I spent two hours yesterday holding a banner (joined by eight others with signs and a 2nd banner) outside the Bernie Sanders for President rally in Portland, Maine that reportedly drew about 9,000 people. It was an impressive crowd for someone who once claimed he was a ‘socialist’.
People began lining up before 5:00 pm for the 7:00 event and during those two hours I kept a steady stream of requests going to folks as they entered the Portland Civic Center. I suggested to eager Sanders supporters, “Please ask Bernie his position on the $400 billion F-35 fighter plane project. Ask him if it is true that he has lobbied to bring the plane to Vermont?”
I suggested to the excited crowd, with many young people in line, that they might ask Sanders, “His position on NATO expansion up to Russia’s border – can we really afford war with Russia?”
“Informed citizens need to know the answers to Bernie’s foreign policy – he’s not talking about these issues,” I said.
Once the line had ended I folded up my banner and made a dash inside just as the rally was starting. All seats in the arena were taken and the entry onto the floor was blocked but I wedged my way down onto the hockey stadium floor within 25 feet of the stage that Sanders was speaking from. The candidate was getting huge applause as he took on Wall St, the Koch brothers, income inequality and the like. He touched on all the traditional progressive buttons just like I’d heard Jesse Jackson, Ralph Nader, and Dennis Kucinich do in the past. Women’s issues, single-payer health care, student loans hitting young people, and more were addressed. Sanders called for free college tuition for all. He wants to create millions of new jobs. He talked about fixing our neglected and broken infrastructure. He hit hard on climate change calling for a sustainable society.
It was when he mentioned climate change that I figured he had to talk about the military industrial complex, because after all that is the pot of gold that has to be tapped in order to pay for building the new vision of America that Bernie so eloquently laid out. But nothing was said about the metastasizing Pentagon budget nor a mumbling word was spoken about foreign policy. Nothing about Russia (Sanders does support sanctions on Moscow), nothing about NATO expansion, nothing about Israel’s brutal attacks on Gaza (Sanders has publicly supported Tel Aviv’s attacks on Palestinians), nothing about negotiations with Iran, nothing about waste, fraud, abuse at the Pentagon, nothing about our endless wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Ukraine, etc, and nothing about conversion of the military industrial complex to peaceful production.
After making many social program promises the only thing Bernie mentioned as a way to pay for all of this was a tax on “Wall Street speculation” which of course got a big cheer.
I really didn’t disagree with anything in Bernie’s speech last night. He is adept at pulling all the right strings and it is more than evident that the public is hungry for some real push back against the power of the corporate oligarchy (he even used the word oligarchy) that runs Washington.
I left wondering how many people noticed that he never once mentioned military and foreign policy? It’s rather hard to imagine making a speech to 9,000 people and asking them to vote for you to be president but avoiding the elephant in the middle of the room. The Pentagon now rakes in 55% of every discretionary tax dollar so you’d think that would be on the table as a campaign issue. But it is not which makes me more than alarmed.
My bullshit meter went off the charts last night. I’ve seen this song and dance before. But it doesn’t really matter what I think because those 9,000 mostly liberal democrats left the Civic Center last night thinking they have found another shining knight on a white horse to lead them to victory. But victory won’t be within their grasp unless we can talk about the US imperial war project that is draining our nation, killing people all over the world, and helping to increase climate change as the Pentagon has the largest carbon bootprint on the planet. Sure taxes on Wall Street speculation will help some, but until we get our hands on the Pentagon’s pot of gold nothing really changes around here…..just saying.