Is Bernie Sanders a sheepdog?

The entry of Bernie Sanders into the Democratic party primary race has had some on the left speculating that his role is not to try and win the nomination nor to even try and shift the debate towards more progressive policies but to essentially keep progressives within the Democratic party fold and prevent them from not voting or going to a third party.

Michael Arria thinks that this is the case.

Ironically, it seems that the DNC and left-critics of the Sanders campaign agree on a very important fact: they believe Sanders will attract a number of young voters and activists, then dutifully tell them to vote for Hillary when he drops out. The DNC sees that outcome as a win and leftists see it as a loss, but both perceive his dropout as inevitable.

The Black Agenda Report’s Bruce Dixon believes that those committed to such an inescapable outcome are assisting Sanders in playing the roll of the “sheepdog”: “The sheepdog’s job is to divert the energy and enthusiasm of activists a year, a year and a half out from a November election away from building an alternative to the Democratic party, and into his doomed effort. When the sheepdog inevitably folds in the late spring or early summer before a November election, there’s no time remaining to win ballot access for alternative parties or candidates, no time to raise money or organize any effective challenge to the two capitalist parties.”

Is Sanders a willing accomplice in this charade? An unwitting accomplice? Or completely innocent of the charge?

Election times always raise the same problem: Do you support the lesser of the two evils of the nominees of the two major parties or do you give up on the two major parties as hopelessly unchangeable and support the third party candidate who you think more closely represents your interests and risk the chance of the worse of the two evils winning? This is something that each person has to weigh and decide for themselves and I confess to frequently vacillating on this.

In debating this, I think it is pointless speculating on what candidates ‘really’ want. I have long held that it is a futile exercise to try and read the minds and motives of public figures to figure out what they are ‘really’ like because they are expert at wearing masks. You have to go with their public records of actions to judge their credibility and on that score Sanders has had a fairly consistent progressive record over decades.

(You can go to Sanders’s website to join the campaign and contribute and here to see where he stands on the issues.)


  1. anat says

    My best hope for the Bernie Sanders campaign is that he will raise interest of people on the left side of the US political spectrum, people who would otherwise stay home or vote for non-mainstream parties, and that this interest will cause Hillary Clinton to openly adopt more left-wing positions in attempt to attract this public. Him getting the nomination would be a miracle. Too bad, because his views seem over all sensible.

  2. atheistblog says

    I am outraged about all the “pundits” condescending arguments on Bernie Senators candidacy, they are emasculating us, the progressives.
    *We are supporting Sanders just to bring Hillary to left.
    Meaning: We are somehow in love with Hillary, we just want Hillary to lie to us how she is a progressive on the nomination drama. We are idiots that all we want is Hillary to spew some rhetoric, because we are idiots, we don’t know about her whole life records. If she lie like obama, then we will line up to vote for her.
    *Hillary would be only chance to elect a woman president.
    Meaning: We have to elect a person not to represent us all in the society, but just to boast that new sexual reproductive part will be in WH.

    Obama was a liar. Now Hillary took ques from obama just to get elected, like TPP F%$er obama.

  3. atheistblog says

    I voted Jill Stein in 2012, I won’t vote Hillary, there is no such thing called lesser of two evil. Its all just rhetoric. In deep, there is no lesser of two evil but only evils.

  4. moarscienceplz says

    This is giving much too much credit to the forethought of the Democratic party.

    I belong to no organized political party -- I am a Democrat.

    -Will Rogers

  5. Pierce R. Butler says

    This is something that each person has to weigh and decide for themselves and I confess to frequently vacillating on this.

    You and I (respectively in Ohio and Florida) face this most acutely because we live in closely-divided states. Those in, say, Mississippi or Massachusetts, where the major-party winners are easily predicted, have more leeway to “waste” votes on minor-party candidates, and I say that the Greens (et al.) should focus their efforts and build their organizations in those areas, not in the “purple” states.

