Bernie Sanders ended his campaign nearly ten months ago. Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump about six months ago. And yet, if you regularly peruse the online discussions of left-leaning voters and activists, you’d think we’re still smack dab in the heat of the Democratic primary.
It has truly been the debate that never ends, and it really, really needs to end.
Yesterday we predictably got another fresh round of Hillary hate and Hillary defense when Clinton sat down for an interview with Christiane Amanpour, during which they discussed parts of her failed campaign. What she said didn’t really matter online, as any quote from Clinton at this point lets loose everyone’s long-held feelings on the race. And in the age of everything getting reported on Twitter, no quote can be long enough to fully address all the nuances of the 2016 election.
So we got what we always get.
“Hillary lost because she was too close to big business!”
“Comey did a partisan hit job!”
“Sanders would have won!”
“Sanders divided the party with cynicism!”
But it wasn’t just yesterday. It is literally every damn day since the 2016 election ended, where Democrats simply cannot help themselves from getting into fights online over past grudges from the campaign. There are days where I don’t care to look through Iowa Democratic social media circles because to see the same opinions repeated ad nauseam is just exhausting.
And you might think that everything else happening in Iowa politics would be at the front of Democrats’ minds.
Like the GOP-run legislature’s complete destruction of collective bargaining rights this year.
Or the defunding of Planned Parenthood that passed.
Or the new restrictions on voting rights.
Or the new “Stand Your Ground” law.
Or the looming effort to privatize Iowa schools.
Because someone, somewhere had to pipe up with an opinion on Sanders or Clinton, and the fight is replayed once again.
The other week, Pete D’Alessandro, who helped run Sanders’ Iowa Caucus campaign, announced he’s exploring a run for Congress in Iowa’s 3rd District. A great moment for Iowa’s progressive community and former Sanders supporters to get excited and start mobilizing, right? Or at least they would discuss in-depth how a Sanders-inspiried candidacy could win back voters?
Posts shared about news of his run in Iowa’s main progressive Facebook group generated all of six comments; one in the Indivisible Iowa page got just 25 likes. Meanwhile, any post with Clinton or Sanders’ face on it quickly racks up dozens to hundreds of comments and interactions.
Now, many of the former Sanders supporters do make a good point in that the Democratic Party needs to learn from its past mistakes in order to compete in 2018. And there’s been some indications that party leaders haven’t learned those lessons.
The problem, however, is that the flame wars that often result out of the never-ending Clinton/Sanders debate almost always end up being highly counterproductive.
In the months after the 2016 loss and Trump’s inauguration, the newfound activist energy on the left has mobilized largely on Facebook. That’s led to incredible turnouts for rallies, marches and legislative forums thanks to the organic, grassroots and viral nature of online organizing.
But it also pushed to the forefront the internet trolls, uncompromising extremists and people who just generally don’t understand how to have productive human interactions with other people. Newly-engaged Democrats go to these Facebook pages to find information on events and how to get involved, but they’re also bombarded with negativity. The moderators of such groups do their best to get things back on track, but it’s difficult.
And it’s starting to seriously threaten the left’s new momentum.
So what to do?
It would obviously be nice if activists would focus more of their time on the very specific local races that are coming up in 2017 and 2018 (and many do). But it’s understandable that others want to keep on talking about the president. If you watch MSNBC all day, they’re mostly talking about Trump and national issues. And it’s tough sometimes when you see all the ways in which Trump and Republicans are making the country a worse place to live to not be reminded of how they got into power in the first place.
Maybe what those Democrats need are some potential 2020 candidates to think about and discuss. Could Elizabeth Warren recapture progressive energy and appeal to working class voters? Might Cory Booker’s impassioned oratory rile up the base? Would Colorado’s John Hickenlooper serve as an interesting dark horse candidate? Will a second Martin O’Malley run catch fire? Could a young, ambitious newcomer like Congressman Eric Swalwell emerge as a real contender?
I know most people will recoil at the thought of discussing the 2020 presidential election this early, especially when there’s so many important races happening long before then. But if there’s a significant amount of the Democratic base that wants to talk about presidential races, let’s give them something new to talk about.
Because one thing’s for sure: it’d all be a hell of a lot more interesting than the nonstop Clinton/Sanders debate.
So please, for the love of God, someone, anyone, start making more noise about running for president, visit Iowa early and often, help out our local candidates here. Let’s get a new discussion going. Democrats can’t build on their momentum for the future fights if we never leave the past one behind.
by Pat Rynard