Bernie Sanders and the Sheepdog Approach

INTRODUCTION:  The term “sheepdogging” comes up in my mind whenever people talk about the 2016 presidential election. Here are excerpts and links to two articles by Bruce A. Dixon to explain both the “sheepdog” approach, and the alternative. I hope you find this memorable and engaging too.
— Laura

Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders: Sheepdogging for Hillary and the Democrats in 2016
Submitted by Bruce A. Dixon on Wed, 05/06/2015 – 16:09

Bernie Sanders is this election’s Democratic sheepdog. The sheepdog is a card the Democratic party plays every presidential primary season when there’s no White House Democrat running for re-election. The sheepdog is a presidential candidate running ostensibly to the left of the establishment Democrat to whom the billionaires will award the nomination. Sheepdogs are herders, and the sheepdog candidate is charged with herding activists and voters back into the Democratic fold who might otherwise drift leftward and outside of the Democratic party, either staying home or trying to build something outside the two party box.
1984 and 88 the sheepdog candidate was Jesse Jackson. In 92 it was California governor Jerry Brown. In 2000 and 2004 the designated sheepdog was Al Sharpton [NOTE from Laura: For 2000, the designated sheepdog may have been Bill Bradley. Ralph Nader declined that role.], and in 2008 it was Dennis Kucinich. This year it’s Vermont senator Bernie Sanders. The function of the sheepdog candidate is to give left activists and voters a reason, however illusory, to believe there’s a place of influence for them inside the Democratic party, if and only if the eventual Democratic nominee can win in November.

This is What Happens When We Follow the Democrat Sheepdog. And What Can Happen If We Don’t
Submitted by Bruce A. Dixon on Wed, 06/03/2015 – 01:51

The hopeful word is always that the defeated sheepdog remains firmly committed to pushing the Democratic nominee leftward, both on the campaign trail and even more hopefully in the White House. But this never happens either. Losing Democratic nominees Mondale, Dukakis, Gore and Kerry adopted none of the positions of their sheepdog primary opponents on peace or climate change or mass transit or housing or racial and economic justice, and Democratic winners Clinton and Obama ignored them in the White House as well.

[The entire article is well worth reading. Bruce Dixon talks about a viable alternative to replaying the “sheepdog” scenario.]


About Laura Wells: Solutions
Write-in candidate for Congress, District 13, in June 2018. I ran for Controller in California in 2014 on a State Bank and Tax The Rich platform. I am part of the “No Corporate Money” Campaign, in which candidates pledge to take no corporate money and voters declare our intention to vote for no-corporate-money candidates. As a Green Party candidate for Governor of California in 2010, I was arrested outside a gubernatorial debate for “trespassing at a private party.” But we won't stop, and so let's create a "public party" where we debate solutions to California's finances, like implementing a State Bank and taxing the rich -- to reduce the disparity and open up opportunities. Twitter: @LauraWellsCA Gmail: LauraWells4Congress

5 Responses to Bernie Sanders and the Sheepdog Approach

  1. Laura Wells says:

    [NOTE: I thought blog readers might like to see these comments from my Facebook post of this same piece. The last one is my own response to the comments. Laura]

    Chuck Reutter – – It would be nice if the people active with the Green Party would start seeking election to local office so a reputation can be built. For example, Gail Richardson in the city of Richmond, California. There were members of the Green Party elected to the Santa Monica city council and one of them returned to the Democratic Party for a very good reason.

    Jennifer Gopinathadasi Woodward – – Cynical “sheepdog” slurs on Bernie Sanders are a poor attempt to add credibility to a lack luster largely dysfunctional Green Party, and parties, in the USA. And blaming Bernie takes the focus off the dysfunctions in our Green Parties. Awww. Green Parties can’t win hardly any elections! Or offer Greens and likely Green voters any really qualified candidates to vote for. Who’s fault is that?

    REPLY TO ABOVE by Terrance Tovar – – Thank you Maam! Yes that is the way to grow our party….lets just attack others…..that will draw people to the cause. Until we change our structure or get serious about winning elections and get rid of some of the big egos in the GP….nothing will change.

