Turn down the flame, Bernie supporters

Supporters of Bernie Sanders, you have some work ahead of you.

I am not referring to the long odds you face in the delegate math on the way toward getting your candidate nominated. I’m talking about what you’ll need to do if you manage to pull it off.

This past weekend I had the privilege of serving as a delegate at the Maine Democratic Convention. (I obviously did so using my real name.) I was there in support of Hillary Clinton. However, like most Clinton supporters, I went into the convention fully prepared to support her opponent if he ends up with the nomination.

While what happened there didn’t change my mind about how I might vote in November, it sure made the climb there steeper.

Sanders supporters booed, heckled, harassed, and persistently shouted down voices speaking against positions they preferred or in support (perceived or otherwise) of Clinton. For a voter who does not yet #FeelTheBern, it made me want to put on flame-retardant clothing.

The first sign of trouble began with discussion of the role certain Democratic party leaders and elected officials — the now-infamous “superdelegates” — play in choosing the nominee. Sanders won Maine’s caucus and was allotted more pledged delegates, but only one of the state’s superdelegates has thus far committed to voting for him. His campaign has argued that superdelegates in states he’s won ought to support him.

As the Portland Press Herald euphemistically put it, things got “lively” when an amendment to award superdelegates proportionately was introduced on the floor. Those who had the temerity to defend the status quo were loudly booed. In the end, the amendment’s supporters carried the day and in 2020 the superdelegates will be divvied up in accordance with the popular vote, pretty much obviating the point of having them in the first place.

Things took a further turn for the worse when former Representative Barney Frank took the podium as the official surrogate for Clinton. As he made a point of mentioning, since the outcome of the pledged delegate tally wasn’t going to change no matter what he said, he focused on why Bernie supporters should be willing to support Hillary if she ends up being the nominee. He paid specific attention to the Supreme Court, which currently hangs in the balance.

But Frank’s pragmatic rhetoric and focus meant little to some vocal opponents in the crowd. They tried to shout him down. They heckled him with cries of “sell-out” because he dared to support the other candidate. They interrupted him at countless intervals.

As Frank himself asked at numerous points while trying to make himself heard, is this how people in the Sanders camp think a democracy ought to run? That debates between themselves and their opponents should be little more than shouting matches, the loudest side winning?

Because you don’t become one of the most effective liberal voices in the House of Representatives without being pretty damn redoubtable (not for nothing is Frank’s name on the legislation passed to regulate the financial industry in the wake of the 2008 crisis), he was able to hold his own. “One heckler at a time, please” he politely requested while trying to have a nuanced discussion about fracking. If this past weekend’s events are any indication, the Clinton campaign should fly him to all the upcoming state conventions. I’ll chip in for airfare and lozenges.

To their credit, I heard some members of the Sanders camp admonish their side for its behavior, and some personally apologize to Frank for his treatment. But that spirit of comity was sadly limited.

Toward the end of the convention, the Democratic candidates for Maine’s two congressional districts addressed the assembly, including Chellie Pingree, the 1st district incumbent, a reliably progressive voter in the House.

Did her voting record buy her much goodwill with the crowd? Not when her perceived support as a superdelegate for Clinton was on the line.

“As soon as Pingree took the stage, people around the arena started yelling her down,” a fellow delegate from my county reported to me. (I had to leave before the very end of the Convention, due to babysitter-related constraints.) “There were cries of ‘change your vote!’ and boos. She asked that she be allowed to thank the person who introduced her, and tried to start her prepared remarks. About half a dozen young men up in the stands, so they probably were guests and not delegates, all yelled ‘fuck you’ together repeatedly. Chellie just kept talking.”

That’s just lovely.

Except Pingree went on to criticize the superdelegate system herself, and express support for proportionate allocation of delegates. She also said she is not yet committed to voting for either candidate and will decide in July, so those “fuck you”s were a bit premature.

Throughout the convention, the heckling and booing came entirely from one side. The calls for unity came almost entirely from the other. (They were conspicuously absent from any of Sanders’s official surrogates’ remarks, and I was listening for them hard.)

I am not going to make any idiotic bluffs about not supporting Sanders if he ends up being the nominee. The stakes are too high, and the GOP opposition too ghastly. Just within the past several days, assured Republican nominee Donald Trump has not only said that women have it easy in the balance between the sexes, but has suggested he will handle the national debt by destroying the world’s economy. There is no option whatsoever for me to vote for him.

But I have no great enthusiasm for supporting Sanders much at this point, either. I’m not a member of the Clinton campaign, just a solitary voter who actually prefers her as a potential President based on both her experience and her approach to policy. (Also, I actually like her.) And I have very little desire to go knock on doors or sit down at a phone bank alongside people who think it was reasonable and appropriate to insult and mau-mau those who supported the same candidate I did.

