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Don’t Get Berned Again! The Sanders Bribe


By now we have heard chapter and verse, repeatedly so, on the failure of Bernie Sanders to take an antiwar position, much less a stance against U.S. Empire.   (Yes, Bernie, there is an Empire.) Paul Street is a leader in the genre with well-documented dissections of Sanders’s flaws on every front and David Swanson provides the latest addition.

The Pro-Empire Candidate

We have heard Sanders’s defense of the Israeli atrocities in the bombing of Gaza, his call for Saudi Arabia to do even more killing and his concern about Putin for – well, being Putin and Russian. Thus Bernie is joining a cheering section that could root us right into nuclear war and oblivion. Here cited by Chris Hedges is a sample from an interview with Bill O’Reilly:

‘“The entire world has got to stand up to Putin. We’ve got to deal with sanctions, we’ve got to deal with freezing assets,” and “You’ve got to totally isolate them politically. You’ve got to totally isolate them economically… You freeze assets that the Russian government has all over the world… International corporations have huge investments in Russia, you could pull them out…”

Confirmation comes in an NPR interview with David Green:

BS: …..The United States has got to work with our European allies and allies throughout the world to come up with an intelligent, rational approach to deal with Russia, to deal with ISIS and deal with other national security threats.

DG: Sounds like you would intervene less than this president has?

BS: No, I didn’t say that. You’ve got to look at each particular case, obviously.

And, obviously also, there is not a shred of anti-interventionist or anti-imperial philosophy displayed here.

To give Bernie credit, he did vote against the war on Iraq and he has supported the nuclear/sanctions deal between Iran and the U.S., Russia, China, UK, France and Germany. (Certainly the latter is a positive step toward peace in that it removes the Israeli excuse for an attack on Iran, but it remains unclear how Obama and company intend to use the deal. Is it simply a way to free up resources from the Middle East for an assault on Russia and China? That is the most likely outcome, but we shall see.) And certainly Sanders’s Iraq vote suggests he is not as reckless or bloodthirsty as Killary, but that is setting the bar somewhere beneath the belly of a viper.

Bernie’s Bribes

The fundamental problem with Sanders’s campaign is that it is based on bribery, and an especially immoral sort of bribery at that. For Bernie promises more social benefits if we, the beneficiaries, let him continue the Empire’s warfare – both economic and military. That is a most unsavory sort of bribe. Basically he gives us butter if we give him guns to kill innocents.

In fact, Killary’s campaign is much the same thing, perhaps presented in a more noxious, arrogant fashion as only she can do, but nevertheless the same thing. So it is not surprising that a few weeks back E.J. Dionne in his weekly cameo on NPR suggested that Bernie’s campaign could help Killary by keeping attention focused on domestic issues. Unsaid is that such an approach keeps attention off the constant wars and interventions.. And most important, Bernie soaks up support and energy that progressives might otherwise bestow on a genuine anti-interventionist candidate. In so doing he protects Killary.

Sanders’s stance is the essence of every imperial candidate. On the Republican side, the goodies promised are tax cuts in return for the electorate’s backing of wars. In fact this is the tactic of every Empire. The British provided unparalleled freedoms at home while they raped much of the globe. Even in the Roman Empire a citizen had privileges, which non-citizens lacked. For example a Roman citizen convicted of a capital crime was not executed by the horrendous torture unto death of crucifixion – unless for treason, that is, a lapse in loyalty to the Empire. Bernie is only the latest to promise the imperial citizenry more goodies if we are loyal to the Empire.   This does not mean that Bernie is worse than the other candidates – only that he is no different from them. He is simply more of the same.

Bernie Will Be a Loser With His Present Strategy.

But there is something even more troubling about Bernie. As Obama showed in 2008, Killary’s Achilles heel is her blood curdling, deranged bellicosity. So Obama paraded as a peace candidate. Unfortunately he was And this would be a winning strategy for Bernie. There is a substantial peace base in the Democratic Party, and virtually every one of his supporters would welcome an anti-Empire position. It would motivate them and also quiet those many antiwar progressive voices now opposed to him. It is most odd for a candidate to eschew a winning strategy. The conclusion is that interventionism is Bernie’s heartfelt conviction.

Sanders is an advocate of what was once called in the socialist movement “social chauvinism” in contradistinction to “social democracy.” Social chauvinism, where loyalty to Empire replaces loyalty to peace and the humanity of all nations, has been a plentiful commodity on the planet since World War I, at least, and Sanders appears to stand squarely in that barbarous tradition. On domestic matters there is little difference in the rhetoric Killary and Sanders will deploy in the campaign; he is Killary’s doppelganger. Thus Sanders is unable to distinguish himself sharply from Killary, and politics is all about making clear distinctions for the voters. So with his present strategy, he will lose.

The Task for Sanders Supporters

To return to Paul Street’s analysis, on one matter he falls short. He writes in answer to the ever wishy-washy David McReynolds: “I’m really not sure why … (McReynolds) puts the onus on peace and racial justice activists to initiate discussion with Sanders. Those activists are not purporting to run for the White House. Sanders is. If he’s serious about peace (not likely) and racial justice (probably), then it’s on him to reach out to movements.” But that is just the point. If these activists are working to put Sanders in the White House and he is an interventionist, aka social chauvinist, then it is up to them to either withdraw their support or demand a change in Sanders in return for that support. That seems pretty obvious. As Nader points out the time to make demands of a candidate is before you give them support, because after they are elected all leverage is lost. Did these people not learn that when they scurried after Obama in 2008 on the basis of “trust” and “hope”?

So the question must be put. Is it moral to support a candidate to get some more goodies in return for the sacrifice of ever more lives by the US military machine? Or if this moral appeal does not move the Sanders supporters, then the prospect of a new World War with Russia and/or China should give them pause. As a decades long worker for Single Payer, I am not willing to gain Single Payer as Bernie promises at the cost of more war, death to innocents in the developing world and perhaps annihilation of humanity. The task for Bernie supporters is to demand and get an antiwar stance or drop their support. Not only is this a winning strategy as opposed to the losing strategy Sanders is now pursuing; it is the ethical position.

So if you are “feeling the Bern,” especially if you supported Obama in 2008, watch out. Don’t get Berned again.

Prof. John V. Walsh, MD, can be reached at He usually does not include his title in a little bio like this, but in this case the political essay above involved a bit about science.   can be reached at

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