So far, America’s most powerful labor unions are more likely to endorse Hillary Clinton than Bernie Sanders, even though Sanders’ beliefs are more pro-labor than Clinton’s. This is dumb. And fearful.
It is fairly uncontroversial to say that Bernie Sanders has a stronger pro-labor record than Hillary Clinton, and a purer, more ideologically driven commitment to core labor issues than Hillary Clinton, whose career is a testament to a politically savvy tendency to support things based on political calculations. Sanders has spawned an entire grassroots “Labor for Bernie” movement, which is chock full of upset members of labor unions that have chosen not to endorse Bernie Sanders.
The LA Times notes today that Hillary Clinton has already won the union endorsement battle, mathematically speaking: “National unions representing more than half of America’s 14.6 million unionized workers are already in Clinton’s corner,” and a probably Clinton endorsement from the SEIU would add 2 million more union members to her side. But behind these numbers lies an equally widely acknowledged fact within the labor movement: they agree with Bernie Sanders more. They just think that Hillary Clinton has a better chance of winning.
And this gets to the larger issue that confronts not just unions or other interest groups, but voters on all sides of the political spectrum each time election season rolls around. Do you support the candidate that best embodies your own political and ethical beliefs? Or do you try to play political forecaster and cast your vote for the candidate in your party that you think has the best chance of beating the candidate from the other party at some point in the future?
Vote for your beliefs. Vote for your beliefs! This entire dynamic creates the most futile self-fulfilling prophecy in American politics. People bemoan our two-party system; they bemoan the fact that both major party candidates are beholden to rich and powerful interests rather than to common people; and then... they go out and vote for those same candidates, because they think that they are the lesser of two evils. It is not hard to see how this creates a situation in which the very things that we complain about will never change, because we support them with our votes. At least in the primary elections—the purpose of which is to produce the candidate that best represents your party’s beliefs—voters should go all out on behalf of whoever most embodies what they believe. Polls be damned. Polls reflect the way we vote, not the other way around. Humans are horrible forecasters, by the way. Just look back at a random sampling of old political or financial punditry if you don’t believe that. Voting based upon your own forecast of what will or won’t play well politically is as misguided as it is self-defeating. What will play well politically with you is what you believe, as long as you vote for the person who represents those beliefs. Don’t sell out your own vote.
If you are desperately worried about inequality and gross wealth disparity and Wall Street power increasing while the influence of average people decreases, you should probably vote for Bernie Sanders. (Hell, if you are most concerned with America’s careless stance towards the Great Pyramids, you should probably vote for Ben Carson. Same principle.) There is no reason for the labor movement not to back the most pro-labor candidate. There is no reason to do the job of your political enemies for them. It is true that when the final election rolls around, we may be stuck voting for the lesser of two evils. But for now, we can vote for someone we actually agree with. There is nothing more dispiriting than watching someone drop their progressive beliefs at the door of the voting booth. Nothing will change unless we change it.