To gain the respect and trust of Bernie Sanders voters, Hillary Clinton must utilize some of her “change maker” skills we heard about Tuesday night.
Editor’s Note: Pediatrician Rebecca Mueller, MD, is a delegate representing Iowa at this year’s Democratic National Convention and a supporter of former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. This is the latest in a series of reports Mueller is filing for Medical Economics on her experience in Philadelphia.
Dr. MuellerWhat I heard Tuesday night was different than I expected and it reminded me of something.
As a medical student, it did not take very long to learn about the problem with premature reassurances. Every physician has experienced it, and, hopefully, most of us learn from our well-intentioned mistake the first time. Sometimes a patient comes through the door with a concern, perhaps a big concern that is statistically unlikely, or a small concern we think is not worth worrying about, and we immediately jump to reassure them: “Your child does not have a brain tumor.” “You do not need antibiotics.” “You do not have a gluten intolerance.”
The trouble is that reassurance before listening never reassures. This is as true in medicine as it is in politics.
On Monday (July 25), ernie Sanders supporters arrived at the convention where Hillary Clinton was described as the next president of the United States in the opening prayer, where the interim Democratic National Convention (DNC) Chair rejoiced in Clinton being “the nominee” during her opening statements of the convention, and where we were told repeatedly to cross a bridge of unity without the bridge being built and with the other side taking no steps to cross it.
The Democratic Party is doing a great job of having an inclusive platform and of fighting in many arenas to ensure that 1st Amendment rights and the preamble to the Constitution are the foundational principles of our democracy. With rare exception, the platform produced in this convention represents a nearly complete unification of ideas between the two campaigns. What the Clinton campaign and supporters may be missing, however, is that for Sanders’ supporters the process of democracy is equally as important (and maybe more so) as the policies in the platform. This includes fairness of elections and the primary process as well as the elimination of special interest lobbying and corporate financing of elections and candidates.
In the context of a week, and indeed a campaign season, where we felt that the DNC considered Bernie supporters to be outsiders, naïve, impractical and emotional and where our candidate was discounted by the establishment and sidelined by the media-and importantly where we were shown to be correct in our hypothesis by the leaked emails of DNC leadership-it was imperative to start this convention with not only a message of “unity,” but with unifying actions and a demonstration of our shared values and goals.
On Tuesday night, I heard for the first time the story of Hillary Clinton, the activist; Hillary Clinton, the organizer; and Hillary Clinton, the “change maker.” In hearing these accounts, the most significant of which was that given by her husband, former President Bill Clinton, I realized that the young Hillary reminded me of many Sanders delegates from Iowa. She was a young professional, working in the trenches on multiple human rights issues, using her skills to identify and take down barriers. Central to many of these projects was the act of listening first. President Clinton even stated that as Arkansas’s first lady, Hillary held listening sessions in all of the more than 70 counties of that state to hear the citizens and stakeholders voice their thoughts on why the Arkansas public education system was struggling so much.
I gained a deep respect for Hillary. I am glad to say that. On the other hand, I am sad that this beautiful story is clouded by the acrimonious nature of the current relationship between the Democratic Party leadership and many of the Sanders delegates and the constituents that they represent.
It seems that the uncontained fervor for a premature celebration and a lack of listening led to premature reassurance on the part of the Democratic Party to the Sanders delegation. If the leadership of the party had asked Sanders supporters and indeed listened to the answers they may have found easy ways to build that bridge toward unity:
• Using opening statements to focus on the well-run campaigns of both candidates and acknowledging that, at the time of the opening gavel on the first day there were two candidates and no nominees would have helped.
• Not naming Clinton as “the nominee” or the “future president” until the votes had been cast-the thing we had traveled so far and were told we were coming to the convention to do.
• Monday’s agenda and speeches should have focused on the shared values of the party without the constant calls for unity or having every speaker endorse Clinton (in a way which felt like it was required by the party). Personal stories highlighting the contributions of both candidates and policy speeches highlighting our shared ideals would have been entirely appropriate prior to the final vote.
• Highlighting the ridiculous common foe of Donald Trump while avoiding a false and fear-mongering narrative that our choice is either Trump or not-Trump (Clinton).
• Apologizing for all collusion or other unethical behavior that either gave or even just appeared to give an advantage to one campaign over the other.
While to the party or Clinton supporters these requests may seem coy or petty, to a faction that is disillusioned with the establishment and distrustful of the leadership of the party-and to whom the process of democracy is profoundly important-a little respect and finesse would have gone a long way.
Physicians usually only need one or two experiences with the consequences of premature reassurance to learn to do things differently. Premature reassurance in a doctor’s office erodes the confidence in the patient-physician relationship. The patient feels you have not waited for their input before coming to a dismissal or diagnosis. It may lead to a missed or delayed diagnosis, and worse, lead to a vote of no-confidence in you, the provider, such that the patient seeks care elsewhere.
For the sake of the hard-fought ideals of the Democratic Party, the future of our nation and the integrity of our political system, I am hoping that Clinton will apply the strategy she has kept central to her work on human rights issues throughout her career. I am hoping that she and the party will first listen to the members of the “political revolution” as we voice what our barriers have been that have kept us from supporting her nomination (a continued sense of mistrust in the party and concern of special-interest influence on her policies and priorities), and will act quickly to prove that she is trustworthy.
Only then can my colleagues and I as Sanders supporters join in unity with her new campaign. Without that listening and building of the bridge between us, the result will be the opposite, and we will use ourfeet to demonstrate our vote of no-confidence and look for leadership elsewhere.