    (Note to those outside USAstan: each state here gets a number of “electoral votes” equal to its share of Congressmembers, and all those votes go to whichever candidate gets the largest number [not even necessarily a majority] of ballots: a very lopsided system which forces presidential campaigns to neglect smaller states and put all their resources into the relative handful of populous states where neither has a clear advantage. After the debacle of 2000, the Democrats [H. Clinton in particular] promised to push a Constitutional amendment providing for direct election of presidents; to nobody’s surprise, they [she] accomplished exactly nothing in 15 years and counting.)

  6. says

    So I stay with the Democratic Party until after a nominee is chosen. If it not Sanders, what makes anyone think I won’t support a genuine progressive anyway? (Because, trust me, Clinton ain’t.)

  7. brucegee1962 says

    If there’s ever a time when the Democrats comfortably hold both houses and are reliably getting 60%+ of the presidential electorate, THEN I will start to be enthusiastic about the idea of splitting off a new party. Before then, it’s madness. Sure, both parties represent the interest of the oligarchs, who have also done a thorough job of indoctrinating most of the country into agreeing with policies that benefit the oligarchs and hurt everyone else. But that doesn’t change the fact that one party has now been taken over by raging lunatics who openly admit that their overall goal is to grind the poor into the dust. I’ll take greed over outright evil any day. The position of the Republicans on global warming, the single most important issue of our time, is also so far divorced from reality as to court charges of insanity.

  8. Brian Murtagh says

    Bernie Sanders has said he’s in it to win it, and he strikes me as that rara avis, an honest politician. (Yes, there are black swans.) I keep hearing how inevitable Hillary Clinton is, and I keep remembering how often I heard it eight years ago.

    If Sanders does lose the nomination process, he probably will encourage his supporters to support Clinton. I’m pretty sure that if he does confound the critics and win the nomination, Hillary will do likewise for him. This is a feature, not a bug.

    In the meantime, I’ve done something I didn’t even do for Obama: I’ve set up a *recurring* monthly donation to Bernie Sanders’ campaign. It’s that important.

  9. Robert B. says

    Wait, what’s the logic here? What alternate strategy is this trying to imply? Sanders is running, but he won’t get enough votes to get the nomination, and so this will just end up helping the establishment Democrat. Therefore we should… do what, exactly? Support a third party, who won’t get enough votes for anything significant, which will just end up helping the establishment Republican?

    I actually do think that real liberals should vote for real liberals. I think if everyone voted their conscience we’d be a better country. But you can’t get to that conclusion by trying to game a single election. Gaming this one election, the move is to support Sanders in the primary to pull Clinton left, and then support Clinton in the general, because the only other viable candidate will be some Republican who’s much worse.

    The reason to vote third-party (which is my plan, I’m going to support Sanders until he loses the nomination and then choose among the liberal third parties) is if you’re thinking longer-term than that. Remember that the purpose of a political party isn’t to enact policy, it’s to win elections. If liberals are “too smart” to ever let Democrats lose an election, then all the Democrats have to do is stay slightly better than the Republicans. This is while the Republicans are echo-chambering themselves into more and more extreme positions -- Bush I and Reagan would be “slightly better than the Republicans” if they ran today. Eisenhower would be way better.

    But if the Democrats see that they can in fact lose elections if they don’t watch their left flank, they’ll have to actually do something progressive once in a while. (And the Democrats, unlike the Republicans, are still reading honest polls -- they won’t see a credible threat unless we really stop voting for them.) Losing an election means four years of awful, but at least we’ll have someone better to elect next time. If we let the Democrats get too lazy and corrupt, even the elections we win will turn out awful.

  10. hyphenman says

    Good morning Mano,

    I think the possibility of Bernie winning the nomination scares the bejeezus out of our corporate masters.

    What may scare them even more would be Bernie loosing the nomination and going third party.

    The Green Party already has an organization and Bernie is famous for being an Independent Social Democrat.

    That route could work.

    In any case, the lesser of two evils is still evil and I’m done voting for evil.

    Do all you can to make today a better day,

    Jeff Hess
    Have Coffee Will Write

  11. Nick Gotts says

    The thinking* in the DNC may well be as Arria suggests; and comments here indicate that at least some of those supporting Sanders re doing so in an obviously vain attempt to push Clinton left and then get her elected (she might shift her campaign rhetoric, but that won’t change what she would do in office one iota). But events don’t always go as the “sophisticated” political thinkers expect, particularly in cases where a grassroots campaign can gain momentum. What if Sanders wins an early primary or two? The coronation of Queen Hillary could be aborted once more.

