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The Ideological Perils of Bernie Sanders

A Bernie Sanders run at the Democratic nomination has garnered a lot of interest from the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. Members of the anyone-but-Hillary caucus (who readily admit they will vote for her anyway come the general election) are desperately seeking an alternative. Just as in 2008, a challenger has come from her putative left. Then it was the Junior Senator from Illinois, Barack Obama. This time, it is the Independent Senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders.

Although it is difficult to remember now that we are seven years into the neoliberal and neocon Obama administration, in the primary battle between Clinton and Obama there seemed to be an actual difference between the two candidates. Where Clinton was a relic of the past, Obama was the future. Where Clinton’s record in the Senate tied her irrevocably to the wars and policies of the Bush administration, Obama’s scant record and impassioned though empty speeches on the campaign trail promised a new way forward. Hope. Change.

It hardly bears explaining what a sham the Obama campaign of 2008 was. Wether bailing out the banks to warrantless domestic surveillance, or continuing the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and extra-judicial assassinations, a plurality of the most noxious Bush policies were continued and in many cases expanded under Obama. The writing was on the wall in the first week, of course, when Obama immediately broke his pledge to close Guantanamo.

Yet after seven long years of their increasingly acrobatic Obama apologia and the slow, slow realization that they were duped into supporting a president well to the right of sainted slime Ronald Reagan, the liberal wing of the Democratic Party is willing and ready once again to throw its support behind an inevitable disappointment.

It’s not that Bernie Sanders is as right wing as Barack Obama on domestic issues. Sanders has identified as a democratic socialist for most of his political career and his rhetoric on domestic economic policy is remarkably consistent. He isn’t radical, or at least he wouldn’t be in a sane society. Sanders embodies and exemplifies the traditional urge of the Democrats to be slightly more accommodating to the interests of the working class under capitalism, while still maintaining the basic economic status quo.

For an illustrative example of Sanders’ lack of radical politics, take his social media post of a few weeks ago which was spent lauding Facebook for paying its employees a baseline salary of 15 dollars an hour. Now while it is certainly better for the company to pay its workers 15 dollars an hour than, say, 10 dollars an hour, it’s not as if Facebook is the kind of company any self-respecting member of the left wing of American politics should be heaping praise upon. After all, this is a company that a few years ago was shamed into backing away from assuming control over the life rights to the image identity of newborns.

“Fine,” you say, “I can see that Bernie may have had to adopt some of his rhetoric and policies to the realities of American capitalism. But he’s still in favor of the working class! Haven’t you heard his speeches? This won’t be like Obama, I swear it! He’ll be different!”

Sorry to burst your bubble, but Bernie Sanders is no friend of the working class, in America or the world. It’s fundamentally impossible to be such if you support the Washington war machine and the system of Western imperialism. And Bernie Sanders has proven, over and over again, that he is the friend of those who dominate, not the domineered, and the friend of those who kill, not their victims.

Bernie has been a vocal supporter of American military adventurism for the length of his Congressional career. Whenever there are wars to be fought, Bernie comes out in favor of them eventually and helps to facilitate their fighting. Maybe he sees it as an American Jobs Program to send the country’s disadvantaged youth halfway across the world to kill similarly disadvantaged people who had the misfortune to be born in the wrong country. Maybe he just doesn’t care about the poor in other countries. Who knows. What’s for sure, though, is that the Independent Senator from Vermont Bernie Sanders likes war just as much as his Democratic and Republican counterparts.

When the reality of Sanders’ milquetoast left wingery and neocon foreign policy finally sink in for the American liberal, the refrain will include such hits as:

“Well, it’s him or Hillary”

“What alternative would you choose?”

“It’s hard to be ideologically pure and politically successful”

These are all meaningless arguments. In fact, they’re the antithesis to the arguments being used by Sanders’ allies to support his bid for the Democratic nomination. Almost every week, another thinkpiece or article is released wagging the metaphorical finger at Sanders naysayers for denying the possibility of a Bernie Democratic nomination. “If you work at it and go out and vote,” they say, “then Bernie will beat Hillary and get the nomination!”

Here’s a real alternative: find a candidate who actually represents the left and go out and vote for him or her in the general election. Supporting Bernie Sanders will only lead to more disappointment, no matter what happens in the primary fight and general election.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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Eoin Higgins has a master’s degree in history from Fordham University. He lives in New York.

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