    Bert Heuer – – As I see it, the reason the followers of the sheepdog have nowhere else to turn is a lack of long term committment and focus on the electoral process within Green Party. GP(CA) needs a multi-year, multi-cycle plan to gain, as Chuck accurately points out, reputation (a.k.a. voter trust). That means (a) it means building genuine (and coherent) internal party support for campaigns, (b) changing the candidate selection process to eliminate space cadets and the grossly unqualified, and (c) finding a way to keep up momentum in face of regular losses in the plan’s early cycles before voter trust exists.

    REPLY TO ABOVE by Jennifer Gopinathadasi Woodward – – Here here, Bert. And nice to finally read a post from you too.

    Ed Cullen – – I liked Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Dennis Kucinich, but particularly Barry Commoner (who I actually got to vote for in the general). Bernie Sanders is the best candidate on the bus now. He is being minimized by the big media and now by Bruce Dixon, who would have thought he was such a threat? And what alternative do we have, as Chuck Reutter so cogently outlines?

    Laura Wells – – Richmond, CA has been a ray of hope! Gayle McLaughlin and other Richmond Progressive Alliance candidates have run and won against Chevron. Greens (like Mayor Gayle) and Democrats pledge to take NO CORPORATE MONEY, and that means no developer money either. To continue to expect that corporate-backed political parties and their candidates will be on our side is … whatever. They can’t and won’t be on our side. What to do? DO VOTE, every election, but make your voting process a lot easier: only vote for candidates that refuse corporate and developer money. Also, see the latter part of Bruce Dixon’s second article in the blog.

  2. Attacking greens for a analysis or criticism of the democrats is hurting democracy. Building a Green Party without corporate money is difficult, but past parties worked for many decades to be elected. It starts at the grass roots where advances are being made. Join the Green Party and allies who pledge not to take corporate money!

  3. NOTE: This comment has two parts, (1) a comment of mine and (2) a batch of Facebook comments, continued from the batch posted here on July 16.


    Additional responses will be in future blogs, one of which has the working title of “Green Party Should Start Local. Really?” For now, here’s one response, entitled…

    Unity between Bernie and Green Supporters

    I posted Bruce Dixon’s articles because I was really struck by the pattern of “sheepdogging.” I learned something. Dixon laid out the history since 1984 of presidential elections with no incumbent Democrat, and pointed out the lack of impact the maverick/sheepdog candidates had on the nominees’ platforms and on the elected presidents‘ policies. History — that I have lived — became more clear to me.

    What I did NOT want to do is divide Bernie supporters from Green supporters. We have similar values and perspectives on the problems we face. Yikes, in many cases, the same people hold both positions. The important question for Bernie supporters is this: What will you do if Bernie loses in the primaries? What happens to the revolution?

    I just found an OpEdNews piece

    Please read that. A key excerpt toward the beginning, “As a Bernie Sanders supporter … I find the danger of Bernie involuntarily playing Hillary’s sheepdog alarmingly real. If had my druthers, every supporter of Bernie Sanders’ presidential run–including his strategic choice to run as a Democrat–would read Dixon’s article, memorize it, recite it before bed, and have nightmares over it.” (I hope to skip the nightmares, but he makes his point!)

    What will you do if Bernie loses in the primaries? If we want to keep the political revolution going, we need to break up this two-party system that the billionaires and corporations have bought out. The Green Party has been trying to do that for years. (By the way, I’ve often thought that to blame the Green Party for their weakness is like blaming the poor for their poverty. Yes, we make mistakes, but the system cuts other parties and people slack; they hobble us.)

    If the Democratic Party won’t do it, then maybe we can crack open this system — we Bernie supporters and Green supporters, we who won’t give in and give up. Maybe together we can move forward.


    Alan Collins – – The way to stop whatever dysfunction exists around the Green Party in some places is to stop endorsing Democrats and make abundantly clear the wide chasm that exists between Greens and the “progressive” wing of the Democratic Party.

    Bert Heuer – – Actually, Alan, there is no progressive wing of the donkey party…only sheepdogs.

    REPLY TO ABOVE by Alan Collins – – That’s why I put the word they call themselves in quotes.

