-takers aren’t people I want to be nice to. In fact, I get downright defiant when the suggestion is made. It might be a personal failing of some sort, but I’m not alone. If you’re trying to be persuasive, it’s just one of those little facts you’re going to have to deal with. So is the fact that I’m not alone in this. So is the fact that, if you’re willing to threaten me with a Trump presidency, I don’t believe you’re going to act rationally, no matter what I do.

It’s just poor strategy. Oops.

Persuasiveness

Then there’s the idea that I’m going to be the person to lead you to Clinton. I’m not. You’ve been telling me that for months. For the most part, you’ve also been calling me dishonest and uncaring while you’ve done it. But now you tell me that I need to be careful in how I talk about you if I want your vote? Let me just add that to the list of things I don’t believe. You’re not going to listen to someone you’ve been building up in your own head as a monster and the shill of a dishonest monster, no matter how I cater to you now.

You’ll find a reason to vote against Trump on your own or you won’t at all.

Demographics

Most importantly, however, I’m aware of what catering to you at this point could cost Clinton. You see, the people loudly insisting that I be nice to them now because their votes matter are nearly uniformly white and overwhelmingly male. Do their votes count the same as anyone else’s? Yes, of course. I expect many of these people are bluffing and posturing at this point because they’ve been encouraged to hold out hopeless hope, but those who aren’t still represent votes. They’re not, however, the demographic that will determine the outcome of this election.

What will determine this presidential election will be the same things that have determined the last several. Who will Hispanic voters choose? Will black voters turn out? And no, we can’t just assume that the Democratic candidate will get those votes. We can’t assume those voters are a captive audience. When Democrats woo them effectively, they win. When they don’t, they lose. The effect only gets more pronounced over time.

As it turns out, a bunch a white guys posturing about how people need to be nicer to them or they’ll take their toys and go home is not an effective strategy for courting these populations. Really, it isn’t. Effective strategies include meeting with community leaders, hiring policy advisers from the communities in question, building policies that target these communities with help, and having a popular black president on your side.

Clinton is doing all of that, some of it more successfully than other parts. That doesn’t mean she’ll get turn out everyone or have everyone on her side, but it does mean she’s doing the right work.

What could screw that up? The same thing that always screws this sort of thing up. The same thing that’s made many people who support Sanders’ positions turn away from Sanders’ campaign.

Entitlement is ugly. Hostile entitlement is worse. It’s one of the things that tells marginalized populations that their work will never be rewarded with full participation. It’s one of the things that tells marginalized populations they’ll only be tolerated as long as they don’t try to claim their share. At best, it’s a distraction from the work at hand. At worst, it keeps people home.

So no, I have no interest in catering to hostile entitlement. I have no interest in drawing more hostile entitlement to the Clinton campaign. I know who Democrats need on their side to win this and any future presidential election, and I know how many people we can lose for every person radiating hostile entitlement. I’m not going to pretend your vote is more important than all of theirs. It isn’t.

You’ll find a way to put yourself on their level and share or you’re worse than useless. And if you persist in being worse than useless, then no, we really don’t need you come November. In fact, if that’s the case, you’d probably get me to be nicer to you by promising you’ll go work for Trump.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to turn my attention to November. You go do your thing, whatever that is.

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“You Need Us!” Yeah, About That
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19 thoughts on ““You Need Us!” Yeah, About That

  1. 2

    I feel like I’m in the middle. My perspective comes from working with Battleground Texas and the Coordinated Campaign in 2014 to help get Wendy Davis elected.

    We sorta knew from the get-go that it was rather unlikely that she’d win, but after her filibuster, the thought was that she could help invigorate the Texas Democrats and help lay the organizational framework that we’d need to make sure that the changing demographics could mean that the state would go blue sooner than later, and just maybe we’d be able to get people medical care and a reasonable education.

    We lost. But I want to note something before I say what happened: in the precincts in which we fulfilled our goals (we knocked on the doors we set out to, etc), turnout was up 10% and David won by a 8% wider margin than White in 2010. In the precincts in which we didn’t, things were down. I think our efforts made ~10% difference overall in the areas we were able to operate.

    So if it was better, why didn’t we win? Because of the precincts in Far South Austin which I helped organize, we only had the volunteers available to accomplish about 10% of what we wanted to. People just didn’t show up.

    That wasn’t always the case, though.

    See, early on when people saw her as a progressive figure, I had 15-20 people a week, with a fairly reliable core of 5-8 people and others coming and going as they were able. We were doing well, excited, and optimistic that just maybe we could get something moving! Then she came out as pro-open carry. A stance that I don’t think she really believed in, but it was a stance that ‘common knowledge’ suggested that no one could get elected in Texas without supporting it. Even a Democrat.

    People stopped showing up. Suddenly, walking in the Texas summer hear for 3 hours on a weekend in which you COULD be kayaking or… doing anything else, really, started seeming like the better option. Of those who did stay, they started talking about how they wished there were more TV ads (!!). Like, even if they showed up, they were internally wishing they could just quit.