    *To use that term in its loosest sense.

  12. daved says

    I agree with Nick. The political pundits, who mostly seem to be following each other around, have decided that Hillary is inevitable. It’s well over a year till the election and the primaries aren’t till next year, and yet somehow Hillary’s nomination is cast in concrete. I disagree. I don’t know if Sanders can really get people enthusiastic or not, but given that he’s really quite mainstream in how his positions align with the average voter (as opposed to the average op-ed writer), it doesn’t violate any laws of physics for him to win the nomination.

    Don’t get me wrong — Hillary has a gigantic amount of money and huge name recognition and major organization. Sanders can’t necessarily overcome that. But Obama was way behind Hillary at this point in the 2008 race, and we know how that one turned out.

  13. Robert B. says

    Nick Gotts @ 13:

    …at least some of those supporting Sanders re doing so in an obviously vain attempt to push Clinton left and then get her elected (she might shift her campaign rhetoric, but that won’t change what she would do in office one iota).

    Yeah, it probably won’t work much -- I think “one iota” is possible, since rhetoric and action aren’t completely decoupled yet, but not much. But it’s still the move, assuming you’re on the strategy of minimizing harm from this election. (Which, as aforementioned, I’m not, but it’s a strategy I respect.) If you’re going to elect Clinton, it behooves you to do whatever you can to elect the best possible Clinton, even if it isn’t much. If the Democrats pick another centrist oligarch, the same applies -- I remember that in 2007, the 2008 general election was supposed to be Clinton v. Giuliani, so the point that Clinton might not actually have her nomination in the bag is well taken.

    I don’t think it’s likely we’ll see the Democrats nominate a real liberal, though. After seeing the way the media treats Sanders, I understand why Elisabeth Warren doesn’t want to run. But it’s still worth a shot -- sometimes you get lucky, and even if Sanders or similar doesn’t make it the side-effects of trying are, on balance, pretty good.

  14. lanir says

    Er. This narrative that one must settle by voting for the wrong person is silly. Let me break down the logic here.

    Given: An expert in a field works in it daily and has a significantly greater understanding of it which can lead to more accurate predictions and problem solving abilities within that field.
    Given: Most of the general public (me included) are not experts at politics.
    Given: Not everyone can win an election so sometimes a candidate might bow out to allow someone with similar values to win rather than risk splitting the vote and allowing someone with dissimilar values to win instead.

    So the big question is… Who should be making this decision? I think if you really look at it, the answer is obvious. The experts will know when they have enough support and when they don’t. If they fail you by not bowing out when they should (think the Egyptian presidential elections of 2012 where the Muslim Brotherhood won because two more secular progressive parties split the popular vote), then they were bad at their job. This does not then imply that everyone else needs to do their job. They’re still the ones with the actual data.

    To put this another way, how many of us do you think can be Nate Silver and statistically work out the voting percentages in a highly accurate fashion? When you factor in the data the average person has to work with the answer is simple: absolutely no one. Statistics takes hard data and a lot of work.

  15. Storms says

    Like Brian @10, I also signed up a couple of weeks ago to support Bernie with a monthly donation and also likewise this is a first for me. Bernie Sanders is the first candidate I can remember that I feel I can get behind.
    I’d still love to see a “Sanders/Warren” or even better a “Warren/Sanders” ticket.
    BTW Mano, the “W” button to use a WordPress login isn’t working in either Chrome or IE11

  16. hyphenman says

    @Lanir No. 16

    Speaking as someone you might think an expert—political science degree, work on multiple election campaigns stretching back to 1972, &c.—I’d just like to say that we experts don’t have a clue about anything except how to convince voters that we know what is best and that they should all send lots of money to pay our salaries and then just sit quietly until election day and cast their vote for the candidates we endorse.

    Jeff Hess
    Have Coffee Will Write

  17. Mano Singham says


    Can you please report the problem to the tech gurus via the “Tech Issues” button on the top left of the page?


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