So let's talk about die-hard Bernie fans, without engaging in a subjective debate about which candidate is Better or whether he "should" drop out. My answers for those two questions, on the off chance anyone wants to bias their reading of the following with it (foreshadowing!
) are Sanders and after California, respectively.
The problem that has developed for the most strident Sanders enthusiasts boils down to a question that I ask a lot when people make implausible claims with extreme conviction – "Tax cuts create jobs" or "Obesity isn't unhealthy" for example: If this argument isn't bullshit, why does it have all of the characteristics of an argument that is bullshit? If this is true, why does the argument employ all of the rhetorical techniques of claims that are not true? Read enough of the post-May 1 arguments coming from the Sanders fanatics and with the exception of the proper nouns, the structure of the rhetoric is becoming indistinguishable from 9/11 Was an Inside Job arguments.
A few things in particular have become the foundations of all of the pro-Sanders / anti-Clinton rhetoric, at least the rhetoric from anti-Clinton people left of center. Republicans use entirely different "logic" to come to the same conclusions. Pay close attention to the arguments from your most fervent Bernie Friends and you will notice eerie similarities to the "Reverse Scientific Method" favored by conspiracy theorists everywhere.
1. Cherry picking – This is Conspiracy 101: Take all of the available data, pick out the parts that support your argument and throw out all the rest. Go through a list of 250 polls, choose three of them, and pretend the rest don't exist. Complain about Superdelegate counts, ignore that Sanders trails by a healthy margin in pledged delegates too.
2. Appeal to Skepticism / Authority – Alternately praise and deride Experts. One minute, academics and experts don't know what they're talking about and are by definition unreliable. The next minute tout the credentials and authoritative opinion of someone who agrees with you.
Denialists love this. "Scientists are full of shit. Also, look at this paper a scientist wrote proving that CO2 emissions aren't real!"
3. Arrogance / Ad Hominem – We are the enlightened seekers of truth, you are the sheeplike masses. We have a monopoly on truth and reality.
4. Moving goalposts – One minute it's about X, the next it's about Y, the next it's really all about Z. Sanders' candidacy at this point has been given any number of purposes without much discrimination. Keeping young voters engaged, helping down-ballot, moving Hillary to the left, serving as a counterweight to Trump, he's actually winning, it's a matter of principle…there is a real grab bag of options out there. When one argument is disproven (assuming the person making the argument is interested enough in facts and evidence to concede that) another is produced quickly to take its place.
5. Sudden Expertise – Like the kid who watched some 9/11 videos on YouTube and suddenly has a Ph.D. in structural engineering, lots of people who haven't paid much attention to politics until recently are able to tell the rest of us in excruciating detail how politics and elections really work. Future events are predicted with great certainty; millions of independents will guarantee a Trump victory if Clinton wins. Sanders will defeat Trump, Clinton cannot.
This group of voters will do _____. This other group of voters will do ______. Mind reading is rampant.
6. Straw Man / Impossible Standards – Here is a list of flaws about Clinton, therefore Clinton is unacceptable or cannot win. You think the nomination race is over, therefore you're a Clinton-worshiping moron. The following things about Clinton are terrible, therefore there is no difference between her and Trump. On and on it goes.
7. Rotating, contradictory arguments – We must not nominate Clinton because she will lose to Trump and that will be a disaster. Also, it doesn't matter if my refusal to vote for Clinton helps Trump win because the presidency isn't really all that important or Congress will stop Trump from doing anything nuts.
8. Sinister Forces – Like any sinking ship, the Sanders campaign is developing a rich corpus of Dolchstosslegende to explain how it was cheated. The Democratic Party certainly does exert control over the nomination process in a manner that some candidates can better exploit than others. But citing these factors makes little sense. The primary calendar was established well before Bernie Sanders decided to run, not manipulated in real time to screw him. "The media is against us" is what Republicans say when they lose. Trying to turn the recent events in Nevada – which involved four delegates and is almost entirely bullshit anyway (but Politifact is not to be trusted anymore!) – reads like a textbook chapter on how persecution complexes develop in groups.
The problem is these issues aren't isolated to The Rabble in internet comment sections, a group not usually associated with making high quality arguments based on facts. This rhetoric is coming from high-ranking staffers and the candidate himself lately. After California's primary any scenarios in which Sanders wins the nomination will be so far out there that, were the campaign interested in my advice (note: it certainly is not) it might be more productive at this point to start thinking of ways to make a dignified exit that maintains and consolidates some of the positive accomplishments of the campaign. It seems like there is more to gain from coming out of this with one's credibility in tact than from adopting a down-in-the-bunker mentality. I used this exact same analogy with Clinton when she lost to Obama in 2008: In the short- and long-term, the guys who said "Oh well, we tried, let's go surrender to some Americans" did vastly better than the ones who fought until the Soviets were within earshot and then killed themselves.