    REPLY TO ABOVE by Jennifer Gopinathadasi Woodward – – Well, I partly disagree. Progressive Dems may exist but the predominate Dem party mood — and radical right rhetoric influenced stupidity — makes them feel and be disempowered. The GP could be offering them real choices if we “only understood them better”. (I know: why bother. But still…)

    William Meyers – – The Green Party works best when local groups work to elect local Greens to office. Up to the level of Congress. But too often GP citizens want to run for Congress before they have sat on a City Council. When I see 5 Greens at the California Assembly level, I’ll begin to have hope. President? Show me a Green who has been a governor or in Congress. Then it might be worth trying to help one become President. Right now I am happy to see Greens run for school boards, special districts, and city councils or county board of supervisors. My hat is off to them. The dysfunction of the Green Party has many sources, not just being soft on progressive democrats.

    REPLY TO ABOVE by William Rowen – – I completely agree with you. A perfect example of what you’re talking about is my good friend and Eco-village colleague (since 2002) Laura Wells. She has run for statewide office four times, three times for controller and once for governor, spending thousands of dollars on each campaign. Oakland, where she has lived since 1998, has never yet had a Green Party member on the city council. Shouldn’t these resources be devoted to getting elected on the local level first, then working up to capturing a statewide office? I’ve suggested this to Laura, who refuses to consider it.

    REPLY TO ABOVE by William Rowen – – San Francisco has had two Green Party members on the Board of Supervisors, Matt Gonzales and Ross Mirkarimi, although Mirkarimi shifted to Democrat to get elected sheriff. You would think that if Greens can get elected in San Francisco, they can certainly get elected in Oakland.

    William Rowen – – Although I am currently registered Green, I will change my registration to Democratic in order to vote for Bernie Sanders in the 2016 presidential primary. Those in the Green Party who are demeaning Bernie simply don’t understand him and I’m beginning to wonder if they understand politics at all. Bernie’s positions on virtually all political issues are the same as those of Jill Stein – but from what I can tell, he is much more enthusiastic about labeling himself as a socialist than she is. The Green Party should be supporting Bernie, not trying to cut him down to size. Everything considered, the Green Party is doing much more to help Hillary Clinton than Bernie. Sheepdog indeed!

    William Meyers – – Back to the original topic, I think most likely Bernie Sanders will turn out to be a sheep dog. But you never know. He was a genuine radical in the 1960s. He might go off the rails. It would be pretty funny if the sheep dog ran off with the herd.

    Jennifer Gopinathadasi Woodward – – Followup remarks:
    (1) I insist Greens benefit greatly if they, we, “ride Bernie Sander’s coat tails” and do him 1, 2, 5, 10 times better while doing so. We develop the GP “brand” as the better, wiser, more for-the-people and environment party than so-called Dem Socialists and Progressive Dems. Plus we “play the foil” to Bernie’s Dem Socialism, which he’s yet to define, and prod him to explain it better, even give him multiple choices to chose from and challenge him to pick some! That makes news and gets GP candidates more notice and Green “socialism” hopefully more respect.
    (2) We back off the denigrating of Sanders by stopping the labeling of him with terms like “sheepdogging”. Doing that labeling, slurring, of him personally puts us in the camp of the negative campaigners I believe most Greens despise along with corporate and super-rich funding of PACs and PACs of campaigns. Doing that also suggests we, the Greens, have less integrity than Sanders so obviously does. We’d cheat and deceive given half the chance and any opportunity. Not in “my” Green Party, please! Throw out or reform the Green Party polluters and extremists!
    (3) Nevertheless it could be good consciousness raising to both praise Bernie Sanders and then wonder aloud if the Dem party will be using his success up to the point that Hillary T-Bones him to “sheep dog” the almost progressive Dems persuaded by Bernie to vote for Hillary. Give Bernie his due; do NOT conceed anything to too cautious and manipulative and opaque (not transparent) Hillary.
    As Robert Reich has said recently, paraphrasing: she hasn’t said anything yet about restoring the Glass-Seagal Act, Bill Clinton made moot in his administration; and nothing about breaking up the biggest banks, other monopolies, jailing the Banksters and Wall Street gamblers with other people’s money. Nor has she even hinted at the threat to “national security”, willingness to seek compromise, moral and intellectual integrity of the people-at-large of the traitorous and social darwinism worshipping little people crippling and killing, Orwellian word twisting, radical right that have polluted US politics, eliminated real debate for so many years, all but destroyed the middle classes and lowered the quality of life in the USA.
    THAT approach helps the Green Party and real progressives in general IMO. And I remind you, if Bernie wins the Dem nomination, Eliz. Warren probably gets the tap to run as VP and they win those posts. Then Robert Reich, the least biased, most aggressive, right-on, and effective political and economics educator of-the-masses of all parties in the USA right now, will be Sec. of the Treasury — a post Sanders already named him to hold.

