Published July 26, 2016
Mark Trahant / TrahantReports
Vermont casts 22 votes for its senator, Bernie Sanders. A minute later, Sanders asks the rules be suspended and that Hillary Clinton be nominated by acclamation. And so the Bernie Sanders’ chapter comes to an end. The question is, “what’s next?”
Let’s explore this from a couple of different points of view.
What’s Sanders’ story going to be? What’s he going to do to advance causes that are progressive? And, more important for my readers, what will he do to improve life in Indian Country?
It’s interesting to explore what happens to senators after they run for president. Most disappear. Some fifty senators have run and lost (only Obama has won the office in recent times) so the “what’s next?” question is actually the norm.
One candidate who came up short was George McGovern from South Dakota. His landslide loss to Richard Nixon did not define his legacy because he recruited so many young people to his cause. Bill Clinton is a beneficiary of the McGovern campaign. McGovern, like Sanders, was not particularly interested in Native American issues before his presidential campaign. But in 1972 campaign McGovern called for the complete restructuring of the Bureau of Indian Affairs either as a White House program or as a cabinet-level agency.
Ted Kennedy is a another example of how someone can build a progressive legacy after his failed White House bid. “Freed at last of the expectation that he should and would seek the White House, Mr. Kennedy devoted himself fully to his day job in the Senate, where he had already led the fight for the 18-year-old vote, the abolition of the draft, deregulation of the airline and trucking industries, and the post-Watergate campaign finance legislation,” The New York Times wrote in his obituary. “In the years after his failed White House bid, Mr. Kennedy also established himself as someone who made “lawmaker” mean more than a word used in headlines to describe any member of Congress.”
Imagine what Sanders the “lawmaker” could do. He could be the architect for many new initiatives, better Indian health or education funding, or, basically taking the best of the Democratic Party Platform and making is so. This is what he told Deborah Parker on a live Facebook feed this afternoon: “We are very proud of the work that Deborah as done (writing the platform) … and we will make sure that the language is implemented.”
It’s clear that Sanders travels to Indian Country changed him. His observations and experiences are bound to stir reform. As Jane Sanders also told Parker today: “He didn’t win the presidency, but he’s a senator.” And now, perhaps, a lawmaker. A lawmaker that will be most effective if he has an ally in the White House.
There is one more thing I would like to see Sanders do: Invest his time and considerable fundraising ability in helping elect five Native American Democrats to Congress. He could especially make a difference in the next few days by raising money for Victoria Steele in Arizona and Joe Pakootas in Washington state. These two candidates have primary elections in August. Both would make great members of Congress (and allies for any Sanders’ legislative agenda).
Ideally Congress is only the start. What about a Sanders’ grassroots movement that supports Native progressive candidates for legislatures, county commissions, and city governments.
What about Sanders’ supporters? (Some of whom continue to maintain they will never support Hillary Clinton. Several are even posting how disgusted they are with Sanders for giving up too easily.) So the options are: Don’t vote in November; vote for Donald J. Trump; vote for a third party candidate; or vote for Clinton.
Staying home and voting for Trump are essentially the same option. A Trump presidency is not the same as Clinton.
Three stark differences:
* Clinton would tip the scales toward climate action; Trump would favor oil, gas and coal.
* Clinton would boost Indian health programs and Medicaid expansion; Trump promises repeal of the Affordable Care Act, including the Indian Health Care Improvement Act.
* She would build on the legacy of President Obama; Trump promises a rollback of the past eight years which he calls a failure.
On top of all that: There is a vacancy on the Supreme Court and conservatives would be eager to reshape abortion law, the Indian Child Welfare Act, and tribal jurisdiction.
What about voting for Jill Stein and the Green Party or the Gary Johnson-Bill Weld Libertarian Ticket?
Philosophically that makes a lot of sense. I’d really like to see third parties be included in the presidential debates and the national conversation. This country ought to have more than two governing parties. But how do you get there and how does it impact the prospect of a Trump presidency? The fact is only two parties are at present competitive. It’s a wild card vote. In some states, say, Montana, or Utah, it could help Clinton pull off a surprise win. But in Florida or other swing states it’s really an unknown about where the votes would come from (Trump or Clinton). Down the road this is one of those structural electoral problems we need to fix. Our vote should count if we go Green. But not in 2016.
Sanders said as much today. He’s quoted in The Washington Post saying, “If we were in Europe right now, in Germany or elsewhere, the idea of coalition politics of different parties coming together — you’ve got a left party, you’ve got a center-left party, coming together against the center-right party. That’s not unusual. That happens every day. We don’t have that. We have and have had [two parties] for a very long period of time — and I know a little bit about this, as the longest serving independent member of Congress.”
Will the people who followed Sanders do that once again. Most will. Some won’t. (My first question to those who say, #neverhillary is where do you live? In some states you really do have a free vote. But in a swing state? No.)
So there Democrats have a nominee — and it’s not Bernie Sanders. And he has chapters to add to his story.
Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports