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The Great Bernie Debate

In the last several days, CounterPunch has served as a debate forum on the presidential candidacy of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, the self-proclaimed socialist and, for some inexplicable reason, the apparent darling of the left. CounterPunch chief editor Jeffrey St. Clair and managing editor Joshua Frank began the discussion with their articles, Bernie and the Sandernistas, and The Wheels Fell off the Bernie Sanders Bandwagon, respectively. Then Patrick Walker followed up with We’re Not Sandernistas: Reinventing the Wheels of Bernie’s Bandwagon. Mr. Walker states that “a certain criticism of Sanders is implied” in his strategy, and that Mr. Sanders is worthy of ‘critical support’.

It seems to this writer that such a strategy is akin to the usual ‘lesser-of-two-evils’ choice with which the United States voter is faced every four years. And it is increasingly difficult to find that ‘lesser’ evil, as the two major parties blur the lines that once, however slightly, separated them. Mr. Walker appears to perpetuate that limited choice. Said he: “So the trick is to find an electable candidate who’s satisfactory on one or two of the most crucial issues and to support that candidate’s election, reserving the right to otherwise disagree openly with that candidate and to pressure him or her to adopt more of your views.” With all due respect to Mr. Walker, this seems very pie-in-the-sky. It is hard enough (impossible, actually) to hold an elected official responsible for what he or she promised to do as a candidate, let alone sway their position on something else.

Let’s look for a moment at the objections initially raised by Mr. St. Clair and Mr. Frank, and see how easy it might be to overlook some of Mr. Sanders’ more odious positions. First, some comments by Mr. St. Clair.

* “It is almost possible to anesthetize one’s conscience against the moral revulsion prompted by Sanders’ adamantine allegiance to the Israeli state in the face of one atrocity after another.” Readers of Counterpunch will know without question that nothing could cause this writer to so anesthetize his conscience against those constant, ongoing crimes against humanity, and, as Mr. St. Clair points out, it is only “almost possible” to do so. ‘Almost possible’ is still impossible. Strike one.

* “The self-proclaimed independent socialist (Mr. Sanders) even initially backed Bill Clinton’s cruel bombing campaign against Serbia, an independent socialist country.” Mr. St. Clair also points out that “Sanders isn’t a pacifist”. Strike two.

* “One must, I suppose, tolerate Bernie’s ongoing backing of a bloated military budget, especially for the production of fighter jets and aircraft carriers, because it means jobs for Vermonters. That’s merely called bringing home the bacon and all politicians do it, more or less.”

So support of a ‘bloated military budget’, when the cost of higher education is outside the reach of most U.S. citizens, homelessness and hunger are major issues, and unemployment, despite rosy government statistics, remains high, is a simple political reality. But wouldn’t a true ‘independent socialist’ look for alternatives to provide his constituents with employment, perhaps one that doesn’t involve manufacturing tools to kill people in foreign countries? The late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King stated that the U.S. is the biggest exporter of violence in the world; that statement is as true today as it was when Dr. King said it forty-eight years ago. It seems that supporting the current military budget is definitely perpetuating the problem, not fostering a solution. Strike three, and Mr. Sanders is out.

Well, perhaps we will give Mr. Sanders another inning, sufficient to air some of the grievances about which Mr. Frank wrote.

* Frank, in summarizing an earlier article he wrote, noted Mr. Sanders’ “rubber-stamping of various wars.” This, of course, is consistent with the senator’s support for the military budget. As long as the country has all that military hardware and software, it might as well use it to invade or bomb some country somewhere. Strike one.

* “His crude vote during Bill Clinton’s presidency that peeled away the rights granted by habeas corpus”. Is any comment on this even required? Strike two.

* His tacit endorsement of the crown princess Hillary Clinton, the woman he is ostensibly opposing, who will bulldoze over him in every primary, and his statement that he will not run as an independent, should he lose the Democratic primary. Any endorsement of Ms. Clinton is enough to disqualify the endorser. Strike three, and Mr. Sanders is out again.

One might say that Mr. Sanders has no choice but to endorse Mrs. Clinton; look at the alternatives being served up by the Republican Party! Which brings us back to the ‘lesser of two evils’ concept, and business as usual in U.S. politics and governance.

So what is the seductive allure of Mr. Sanders? Why has the left, abandoning Mrs. Clinton to what is commonly referred to as the center, jumped on his shaky bandwagon? Granted, he talks a good talk about Wall Street corruption, and endorses a reasonable minimum wage. But in light of the issues mentioned above, is this, along with the attractive title ‘socialist’, really sufficient to cause this much excitement and devotion?

When discussing U.S. political campaigns, it is difficult not to mention the old tale of the ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’, and Mr. Sanders and his campaign certainly invoke such thoughts in this writer. In the fable, it was said that the Emperor is wearing magnificent clothes, but that only his intelligent subjects could see them. One can also say that Mr. Sanders is a progressive socialist, fighting for the poor and the working class, opposing the status quo and wanting to usher in a brand new world, but that sadly, only his fellow-progressives recognize his greatness. But his greatness, like the emperor’s clothes, simply doesn’t exist. Support for the military, defending Israeli genocide of the Palestinians, reducing the rights of the U.S. citizenry are not the hallmarks of a progressive socialist. They are, instead, the characteristics of a common U.S. politician. No amount of pretty words can camouflage that fact.

This writer shares Mr. Walker’s desire for a real alternative, a candidate who will put the needs of the people first, who will support a foreign policy that endorses the basic human rights of all people, and that uses diplomacy rather than bombs to support it. Unfortunately, Vermont Senator Sanders is not that candidate.

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Robert Fantina’s latest book is Empire, Racism and Genocide: a History of US Foreign Policy (Red Pill Press).

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