Many Democrats wish Bernie Sanders would go away. There is a lot of rhetoric about Sanders’ naivete from Republicans and Democrats alike. Even though many of those people agree that the problems he names are real and vital to solve, they are also certain that his solutions cannot work. So if he begins mounting losses before one of his supporters can vote in a party caucus or primary, should she switch to Clinton or not bother to caucus at all?
No. It actually makes more sense to continue supporting Sanders all the way to the convention, and only then throw full support behind Clinton, if she is nominated. McDonald’s is the reason why.
The idea is found in a motivational challenge offered by Jon Bell in 2013. I don’t know who Jon Bell is, but I know his idea works. He framed it in terms of finding a lunch place with his colleagues:
I recommend McDonald’s just to get people so grossed out they come up with a better idea… Like a magic spell, the moment you put [a bad idea] on the board, something incredible will happen. The room will see your ideas, will offer their own, will revise your thinking, and by the end of 15 minutes, 30 minutes, an hour, you’ll have made progress.
I used his idea at a professional conference a few months ago, and found mixed results; some of my colleagues there actually like McDonald’s, and the actual choices we could reach were significantly more upscale. But he was right that the conversation went from the polite deferrals that are often in play when no one is really in charge, to the actual subject of lunch places.
Hillary Clinton and all the Republican candidates consider Bernie’s ideas complete non-starters. They have a point. Single-payer health care can’t get through a Republican-led Senate which would rather do nothing than perform the constitutional duty of voting on a Supreme Court nominee. Minimum wage or Basic Income proposals would die in the first committee, with no hearings scheduled at all. People aren’t wrong about that.
This is in part because of enmity in Congress, but also because not enough Americans are persuaded. For the opponents of those non-starters, though, Bernie has grossed them out. He has suggested McDonald’s to a public otherwise distracted by Donald Trump’s bombast and Clinton’s struggle with verifiable undeserved infamy.
The result is that more of us are talking about the issues Sanders cares about and the real problems he names than if he hadn’t run. If his initial long-shot goal was to shape the conversation, to move the Overton Window, as people sometimes say, then perhaps his mission is accomplished by running in the first place to the level of popularity he has. He could stop today and return to the Senate, return to the appearance of Democratic party unity, and put his support behind Clinton. In fact I think that’s what he’ll do if she wins the most delegates at the end.
But if what we want is for the substantive policy conversations to continue, even if they’re simplified by his rhetoric, then it makes sense to prolong his influence. When Bernie keeps “suggesting McDonald’s,” even if he loses the nomination, the ideal solutions he proposes will continue prompting thought in national discourse.
Psychologists apparently call this strategy, “Priming,” which is easy to recognize as a strategy all politicians use to move debates around to their favor. The more Bernie talks about single-payer health care, the more talk there is about health care and its costs. It’s certainly a more practical conversation than the size of a candidate’s… hands.
Even if he loses, a mounting delegate count for Bernie will also shape the Democratic National Convention, ensuring that the conversation continues at least partially on his terms. And who knows? He might be named to run for Vice President with her.
If you’re a Democrat who likes Clinton, by all means vote for her. She’s not bad, and she’s not disqualified. But if you like Bernie, the way I do, because he correctly names the problems I want to see solved, keep adding delegates to his count all the way to the last contest. Otherwise, regardless of which front-runner the Republicans actually nominate, the race will immediately turn to the interpersonal conflicts between Clinton and whichever Republican nominee we get. Delaying that moment, even if the solutions sound like McDonald’s to you, is itself valuable.