All the talk about unity within the Democratic Party has focused on Clinton’s task of reaching out to Sanders supporters, which makes sense given her lead in both the pledged delegate count and the popular vote. But if by working the same superdelegate system they loudly decry the Sanders campaign manages to make him the nominee, there will need to be outreach in the other direction, too. There are about 2.5 million more people who voted for her than him, and our votes and support will be important over the next six months.

So for people who want me to #FeelTheBern, I suggest you point your flamethrower somewhere else.

Photo by Phil Roeder

Daniel Summers

Daniel Summers is a pediatrician in New England, formerly known hereabouts under the pseudonym Russell Saunders. He contributes to The Daily Beast, and his writing has appeared in Salon, Cato Unbound, iO9, and The New Republic. You can follow him on Twitter @WFKARS


  1. If I can find a Clinton supporter who’s a jerk, do I get to use that to justify not voting for Clinton?

  2. Neato! someone who actually prefers the Mad Bomber!
    Tell me, what country should we destroy next?
    The Powers that Be only ask that you find someplace… unimportant.

  3. I also prefer HRC over Uncle Bernie Doc. Don’t feel too bad. We are at the phase of the campaign where the losing side tantrums and hissy fits. We went through a similar phase in 2008 with the PUMAs. Winning gracefully and reaching out to the disaffected losing side is, alas, just another of the burdens that the winning nominee has to shoulder.

  4. Will even the nastiest, snarliest, vulgarest #FeelTheBerners fail to have the piss utterly scared out of them when Clinton’s nomination becomes fait accompli following the California primary, and FiveThirtyEight.com starts reporting that Trump has an actual shot?

    Or would they seriously pull a massive NaderRaider-2000, and stay home?

  5. I didn’t realize that superdelegates were awarded by state or that the state-level party had any say. I thought it was a national party thing. But according to (what little I read from) that Portland Press article, I was wrong.

  6. How responsible do you think a candidate should be for his supporters generally?

  7. Just to set the record straight, if the Republicans had a super delegate system, they would not have Donald Trump. In the old days, party candidates were chosen in those non-mythical smoke filled rooms by party leaders. Then the whole primary thing came along and, if not for the decidedly undemocratic caucuses, served the purpose of allowing voter participation to a reasonable extent. However, to ensure that the chosen candidate was respectable and reflected the core values of the Party, those hard-working Party members who been most integrally involved in the good of the Party—Governors, Senators, other political participants—were each given a vote. I don’t know about the rest of you, but although I support the democratic process up to a point, some of the decisions made by politically uneducated voters have in the past been little short of disastrous. I’m down with the idea of having some votes by people who know who are clear on who and what they’re voting for. It’s unfortunate that Maine’s Democrats allowed themselves to be bullied into changing a rule that has served us well for many years. And there is a HUGE difference between being pissed and having tantrums versus heckling opponents with obscenities. It says a lot about Senator Frank’s strength of character that he was able to withstand this incredibly infantile behavior. If he’s like me, he probably went home and took a shower to wash the slime off.

  8. I think what you saw had nothing to do with Bernie and everything to do with a dislike/ distaste/ distrust of the “old boy network” which in this case appears to be conspiring to put Clinton in the White House (creating with it a new definition of irony). Yes Clinton is winning the delegate count at the moment but the Super Delegates should have held their votes longer to avoid the ~appearance~ that this was all pre-determined and just an exercise in futility. I honestly don’t think much vitriol was intended for any individual but for the idea that those individuals were seen as proxies for: The Man Deciding Who Should Lead Rather Than the People.

    And frankly, the way I’ve watched people go, I don’t think it will change if/when Clinton hits her magic number. At that point, people will double down on their distaste. They may vote for her, but I don’t think they’ll be particularly nice to her while doing it. And I don’t think it’s inherently sexist; I think it’s built on the idea that she’s been a public figure/ politician so long, she’s perceived by the younger voters as “part of the system”.

    It’s a shame that the convention did not go well, and that people’s anger wasn’t better directed.

  9. One of the things that has me wondering whether it will work is the pivot from being the pragmatic grown-up in the room who knows how the world works to being the morally indignant champion fighting for what is right.

    This is a pivot that plenty of folks have done before, of course, so it is possible in theory… I just don’t know that Hillary Clinton will do it as well as we have seen others do it.

    Of course, she might be awesome at this and once Trump starts negging the Berniebros, they’ll grumble at first but then enjoy that they can get (back) on the morally indignant champion train and fight against the odious Trump.

    How good do you think she’ll be at this?

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