    William Rowen – – Rather than working out a “strategy” to deal with Bernie, Greens should check their political ambitions at the door and simply support him – as, for example, Robert Reich is doing. No one can predict the ultimate scenario, which could cover a wide variety of possible outcomes. I don’t think Bernie is going to be elected President or win the Demo. Nomination. He could give Hillary a very rough ride and push her much further left. lf he does, his campaign will be a success. I cannot foresee any scenario in which Jill Stein will have any influence over the campaign. Bernie has been elected to Congress and the Senate, something no Green has ever done. If Jill could get elected to an office in Massachusetts, that might be a start.

    Scott McLarty – – “But Bernie Sanders and the Green Party stand for the same things!” This is false. Sanders and the Green Party overlap somewhat on domestic issues but have sharp differences on foreign policy, militarism, and a few other things. Sanders, running as a Dem, won’t promote the need for reforms to replace exclusive two-party rule with multi-party democracy. He won’t promote Green candidates for state & local office, in Maine or anywhere else, or Green ideas like the Green New Deal. After Clinton defeats Sanders in the primaries (which remains very likely), he will endorse the Dem nominee — he said so.

    William Rowen – – I have never said that Bernie and the Greens stand for exactly the same things. But they are close enough that Greens should strongly consider supporting Bernie, or at least talk about it. Bernie is doing fine without official Green support, although my guess is that a lot of Greens are supporting him anyway. If the Green Party fails to support him officially, most progressive voters will be convinced that the party stands for nothing but ideological purity and has no interest in actually changing the country. As things now stand, Bernie has no need of or interest in a Green endorsement, but the Greens need to prove that they understand and can influence the elective process.

    William Rowen – – Let me put it another way. If you are getting Bernie Sanders confused with Donald Trump, something is seriously wrong.

    Alan Kobrin – –
    • It is BERNIE, who if he wishes to be TRUE to his Agenda and his growing Supporters, who should make a Move!
    • It is Sanders who should get prepared to BOLT the Democrats and the Deal he made with the DNC and JOIN WITH HIS Entourage to support the similar, but Superior, Agenda of Dr. Jill Stein, and get others like Hedges, Warren, Nader, Moyers, the Legion of non-voters, and more … to support a REAL alternative Vision into November, and SHOW these SOBS of the Duopoly what real People Power looks like!
    — — — — — —
    • It’s time to tell Corporate Suck-ups of BOTH “parties” that we will NOT let the TPP destroy our nation, our Constitution, consent of the ruled and more no matter HOW much they pour into Media and their Lobbyists!
    — — — — — —
    Folding with Bernie after the primaries, … WILL NOT DO IT!

    Joan Strasser – – Bernie only joined the Dems so he could become a candidate able to run with the privileges never accorded third parties. He has not served in congress as a Democrat. And as far as corporate money is concerned- I couldn’t even contribute to his campaign using a “business credit card” I got as a teacher. No business cards accepted, said the contribution page. The article makes no sense to me in the context of who Bernie is.

    Paul Duncan Quick – – I’m more interested in building a party to challenge the duopoly than in any particular candidate. But it’s useful to point out to our Democratic and independent friends that the platform he’s running on is essentially ours. You can argue that he has voted for this thing or that, but the fact is that the *retail* campaign for his nomination is essentially our platform.

  4. Pingback: Green Party Should Start Local — Really? | Laura Wells Solutions

  5. Pingback: What I like about Bernie — and my recommendation | Laura Wells Solutions

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