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Is Bernie Sanders in a Codependent Relationship with Democrats?

by Jay Stooksberry, published

Bernie Sanders’ campaign was recently threatened with being locked out of the Democratic National Convention’s database—a devastating blow to any campaign, especially one buoyed by grassroots efforts. The penalty was in response to a Sanders staffer accessing data that was intended for the Hillary Clinton camp.

Just days after this dustup, Sanders appeared on stage next to Clinton for the third debate of the primary season. Following what appeared to be a heavy handed penalty by the DNC, Sanders earned a unique opportunity to leverage his bully pulpit and call out the “political establishment” that he has been rallying against throughout his campaign.

But what did he do instead? He apologized. Rather than ride the wave of outrage that was roaring toward the DNC, Sanders not only apologized to Hillary Clinton, but also to his supporters.

Many observers characterized this as Sanders “rising above” the routine pettiness inherent in politics. However, one could argue that this was Sanders caving to the routine partisanship inherent in politics. Rather than using this as a “teachable moment” to demonstrate the abuses of party politics, Sanders enabled the party’s arbitrary and questionable behavior by not calling it all to task.

And this isn’t the first time that the DNC has undermined the Sanders campaign.

Even from the eyes of an independent, it is painfully apparent that the party would prefer Clinton over Sanders. Many critics argue that the infrequent and awkwardly scheduled Democratic debates only serve to benefit Clinton, who has been the party’s presumed nominee well before she announced her candidacy.

Clinton received little to no scrutiny following her announcement—mostly due to her almost monkish avoidance of the public. After one month of declaring her intentions for the White House, she was asked a total of seven questions by the media.

What’s strange though is the asymmetrical relationship that exists between the Democrats and Sanders. Despite the lack of support, Sanders—an independent Senator—has been beholden to the Democratic Party for most of his career in the Senate, and he has shied away from situations that would potentially harm that relationship. Due to his avid fan base, questions surfaced about a potential third party bid by Sanders. Sanders was quick to

quell any suspicions that he would run the risk of splitting votes with the Democratic nominee and “help elect some right-wing Republican.”

If not elected, Sanders intends to endorse Clinton. (Don’t kid yourself if you are an O’Malley supporter.) Sanders has adopted a purposefully uncritical approach to Clinton. He has publicly stated that he doesn’t intend to attack her during his election. Also, the most played soundbite of this election cycle was Sanders vociferously stating his frustration over “hearing about [Clinton’s] damn emails!” — a statement made in support of Clinton during another round of Benghazi hearings.

It is commendable that Sanders isn’t falling into the vicious cycle of cynical politics that we have all acclimated to over the years. It would be lovely if more politicians adopted his civil tone.

However, it begs the question: Why is Sanders still embracing a party that obviously doesn’t embrace him?

Though he has positioned him as a political outsider, Sanders has worked hand-in-hand with the Democratic Party for the entirety of his political career in the Senate. He’s caucused with the party on most major legislative pushes. He has endorsed every single Democratic candidate since being elected to his current post.

Sanders has gone to bat for the Democrats, and they haven’t really returned the favor. This is because, simply put, the Democratic Party doesn’t have to. As deeply embedded as the party is and as far as their infrastructure extends, they call the shots. If Bernie wants in their database, he has to toe the line.

Furthermore, if Sanders was to lash out against the DNC, he would run the risk of alienating potential Democratic "super delegates"—something that his campaign is in dire need of avoiding at the moment.

The Sanders of today should consider revisiting the Sanders of yesteryear who usually had some choice phrases about the Democratic Party. During his more “radical years” in Vermont, Sanders was quoted, “My own feeling is that the Democratic Party is ideologically bankrupt.” He continues, “We have to ask ourselves, ‘Why should we work within the Democratic Party if we don’t agree with anything the Democratic Party says?”

Why, indeed.

Photo Credit: Joseph Sohm /

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