    A month after that, I might have 1 or 2 people show up. I’d make calls, I’d send out newsletters… nothing helped. Passion had left. So when it came time to GOTV (get out the vote), we didn’t have the people we needed to knock on the doors we knew we needed to to make sure the people we were pretty damn sure WOULD vote for her made it to the polls. And it showed. Where we did, she did better than the last election. Where we didn’t, she did worse (thanks voter ID! grr).

    If the country was voting at 80%+, I’d agree with you. But right now the problem is that people don’t care, and they don’t show up. In order to convince people that it does matter, and to get them to show up, you need people talking to neighbors. Not ads. Not news articles. Not people from some other state. You need people talking to neighbors, one on one, authentically and openly. Not regurgitating the campaigns line, but communicating to someone else why in the world you would be walking in 105 degree weather talking to people you don’t know about something they may not even care about. You have to change your local voting culture.

    I’m sorry, but I don’t see that in the Hillary campaign. don’t get me wrong, there ARE people excited about it, and I’ll GLADLY vote for her in November, and I’ll work in Texas to try and turn this state that I love, but… it’s not enough. It really isn’t.

    I called the precinct chairs in Austin for the Clinton campaign in Austin months ago before the primary to try and get a sense of where the core party people were at. Almost all of them were pro-Hillary, but not enthusiastically. About half of the people that said Hillary, qualified it. It was all a version of this: “I really like what Sanders is saying and I agree with him, but we need to be able to win so I’ll for Clinton.”

    That’s not the passion that’ll inspire people who don’t normally walk to neighbors, or make phone calls to do so. It’s resignation. She’s a good, solid option that has a good shot at winning. But what do they really want to fight for? Progressive policies that help people be their best selves. They just aren’t willing to risk a GOP win.

    Unfortunately that can easily turn into a self-fulfilling prophesy. If the GOP ran an even half-sensible candidate, we’d be in real trouble. As it is, I think we lucked out and will be able to win w/o passion. Not so sure about 2024.

    We need to embrace a candidate – like who we hoped Wendy Davis could have been – that can change the voting culture of the party. At some point, the Democratic Party as a whole is going to need to realize what the future is, reconcile with it, embrace it, and let those people who are willing to do real work to get someone elected involved enough to do it.

    That’s what makes Sanders interesting: he is engaging with people, and inspiring them to become activists. That’s not happening with Hillary. Yes, the people that usually vote in a Democratic primary prefer her… but those are also the people we have right now doing the work and it’s not enough.

    If you want things to change, then we have to make that change and do the work, and when we find someone that can inspire activism, we need to use it. I sincerely hope he can help Clinton in the coming months.

  2. 3

    besomyka, I hear you, but that would have been an argument to nominate Sanders, and it would rely on him having a better ability than Clinton to turn out voters. The first is simply not going to happen at this point because the second never materialized. That might have been different had he himself been passionate about organizing people. I don’t know. That might have made Sanders a less exciting candidate. But yours isn’t an argument about the election we have anymore. The presidential candidate who’s done the most to change who votes in my lifetime is Obama, and he that by inspiring and organizing marginalized voters.

  3. 4

    Gah. Wall of text. I’m sorry, directly on point: they have a point when they say we need them. Hostile intent in this primary goes both ways and neither side is blameless. One side is refusing to listen and accept, the other is overreacting and being noxious.

    I think the party and the Clinton campaign have a responsibility moving forward to bring those people in and have their voices be heard, to change things so that they can be heard in the next election. They can’t just blame the others on not being able to engage when they themselves dictate the rules by which people can engage.

    I did see an interesting pattern in voting here in Austin. We have a gentrification issue locally, a sizable Hispanic population in the east, affluent conservative/libertarians in the west, a central college district, etc. You can see the results by precinct here: http://projects.statesman.com/databases/election-map-20160301/

    Austin as a whole barely went for Sanders. Those who did are where the mostly white middle class and college students are. There’s a little bleed, but it mostly is in-line with what the Clinton campaign and news says about Bernie supporters: middle class, young, residents of the newly gentrified parts of East Austin. The older you are the more likely you are to be white.

    The places that went for Hillary are: Upper-income whites in the west, lower-income black and Hispanic neighborhoods (non-gentrified east Austin).

    My precinct was split 50-50, with Sanders winning by a single vote. My area is split between lots of different income levels: there’s public housing, and also 500k homes.

    So sanders had the middle class as a whole, and the richer well-educated urban whites. Clinton has lower-income and ethnic minorities, along with the business class.

    Everyone is right.

    Anyway, when I see close races in places where independents can’t vote and in which there wasn’t any organizing to make sure they converted their label in time, it bugs me. When it’s used to say he’s not turning people out, it bugs me. When passionate people show up and are turned away because they don’t know the intricacies of party procedure, it bothers me.

    I don’t know if he engaged enough people to matter, but I do know that the way I see the party negotiating the passion and engagement that IS showing up is worrisome. They aren’t helping people become engaged, they are turning people away. Which means things stay the same. Which isn’t working.

    I also hate that Sanders has somehow attracted the shallow bro left. Yeah, there are GOP sock puppets, but not all of them. It’s why gentrified East Austin went for him :/

  4. 6

    You’re ignoring that Hillary is acting like she’s entitled to the presidency and the vote is a formality.

    Ever consider Bernie supporters have good reason to be angry at a system and party that promised change but is blatantly rigged to support the status quo?

  5. 7

    No, wmdkitty, I’m not ignoring anything about the way Clinton is acting. People have had the opportunity to vote against her. Some have. Some three million more have voted for her. Whether she thinks it’s a formality, it has happened, which makes her entitled at least to the nomination.

    And plenty of people have plenty of reasons to be angry. I’ve never seen you suggest that makes any and all behavior acceptable, though.

  6. 9

    I’m so tired of this election and it hasn’t really even started yet :-/
    I came into this primary season still pissed at the Clinton campaign dogwhistling in ’08 and I don’t know what about the Bernie campaign it’s supporters are seeing as idealistic and positive at this point (interestingly the Bernie supporters I know are generally not men and not all white).
    The whole process can feel so far from the good faith effort to find practical ways to make the world better for all of us that I want to be participating in.

  7. 10

    I started out a Bernie supporter. In fact, I voted for him in the primary. But the Bernie Bros–and, more to the point, the fact that Sanders hasn’t told them to cut the crap– have made me thoroughly regret that choice. I will not vote for him in future primaries. I will, if he somehow manages to get the nomination, vote for him in the general because Trump, but not as happily as I would have thought I would a year ago.

    And whatever people’s personal experiences, Sanders supporters are largely demographically white and more male than female. No, we don’t need white men. Obama got elected after losing the white male vote. The guys are trying to make themselves important again with voter suppression laws and threats against women who oppose them, but they’re losing the demographic game and are becoming more and more irrelevant. Loud, but irrelevant. That, I think, is why the Bernie Bros prefer Trump to Clinton: Trump is talking to them and, like them, trying his best to talk over and ignore other people.

    I’d like to think I am wrong about this, but I’ve yet to see a convincing counter argument.

  8. 11

    Diane #10, I get you. I support Sanders, too, but I’ve made the decision to vote for Clinton in the general if she wins the Democratic nomination. I don’t particularly like Clinton, but she comes across as intelligent, has reasonable policies, etc., unlike Trump, who is a stupid, hateful bigot being supported by other stupid, hateful bigots. Maybe if the GOP had appointed someone who’s sane, I would have stayed home on election day, but it feels like the entire GOP just lost on “Are you smarter than a 5th grader?”

    I think Clinton campaigns poorly. It’s why she lost the 2008 primary to Obama. Sanders ran a more left-wing campaign than Clinton in an attempt to pull the Democratic party away from being GOP-lite, to reaffirm that yes, the Dems are for the Average Joe, regardless of race. Average Joe hasn’t been doing so well these days. Clinton, however, wants to run a center-right campaign to try to pick off the sane Republicans in the general. The problem with that is that there are no sane Republicans. The GOP is dead. It caught a terminal case of Donald Trump — who, by the way, is managing to get the Average Joe vote.

  9. 12

    @chemical: Have you looked at Clinton’s actual current policies? It looks to me like Sanders succeeded in pulling the party left and if that’s what he wants, he can stop now or at least consolidate his gains.

    Clinton’s immigration stance: https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/clintons-stance-on-immigration-is-a-major-break-from-obama/2016/03/10/6388a1f8-e700-11e5-a6f3-21ccdbc5f74e_story.html

    Clinton’s health care stance (note that abortion is explicitly named as a procedure that would continue to be protected and covered): https://www.hillaryclinton.com/issues/health-care/

    Yeah, I’d like Medicare for all too, but that’s flat out not going to happen, not even in a Sanders presidency with a cooperative congress. There are currently about 2 health insurance companies in the US and they are massively powerful. The only way we’re going to get universal coverage is get a public option and then enhance it to the point that private insurance is not something the majority of people bother with (aka the German model.)

  10. 13

    @Dianne #12
    Yes, you are correct. Poor wording on my part. I should have said Clinton wanted to run a center-right campaign. I agree she has moved left on these issues you have cited.

  11. 16

    It is my impression that Clinton was always more liberal than Bill. She was the one fighting for health care reform in the 1990s. She was the human rights lawyer before going into politics. I think she’s held right wing positions because it was expected of her, but that her preference is more left-wing. And more feminist than Sanders’. Sanders is shaping up as a classic left wing guy who wants the women to clean up after him and nod and smile when he’s talking.

  12. 17

    Dianne:

    Some things either don’t change or change very, very slowly. $HERSELF was in the streets in Chicago 48 years ago, and reports that it was very much the same: the guys expected to be in charge, make the decisions, and the women were there to fetch, carry, cook, and screw.

    Best I can tell, even then telling her to “get me a beer” was a short trip to a malt and hops shower.

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