Bernie Sanders’ Free Riders Problem

Free Riders

Not long ago, folks on Twitter were sporting Unite Blue “twibbons” and “Vote Blue No Matter Who” graphics; lately however, the tide has been turning, and not in a positive way. Some* of Bernie Sanders’ supporters are sounding more like a left wing version of the Tea Party, and it’s hurting him with Democrats. More and more social media comments are beginning with “I used to like Bernie, but his supporters… ”

When Sanders first announced his candidacy in April, he said:

Bernie SandersLet’s be clear. This campaign is not about Bernie Sanders. It is not about Hillary Clinton. It is not about Jeb Bush or anyone else. This campaign is about the needs of the American people, and the ideas and proposals that effectively address those needs.

In September he explained why he chose to run as a Democrat:

“What I did not want to do is run as a third party candidate, take votes away from the Democratic candidate and help elect some right-wing Republican. I did not want responsibility for that…”

Then in November he told ABC’s This Week:

“I made a decision in this presidential election that I will run as a Democrat; I am a Democrat now.”

But Bernie Sanders is not a Democrat; as his campaign builds momentum, he’s distancing himself from the party that took him in. Some of his supporters, having spent years with their heads either in their iPhones or up their asses, suddenly see themselves as political authorities. What began as friendly jousting between the Bernie and Hillary camps has devolved into verbal food fights.

Those of us who have been engaged in politics for years are now being lectured to by political neophytes who seem to have no idea how government works. They eschew the word pragmatic, and fancy themselves “purists” who won’t “compromise their principles” by voting for anyone but Bernie. They believe they occupy some type of moral high ground, and would screw the entire country for the misguided notion that Bernie will instantly, magically, change the world. Die hard supporters say they’ll write Sanders’ name in if he doesn’t get the nomination, or not vote at all. Seems the type of Democracy they claim they want isn’t actually worth working for.

cry baby

In a Common Dreams piece titled “What the Mainstream Doesn’t Get About Bernie Sanders“, John Atcheson writes:

… the fact of the matter is that “none-of-the-above” has won every election since 1960, with some 40 to 50 percent of those eligible to vote not voting… the dirty little secret is that America is a left of center, progressive electorate on an issue-by-issue basis, and many of these are the ones who stay home in disgust at their lack of choice.

If Sanders is to win, he must get a sizable number of the disaffected and cynical voters to reengage in the political process…

The folks Atcheson generously calls “disaffected” voters are selfish voters; nobody’s talking about MY pet issue, so I’ll stay home. Nobody’s talking about what’s important to ME, so I’ll just sit on my ass and wait until someone comes along who does. Let everyone else do the work, and when the gravy train shows up, THEN I’ll jump on. I can’t be bothered to effect change, I want it handed to me. Those are the “free riders”.

paine-quoteMeanwhile, those of us who have slogged along through election after election are the ones who have gotten us to the point where someone like Bernie can run. We have done the heavy lifting, implementing change piece by piece. The biggest reason we’re not further along in making government work for all of us, is precisely due to the “disaffected” whiners who stay home.  As Atcheson himself puts it:

… change could often be tied to how small changes can trigger chaotic responses which ultimately cause a system – be it political, economic or scientific — to arrive at a new and different equilibrium point that is completely unexpected.

That’s how we ended up with a President like Barack Obama; we did the work. The “disaffected” voters on the other hand, can take full responsibility for our Republican Congress; “Millennials” for instance, are usually MIA in midterm elections. In its report on the 2014 midterms, Nonprofit Vote writes:

Of all demographics, the greatest drop off in voting from a presidential year to a midterm is among young voters under 40. The share of the electorate composed of voters under 40 fell ten points from 36% in 2012 to 26% in 2014…
politics by ageWhile “purists” lecture other voters about “real change”, they haven’t done much to help it along. Look at Progressive Democrats of America, a group formed in 2004, whose mission is “… an inside-outside strategy—to bring outside energy inside the party“. Along with its sister site, People Demand Action, PDA is the perfect vehicle for “disaffected” voters, but they don’t seem to know it exists. After 12 years, PDA has a 90,000 person email list, and a paltry 35,000 members actually participating in the organization.

Instead, the “purists” have simply been waiting. Now, emboldened by their numbers, Sanders supporters feel they have the right to dictate the process. A group presumptuously calling themselves “The People and VOTERS of the United States of America” has begun a petition aimed at Democratic Superdelegates. They write:

This presidential election is perhaps one of the most important, if not THE most important in American history, due to the inordinate number and severity of issues facing the United States of America today: general post Global Recession recovery and economic and financial dilemmas, the most severe and grotesque income inequality of any industrialized nation on earth, multiple wars ongoing, lack of adequate access to quality, affordable healthcare and dental care for tens of millions of Americans, college and university education costs so high that more and more people can no longer afford to attend even with some financial aid and loans, student debt at over 1 TRILLION dollars, greatly increasing poverty, climate change, and so many other CRITICAL issues, all happening at the same time.

All happening at the same time? It sounds like a meteor crashed into the earth unleashing political chaos on the Garden of Eden. I suppose we should be thankful they’ve come out of hibernation at all, but now they talk as if all of our problems will vanish if we Just. Elect. Bernie.

Sanders’ supporters claim a political “revolution” has begun; I wonder if, should he lose his run for President,  they have the fortitude to build on the momentum. I seriously doubt it. Meanwhile, those of us who participate in the process, expect more than feel-good campaign slogans that state the obvious… we’d like to see a PLAN. We’d like to see Bernie be honest with his supporters about the obstacles he will face, and the years it would take to implement his ideas. Most of all, we’d like him to address their off-putting hateful rhetoric toward Democrats because, as one person put it, “He is a guest in our house”.

As for the Bernie folks, they might want to spend less time trashing people on Twitter and Facebook, get down off their high horses, and start thinking about the country as a whole. If they let Republicans take over, they can kiss their rights, their opportunities, and their asses goodbye.


*Some: Means exactly what it says; if you’re not one of the folks I’m talking about, then this isn’t directed at you.

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Filed under 2016 Campaigns, Bernie Sanders, Politics, Presidential Candidates