By Mark C. Poloncarz
June 9, 2016

In 1787, our nation’s forefathers met in Philadelphia to draft a new set of laws to govern the fledgling United States of America. Though they could not have known it when they gathered to create, as the Preamble to the Constitution says, “a more perfect Union,” the country governed by that Constitution would still be around 229 years later, still seeking perfection.

As our nation learned during the presidential primary season of 2016, the Constitution is silent as to the method a political party may use to choose its candidate for the presidency. In fact, the original Constitution never references the existence of political parties. No method for choosing a candidate is prescribed, only the method in which the president and vice-president are elected. As such, every four years our country goes through an imperfect process to choose each party’s nominee, and thus our president, and this year was no different.

In a country of 300 million, only one person can be elected, leaving behind one nominee, a trail of contenders and also-ran candidates in both major political parties, as well as their supporters. Losing an election can be a painful experience, and not just for the candidate. Campaign staff, volunteers and even supporters of a losing candidate who did nothing more than vote for the candidate can go through a cathartic process when the realization hits that your candidate will not be elected. Having been on the losing side of general and primary presidential elections in the past, I can tell you from personal experience the feelings are not good.

Now that the primary season for 2016 is coming to a close, those feelings are starting to be processed by supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders. There is no doubt Senator Sanders fought the good fight and accomplished much during this primary season. He highlighted issues of income inequality and general inequity in our nation, issues that needed to be discussed, and brought perhaps millions of new people into our political process. However, he will end up short of the finish line. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic Party’s candidate for president this fall.

While many supporters of Senator Sanders may not like this result, or even want to accept it, the process has played itself out and nothing will change it. Secretary Clinton won more states, more votes and a majority of pledged delegates (of which I am one), and as her “prize” for doing so she now faces Donald Trump this fall. The flood of emotions Sanders supporters are now feeling, from sadness, to bitterness, and even to anger, will not change the result, but how those emotions are tapped into over the coming weeks and months will decide the direction our nation takes.

Because, just like that hot summer of 1787, when delegates from the many states converged on Philadelphia, this July delegates from the Democratic Party will come together in Philadelphia to officially nominate Secretary Clinton as the party’s nominee. What Senator Sanders, as well as his supporters do in the next 6 weeks will help not only set the tone for the convention but whether on January 20, 2017 we as a nation inaugurate President Hillary Clinton, or President Donald Trump.

Right now many Sanders supporters are saying they will never vote for Secretary Clinton. Each person has their reason why. Having gone through primary losses in the past I understand this reaction – you believed in a candidate, worked hard for him or her, and now that you are on the losing end you cannot see yourself supporting the victor in the general election.

Yet I am surprised by the amount of vitriol by some, though certainly not all, Sanders supporters towards Secretary Clinton and her being the Democratic Party’s nominee. They all may have a difference reason for their anger, but this is the first election I can remember when that anger manifested itself as clearly as it is this year in a “Bernie or Bust” movement. If I am to believe the posts on social media, these individuals plan on sitting out this November’s election or even supporting Donald Trump before they consider voting for Hillary Clinton.

However, if these supporters truly believed in not just “candidate Bernie Sanders” but the policies and platform he stood for as a candidate, the “Revolution” he sought, they must support Hillary Clinton this fall. To do so otherwise would be a complete rejection of the ideals that formed the basis of the Sanders campaign.

When it comes to the choice this fall, the difference between the two soon to be officially designated major party candidates is as wide and as deep as the Grand Canyon. Hillary Clinton has far more in common with Sanders and his supporters than Donald Trump ever will have.

For example, Clinton supports increasing the national minimum wage. Trump does not.

Clinton supports free community college for all. Trump does not.

Clinton supports more restrictive gun control laws. Trump not only does not but he has gone on record saying there should be no gun free zones, even in schools.

Clinton opposes the Keystone pipeline and supports the Obama administration’s clean power plan. Trump supports Keystone and rejects the clean power plan.

Clinton supports the overturning of the Citizens United decision and implementing real campaign finance reform. It is unclear where Trump stands on this issue because while he says he supports campaign finance reform, like the rest of his campaign, he does not have a policy paper or statement on the matter.

In addition to having a litmus test on the Citizens United decision, Clinton has said she would appoint justices to the Supreme Court who support the Voting Rights Act and would preserve a woman’s right to choose. Trump has said his favorite justice on the Supreme Court is Clarence Thomas. That statement alone should be a good enough reason for a Sanders supporter to vote for Clinton in November (and might give us the answer to the question where he really stands on Citizens United).

If those examples are not enough, on the seminal accomplishment of President Obama’s tenure, the passage of the Affordable Care Act/Obamacare, Clinton not only supports the Act but she still carries the scars from her efforts to get healthcare reform passed in the 1990s. Her credibility when it comes to supporting a reformed healthcare system is without question. Trump would repeal Obamacare and take us back to the good-old days when insurance premiums skyrocketed every year, those who could not afford their co-pays after an illness filed for bankruptcy, and 40 million Americans were uninsured.

There is a difference between the two candidates, and as Senator Sanders might say, it is huge. It is a difference which cannot be ignored, and historical precedence indicates that if Sanders supporters do ignore it they do it at their and the nation’s peril because all we have to do is remember what happened during the 2000 election. Ralph Nader, running on the Green Party line, argued he should be supported on the left because there was no real difference between Al Gore and George W. Bush. Nader’s vote total in Florida, if it went to Gore would have swung the election to Gore.

If anyone truly believes there was no difference between Bush and Gore after the 8 years of Bush’s presidency they were not paying attention during those years, and I have yet to meet that person. Also, who amongst us thinks a Gore presidency would not have been any different than the Bush presidency? It certainly would have been different. There is no doubt we would be living in a different, and probably safer, geostrategic global environment today.

When Democrats, including yours truly, converge on Philadelphia in July I hope we come together not just as a delegates to a political party but as a diverse representation of the citizens of our country who do not agree on everything, but have far more in common than those who will support Mr. Trump this fall. If coming out of the convention we stand united in our principles and in support of Secretary Clinton we will be much closer to forming a more perfect union than if we stand apart.

While I did not agree with everything he said through the primary season, Senator Sanders ran a good campaign. He and his supporters can hold their heads up high and acknowledge that we could be a better nation because he ran and they participated in the process. I say could because if Sanders and a large portion of his supporters do not support Secretary Clinton we will not be a better nation under President Donald Trump. We will in fact be a far worse nation than we are today; a nation still searching for perfection but further away from it than we could be. The stakes are too high to allow that possibility to be a reality.

Mark C. Poloncarz is the county executive of Erie County, New York. He was a district-wide pledged delegate to the 2004 Democratic National Convention for John Kerry, a district-wide pledged delegate to the 2008 Democratic National Convention for Hillary Clinton, and has been appointed a public leader, elected official (PLEO) pledged delegate for Hillary Clinton for the 2016 Democratic National Convention.

Copyright Mark C. Poloncarz 2016