On Sanders Supporters and “Down Ticket Voting”

Sometime in the early 70s there was a wonderful political cartoon in the Bulletin, the newspaper precursor of the World Socialist Web Site. It depicted a locomotive labeled “AFL-CIO” on a collision course with a little handcart holding Richard Nixon. George Meany (AFL-CIO president) was in the cab of the locomotive, yelling, “I can’t shut the damn thing off!” When I see the support gathering around Bernie Sanders, I keep thinking of that cartoon.

What brought this to mind most recently was a complaint on Twitter that many of Sanders’ supporters are refusing to vote “down ticket”—that is, for other “leftist” Democrats. This, in its own way, is as encouraging as the vote itself. Sure, Sanders is nothing more than a New Deal Democrat using populist rhetoric, but those who specifically vote for him and do not vote for other Democrats are most likely consciously voting for socialism.

As capitalism more and more demonstrates that it isn’t capable of solving humanity’s problems, people are turning toward socialism in the hundreds of thousands and millions. Would an actual socialist have gotten that kind of support at this stage? Obviously not. That isn’t the point. The point is the growing recognition by millions that capitalism is bankrupt, and their anger about it, and their search for answers. And however hard he tries, I don’t believe Sanders is going to be capable of herding that recognition, that anger, that search, back into support for the profit system. The locomotive of working class outrage is on a collision course with the handcart of capitalism itself. Sanders no more created the outrage than George Meany created the AFL-CIO, he just happens to be its figurehead at the moment. And he can’t shut the damn thing off.

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27 thoughts on “On Sanders Supporters and “Down Ticket Voting””

  1. I agree, but am unconvinced he wants to shut it off. I don’t think he’s a socialist, but I don’t think his actual positions are a rhetorical ploy, either.

  2. Whether he think of it as, “This is the only way to save capitalism,” or, “this is how to accomplish things I believe in,” I couldn’t say, and don’t really care about. As Lenin said, we don’t have a sincereometer.

  3. It’s too soon to tell the targets from the chaff. Clinton is attacking Sanders for not supporting down-tickets. She says he’s supposed to give them money.

    But so far he’s spending his money for his own campaign. Clinton gives other candidates money and then they owe her. A lot of them owed her already, a whole lot of Democrats owe her.

    If Sanders actually gets the nomination then there will be shifting alliances. Some legislators will promise to vote with his choices. Others will oppose him. Should he tell his supporters who to vote for? In 2018 it will be easier to get his primary candidates nominated if the GOP has won those seats, because there won’t be a Democratic incumbent he has to throw out. But then, there are a lot of unopposed GOP seats, is it too late to run some of his own people at some of those? Two years without a lot of results is a long time to wait before he goes after getting Democrats to vote in the mid-terms.

    At this point complaints about Sanders and Bernie Bro’s are probably not very informative. If Sanders reveals his supporters among the candidates for Congress before he wins the nomination, they’re likely to get all their funding cut by the DNC. But they’re going to complain that he’s doing nothing to help other Democrats get elected because it’s a complaint they can make.

  4. I could have sworn I read something about Bernie Sanders taking Eugene Debs as a model, who: while I obviously dislike for his later break with the IWW and anarchists in general, was certainly a real socialist.

  5. If you find that, please pass it on. Though one should note that there are many people, politicians or otherwise, who have admired socialists without being one. Nelson Mandella comes instantly to mind.

  6. Sanders has a picture of Debs in his Senate office. I’ll go find a link for you now.

  7. The History Network compares them, too:


    It has been widely reported that Sanders has a plaque in his office honoring Eugene Debs, the great labor radical and socialist. It is not unusual for a politician to look to the past for inspiration. After all, Abraham Lincoln described Henry Clay as the ideal statesman, and Ronald Reagan invoked the Puritans with his language about America as “a shining city on a hill.” Barack Obama admires Lincoln. Still, this is different: Debs was an unrepentant leftist, and inflammatory figure in his own day.

  8. I am starting to doubt that the elites are running Sanders as a pace-horse or a sheep dog. For one thing, the implements the elites control, namely the mainstream media and the Democratic party apparatus, are uniformly hostile towards Sanders now that ignoring him would be ludicrous. For another, he is focusing a totally unacceptable level of attention on issues related to the deliberate and systematic policies that enrich the elites at the general public’s expense. Celebrity gossip and sports are the topics the elites would prefer to dominate discourse in the public square.

  9. Looks like it’s just secondary article stemming from a documentary he made in 1979: “Eugene Debs: Trade Unionist, Socialist, Revolutionary”. The most he has said recently is that Debs “remains a hero of mine.”. Which as you say, many people tend to find socialists ‘inspirational’, while not following their politics too far. Doc on youtube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w82pFvUq3o8

    Trying to pin down his actual socialist bonafides is difficult, which is why most (Chomsky, Bhaskar Sunkara) tend to say he isn’t one, but rather a liberal New Dealer, or social democrat in the European tradition.

