"And I say, England's greatest Prime Minister was Lord Palmerston!" -
"Pitt the Elder" - Wade Boggs
"Lord Palmerston!" - Barney Gumble
"Pitt the Elder!" - Wade Boggs
"Okay, you asked for it, Boggs!" - Barney Gumble
The "Bernie vs. Hillary" flare up in the wake of Trump's election reached an absurd zenith this week over - no shit - a conjunction. Should Bernie have used "and" in a tweet, or was "but...also" sufficient? It is hard to imagine a fight more pointless than this, though pre-Inauguration backbiting still has two months to go, so we may yet find something.
The basic format of this argument goes like this:
Sanders Person: Bernie could've won!
Clinton Person: No, he couldn't have!
Everyone: [Angry Crosstalk]
There's plenty of circumstantial evidence for both sides, which I will not rehash here since if you're reading this you've probably heard all of it already, whichever side you support. (Incidentally, if the robots ever do come for us, the fact that we make incredibly sophisticated pieces of software and hardware carry this kind of self important drivel is likely to be high on the list of indictments.)
The problem with these arguments is that they're speculative and unprovable either way. We'll never know if Sanders would've beaten Trump the same way we'll never know the precise reasons Clinton fell critically short in a few unexpected states.
It's like a family argument about a long ago incident that can never be settled. Did Uncle Bert deliberately spill Aunt Helen's soup, or did he slip? That Hot Wheels car was on the floor, but whose kid left it there? Nobody's ever going to agree, and analyzing this stuff like it's the Zapruder film won't change the fact that the soup hit the deck. Meanwhile, we're all still in this together.
I understand that people are grieving over Trump's win, still in shock to a certain extent, still uncertain just how awful things are about to become. (Spoiler: very^10 awful.) Relitigating an old intra-Blue feud can be cathartic when the alternative is facing the Red nightmare to come. But there's no practical benefit to it. Consider:
- Neither Clinton nor Sanders is going to be on the ballot in 2020: Sanders will be pushing 80, and Clinton isn't going to get a third crack at this even if she wanted one.
- Nor will there be an obvious "heir" to either of them: Clinton was a unique political creature, a former First Lady and the head of the political machine she and her husband built. Sanders was also a unique political creature, an independent Senator from Vermont with limited formal ties to the Democratic Party. Nobody like either of them is in the pipeline.
- Finally, there will undoubtedly be some kind of "left-center" divide - there always is - but it's not going to be anything like the one this year: Is the lesson you want to draw that the Democrats need a candidate who can better appeal to Polling Tested Issue X? Or one who knows how to energize Base Voter Group Y? All of those arguments will get tossed into a sack and scrambled around depending on the candidates, their relative fundraising abilities, personalities, and support groups.
To illustrate how meaningless all of this is, let's recall 2004, the last time the Democrats fell to recriminations over a failed White House campaign. John Kerry eventually won the nomination on "electability" grounds, but there were plenty of Howard Dean supporters who thought he got a raw deal from the DNC and the press. (Remember, this was when even using the word "insurgents" to describe the Iraqis fighting our troops was considered controversial and politicizing.) Would Dean have won? Or even just done better? It doesn't matter, and it certainly didn't hold any lessons for 2008, by which time the Iraq War and Bush the Younger himself had both become politically toxic.
Bernie supporters are always going to wonder, "what if?" just as Clinton supporters are always going to believe that she was the best option in what turned out to be a very tough year. Each side has staked out its positions, neither can ever be proven, and that's okay. Changing someone's mind on this isn't worth ten seconds of effort, much less days on end of Twitter fights and bitter recriminations.
We've all got to vent post-Trump. There's no point doing so at our own side.