Bye, Bye Bernie: Opportunism, Loss and Socialist Distortion

Hutch Harris (the Thermals) may have performed at a Bernie Sanders rally, but he’s not a Bernie Bro.

Leading up to the 2016 United States presidential election, the Talkhouse has asked our contributors to weigh in on voting and what it means to them. Hutch Harris of the Thermals kicks off our series below.
— Brenna Ehrlich, editor-in-chief of the Talkhouse Music

I play in a band that has the (at times) strange fortune of being thought of as an entity of goodwill. It’s a position that I’ve never felt entirely comfortable in, and I often find myself explaining to people that we are just musicians trying to express ourselves while still earning a decent living. I would love to say that we’ve accepted every benefit show request that we’ve received. I can assure you that we haven’t. But when the Bernie Sanders campaign called us in late March 2016, our ears perked up — and when they asked us to perform at a rally in Portland, Oregon, we said “yes,” despite the fact that we weren’t huge Bernie supporters.

Before this year, it had been hard for me to see Sanders as anything but a spoiler in Hillary Clinton’s way — or just an unrealistic option. I had previously joked onstage at comedy shows about him, “Bernie Sanders has done a terrific job of uniting Democratic voters with a single goal: making sure a woman doesn’t become president.” This joke sounded less funny to me the louder the Bernie Bros got. Was misogyny just a tool that the Bros were using to bash Clinton, or their real reason to oppose her?

Sanders was seen by many in Portland as a true liberal messiah, and his supporters didn’t like being told that they were wasting their time.

My favorite personal takedown of Bernie was based on what I thought was a naïve perception voters had about Sanders and the electoral process in general: “If you have a bumper sticker that says, ‘I’m Voting for Bernie Sanders,’ you should replace it with one that says, ‘I Don’t Understand How Politics Work in This Country.’” This joke was not popular in blue-as-it-is-green Portland, Oregon. Sanders was seen by many in Portland as a true liberal messiah, and his supporters didn’t like being told that they were wasting their time.

Which is not to say that I wasn’t swayed by Bernie’s peace, love and socialism platform. Sanders’ campaign invited us not only to perform, but also to attend a short meet-and-greet with the candidate before the rally at Portland’s Moda Center on March 25, 2016. The audience was a small who’s who of Portland hipsters, most of whom were purveyors of one of the city’s hottest commodities: music or food, naturally. Singer-songwriter Matt Ward brought his adorable son. Voodoo Donuts owner Tres Shannon brought Bernie-shaped donuts. Sanders sat down with the group and took a few questions. I was already familiar with many of his policies, but what struck me about him was that he seemed like a real person who genuinely cared about this country and for all of its citizens. I was very glad that we were supporting Bernie, and I did want him to win the nomination. There was even a short window during which I believed that he could win not just the nomination, but the presidency. In March of 2016, Bernie Sanders was polling against Trump better than Clinton and appeared to be the Democratic candidate to take on the toupeed billionaire and beat him in an insanely divided election: the bluest of blues versus the reddest of the reds.

Sanders lasted much longer than other “out there” Democratic presidential hopefuls.

There’s an old leftie adage that says, “If you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention.” This is as true as it has ever been; many voters on both the Left and Right are paying a lot of attention, and many are very angry. Our politicians and processes are flawed at best and corrupt at second best. If you were a Sanders supporter, you may be angered by Clinton’s clinching of the nomination and Sanders’ subsequent fall from grace — but you shouldn’t be surprised. Sanders lasted much longer than other “out there” Democratic presidential hopefuls such as Howard Dean or Dennis Kucinich who, as Icarus flew too close to the sun, leaned too far to the left.

If you’ve followed U.S. Presidential primaries in the past, you know that candidates like Bernie just don’t make it to the finals — Hillary was the DNC’s foregone conclusion (before Sanders’ campaign picked up steam) and is now their nominee, having (however deviously) sucked all of that steam out of Sanders’ engines.

Do I sound cynical? I am. I knew I was as soon as I saw Zia McCabe (of the Dandy Warhols) take the stage that day in March at the Sanders rally. Zia gave a rousing, impassioned speech to start off the show — packed at more than eleven thousand people. She was energized for Bernie’s run (in a way I wished I could be) — the whole crowd was. We (the Thermals) were energized when we got up and played “Now We Can See” to thousands of Sanders supporters, but for a simpler reason — we are entertainers, this is what we do. It definitely felt very special to be part of the event. Incidentally, this is the rally at which the now famous bird flew right up to the podium as Bernie was speaking — an incredibly “Portland” thing to happen, and a beautiful part of a truly magical day.

Here’s the coldest, hardest truth, Bernie Bros: you may be angry, but you still have two choices.

Now, in mid-July, with the Democratic National Convention rapidly approaching and Clinton having all but clinched the nomination, I feel more than ever tuned to the reality that magic doesn’t win elections — money, power and (sometimes) votes do.

Did I see performing at the Bernie Sanders rally as an opportunity to promote our band? Of course I did. It took place on the same day our record came out. Performing (even one song) to a packed stadium in our hometown? We’ll never have a better record release show. Did we use the Sanders campaign for our own gains? No more than it used us. You hype me and I’ll hype you — hey, that’s show business. Did I grow to love Bernie Sanders and everything he stood for? Absolutely. But I’m not surprised his campaign ultimately failed — I’m surprised he made it as far as he did.

Here’s the coldest, hardest truth, Bernie Bros: you may be angry, but you still have two choices — and one of them is an angry, failed businessman who hates women and minorities and panders mainly to undereducated bigots. If you love your country as much as you loved Sanders, you will support Clinton. It may be too late to vote for Bernie, but it’s not too late to vote against Trump.

Hutch Harris was born in New York City, raised in Silicon Valley and has resided in Portland, Oregon for the past twenty years.  Harris founded and was the lead singer/songwriter of the Thermals. He is currently working on his first solo LP. Follow Harris on Twitter here.

(Photo Credit: Westin Glass)