    Part of the problem is that journalists tend not to ask him those kinds of questions, because they’re boggled enough by his opposition to free trade, war, and his tax policies. A few have dug up old radical things he’s said about one thing or another, and he’s reconfirmed his support for workplace democracy, on the Wobbly Shop model; his belief that most private enterprises should be worker owned or cooperatives, and a few other things that are nice to hear, but clearly not centerpieces of his practical politics. (He has sponsored legislation to simplify establishing worker coops, for example, but he hasn’t talked about it much during his campaign)

    ” …we need to provide assistance to workers who want to purchase their own businesses by establishing worker-owned cooperatives.”

    “I believe that, in the long run, major industries in this state and nation should be publicly owned and controlled by the workers themselves.”

  10. Actually, Sunkara doesn’t say Sanders isn’t a socialist. At https://www.jacobinmag.com/2015/05/bernie-sanders-president-vermont-socialist/ Sunkara talks about Sanders’ variant of socialism. I think the most important line in the piece is “Having Sanders openly defend socialism, and contest the New Democrat record before a national audience, is a baby step in the right direction.”

    I agree with Sunkara. Better a baby step than no step. People who compare Sanders to Debs like to point out that Debs ran as a 3rd party candidate. The two-party system wasn’t as firmly entrenched in Debs’ day, but it was still strong enough to prove that a third party can’t win in a two-party system without an issue as great as slavery.

  11. Oh I agree as well, I was just referring to question of whether he’s more properly labeled a democratic socialist or a social democrat. In a Vox article here: http://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2015/11/20/9767096/bernie-sanders-socialism-jacobin Sunkara says: “Sanders is, in many ways, a good social democrat. That’s not a bad start,…”

    I agree his insistence on identifying as a socialist, given the many disadvantages in US Politics is very meaningful, and I hope that his success will lead to better discourse. At the very least normalizing political terms in the US would be a victory. Getting people to admit we already live in a mixed economy, that Medicare and Social Security aren’t going anywhere, and that words mean things would be a huge step forward from as recently as 2008, when republicans would just hiss “socialist” at Barack Obama and garner approval for it. The labeling is really very schizophrenic. As an admirer of Proudhon, I’m still mad about what happened to “Libertarian” in this country.

  12. ” The locomotive of working class outrage is on a collision course with the handcart of capitalism itself… And he can’t shut the damn thing off.”

    Sanders has shown no sign of wanting to shut it off and has been doing a great deal to stoke it.

  13. Corwin, complete agreement. Especially on what happened to “Libertarian”! Almost every time I say I’m a libertarian socialist, a rightwinger smugly tells me that’s a contradiction in terms.

  14. Can I thread-jack a little? I’d like to ask what’s up with the whole “legal strike position” thing. It seems to me that it’s increasingly complicated to get into a “legal” strike position, with the effect that so-called “illegal” strikes seem to be the system protecting itself from the power of the labour force.

    What’s the socialist take on observing these requirements? Personally, I think that if labour wants to send a message, work-related or not, the only real means they have outside of participating in a badly broken system is to strike; whether that’s for fair wages /working conditionsor to protest about social justice issues. I look forward to the replies, and apologies for the thread jack — Steve, perhaps you could start a new thread to house those replies?



    BTW, an update on Derek Baller or whatever his name was. I friended him on facebook and continued to have good though infuriating conversations with him–but then he admitted that he’s a climate change denier and I blocked him immediately. *spits in disgust* It’s one thing to have a difference of opinion, wrong-headed though it may be, on subjective topics…but where science is concerned, if you can’t figure your shit out then you truly are a waste of everyone’s time and energy imo.

  15. deballed is a climate denier? not awful shocking.

    Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but you don’t get to make up your own facts.

  16. Jon: Short version: I agree with you. There was a time when all strikes were illegal, in fact, when unions were illegal. It was only through strikes that this changed. That we are going backward on this is a serious warning, and the number of union bureaucrats who simply accept this is criminal. The question is whether in order to respond to these attacks, new unions are going to have to built from the ground up.

  17. I’ve always thought that socialism had an almost insurmountable “branding” problem in the U.S. If Sanders can shift the general public’s first response away from automatically dismissing socialism or even social democracy, he would already have accomplished more than I thought was possible in the short run.

  18. Media coverage tells us all we need to know. Let’s say you are in a theater that has caught fire.

    Fox News–Brownskinned terrorists enabled by bleeding heart policies started that fire!

    CNN–There was a report of a fire. Officials have been notified and are moving to the area.

    MSNBC, BBC–silence

    NPR–Let’s talk about the fascinating history of the curtains in this theater, brought over from Bulgaria in 1911, while the building burns down around our ears.

    Pacifica Radio–

    It is critically important to leave the theater immediately! Do so now.


    As long as capital controls the means of production, we are always going to have deadly theater fires but the investor class will never be called to account.

  19. Accurate as far as it goes, but you left out

    Pseudo-intellectual: Disparaging and condescending remarks about all of the others intended to communicate his superiority without adding anything to our knowledge.

  20. Woops! I was trying for a straight-forward Marxist critique of the burning theater scenario. I apologize for doing so inartfully. Note to self–no blog comment rants while still incensed from an afternoon listening to garbage from mainstream media sources.

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