During an interview with MSNBC's Chris Hayes on Monday, Susan Sarandon said that she might not vote for Hillary Clinton, in the event the Democratic frontrunner wins the nomination.
“I don’t know. I’m going to see what happens,” said Sarandon, coyly responding to a question from Hayes in an interview largely about what she is hearing from Sanders voters on the campaign trail. Then, asked about the dangers posed by a President Trump, she replied, “Some people feel that Donald Trump will bring the revolution immediately if he gets in, things will really explode.”
"How could she?" Clinton fans erupted, some going so far as to erroneously state that Sarandon had said she might vote Trump. (She did not.) I could collate a bunch of tweets telling Sarandon to “shut up,” calling her old or a nut job, and questioning what kind of woman she is, and then decide with no evidence that they are broadly representative of Clinton voters. But then I would be guilty of the very same bad-faith analysis that Sarandon's detractors are.
At Slate, Michelle Goldberg contended that Sarandon was just another example of how the hapless left becomes a tool of reaction. To wit: Sarandon can only consider not voting for the candidate Michelle Goldberg prefers, Goldberg writes, because of her privilege: Being “a rich white celebrity with nothing on the line,” she writes, makes Sarandon “a perfect spokeswoman” for those who might not vote Clinton.
Not that there’s any empirical evidence to suggest that your average Sanders voter pledging not to support Clinton is a wealthy, white, left-wing actress. But you get the point. Sarandon, she says, won’t be the one to bear the brunt of “widespread persecution of undocumented immigrants, the appointment of Supreme Court judges who will jettison Roe v. Wade, the end of any federal action on global warming, and a ramping up of American war crimes.”
Now, it’s entirely fair to argue that Sanders supporters should vote for Clinton if she is the nominee. I might if I didn’t live in deep-blue Rhode Island. And certainly, recent history makes the Leninist notion that right-wing government can beneficially “heighten the contradictions" laughable. It is also a little funny, however, to hear Goldberg, who supports a militarist hawk in the primary when she could support another candidate, warning that a Trump presidency could lead to more "war crimes."
The outraged handwringing, then, isn’t about Sarandon’s privilege. It’s about the Democratic establishment’s utter cluelessness when it comes to left-wing voters, to people tenuously engaged in the process who may be voting for the first time, and to people who choose not to vote more generally.
In reality, the people who don't vote are not privileged: The poorer someone is the less likely they are to vote, as Sean McElwee pointed out last year at Politico.
“In the 2012 election, 80.2 percent of those making more than $150,000 voted, while only 46.9 percent of those making less than $10,000 voted,” McElwee wrote. “On average, each bracket turned out to vote at a rate 3.7 percentage points higher than the bracket below it.”
Why don’t people, poor or otherwise, vote? If you asked them, they might tell you about barriers, including voter ID, felony disenfranchisement, cumbersome registration procedures and trouble getting to the polls during a busy work day. They might also say, however, why bother voting, because they feel disconnected or alienated from the process, because they feel like their votes don’t matter. No one has a closer look at the failed bipartisan establishment than people whose impoverished condition has remained unchanged under governments of both parties. Hectoring people about their responsibility to stop Bush, stop Romney and stop Trump doesn't qualify as inspiring.
Okay, but Goldberg presumably wasn’t talking about poor people too alienated to vote. She was writing about people who should know better, like Susan Sarandon. Self-identified militants of the left who are supposed to get in line and vote for the Democratic nominee. It’s fine to make the case that leftists should support Clinton should she win the nomination because Donald Trump would be an unmitigated disaster. He would. But what's curious about the Democratic establishment is that it hates the left yet still feels as though they have some sort of proprietary right over their votes.
What the establishment refuses to understand about the left, as Andrew O’Hehir once put it, is that we don’t belong to you: “We are, by definition, your political opponents.”
Indeed, what’s most remarkable about the Bernie Sanders campaign is that leftists who have long wanted nothing to do with the Democratic Party are now actively participating in it. In response, the left has been on the receiving end of widespread derision and abuse. When Sanders recently stated that he, a longtime independent, had decided to run as a Democrat because it was a more pragmatic choice, Donna Brazile called his statement “extremely disgraceful.” Interesting, because that's the same Brazile, who as Al Gore's campaign manager in 2000, blamed Ralph Nader's "running as an independent" in 2000 for helping to "usher in eight of the worst years our country has ever seen."
The establishment can't seem to make up its mind: Do they want the left inside the party or out?
But most Sanders voters are not longtime leftists. (Or “subscribers to Jacobin,” in Goldberg's derisive estimation. Ouch!) In reality, most Sanders voters are just people fed up with establishment politics and economics, not the seasoned militants whom Michelle Goldberg does not like on Twitter.
Militant socialist fulminations notwithstanding, most Sanders voters will no doubt vote for Clinton in November. But many people are so fed up with or alienated by the status quo that they don’t vote at all—and still won’t, even if Sanders is the nominee. The ginned up outrage over Sarandon reflects a status quo mindset that has fueled Sanders's rise, made a man like Donald Trump appealing to members of a labor movement that Bill Clinton helped shatter, and prompted a mass exodus from both major parties. It’s time that establishment apologists got over it: Either join the revolution or stop disingenuously complaining about it.