Bernie Sanders’ Vision: As Myopic as Every Other Candidate or Not?

This is not an endorsement of Bernie Sanders. Not only would I not endorse him, but I don’t think Bernie really wants the endorsement of people as far to his left as me. Instead, it is an attempt to explain and critique his positions on certain issues from a left perspective. Using his soon–to-be-published book The Essential Bernie Sanders and His Vision for America, as the base for the analysis, and placing that critique within the context of the situation we find ourselves in today, I hope this review will get past the rhetoric and emotion of so many other pieces written about Sanders and his campaign for the White House.

The author/editor of this brief text is Jonathan Tasini, a journalist who first met Sanders in 2013 when he interviewed him for Playboy magazine. Like most US residents, Tasini was quite surprised at Bernie’s straightforward explication of his views; when one is used to the typical mainstream politician who speaks from both sides of his mouth and still says nothing, the fact that Sanders was clear and pretty much unequivocal in his positions was impressive. In this publication, Tasini has gathered together various speeches, press conferences and the like where Sanders spoke and, with very little of his own commentary, reprinted Sanders’ words in a series of short chapters arranged according to topic. The result of this effort is a clear and readable expression of Bernie Sanders thoughts on numerous economic and other issues voters should probably be thinking about.51BcYI5ROJL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

From veteran’s benefits and rights to health care and workers’ pay and working conditions, Tasini covers the bulk of the issues sure to be discussed in the US presidential campaign just getting started. His selection of Sanders’ words on this multitude of issues reveals a man who is clear about his priorities: a healthy and just US economy that takes care of almost all US residents. The book makes it clear that Bernie blames the US billionaire class for the increase in poverty, joblessness, homelessness, and even war. It also makes it clear that Bernie believes the system that created this relatively minuscule group of billionaires can reform itself given the right person at the helm with a large popular movement behind them. This belies the idea that he has a socialist understanding of how capitalists accumulate wealth.

In other words, Tasini’s book is testament to the fact that Bernie Sanders is no flaming communist or socialist. Instead, he is a progressive in the tradition of Teddy Roosevelt and Henry Wallace. Like both of those men, Sanders believes that capitalism can work if it is properly tethered and monopolies are broken up. Similarly, Sanders progressivism understands–perhaps not consciously–that in order for the US population to have such benefits as universal single payer health care, free college education, homes for all, and a revived dependable infrastructure, other people in other lands will have to pay for it via the global capitalist economic system erected and maintained by Wall Street and its lessers around the world. To his credit, unlike those who take their corporations elsewhere in search of cheap labor, he doesn’t see the superexploitation of workers around the world as the only means to achieve these benefits for US workers. However, the economic reality is that his suggested reforms of the current system would still relegate non-US workers to a lesser rung on the ladder of labor.

Of course, most of that doesn’t really matter to most US workers. They just want a good job and a decent life. If Sanders was able to spearhead the implementation of his proposals in this regard, those workers would probably get what they want. In addition, many undocumented US workers might finally be able to live without fear of La Migra. Young Black men and women, meanwhile, might finally get the training and employment they should have had decades ago, with wages and opportunities like the rest of their fellow citizens.

Like Sanders’ campaign itself, this book is remarkably brief when it comes to discussing his ideas on foreign policy. We are presented with his votes against both US wars on Iraq, but no mention is made of the votes he made to provide financial support for those wars. Nothing is said about his vote for the invasion of Afghanistan or his opinion on that fiasco almost fourteen years later. We are reminded of his opposition to the US war in Vietnam and Central America, but nothing is said about his support for the overpriced and deadly F-35 bomber. His words decry Pentagon waste, but there are no statements demanding a drastic decrease in US spending on war and its weaponry. In related matters, his opposition to the PATRIOT Act and NSA surveillance is noted, but his support of the Big Brother agency known as the Department of Homeland Security is not even mentioned.

After reading and thinking about The Essential Bernie Sanders and His Vision for America, I am left with this thought. Bernie Sanders is not the Democratic Party stooge blazing a trail for Hilary Clinton like so many on the left believe, nor is he the savior so many of his supporters claim. He is however, considerably more in tune with the majority of working people in the United States than any other candidate most voters have heard of. This alone makes his understanding of working people’s issues and his solutions worthy of genuine consideration, despite the mainstream media’s insistence that Trump is that candidate. Now that I am finished with my copy of the book, I intend to give it to my father, an Eisenhower era Republican who believes there should be Medicare for all, that rich people should pay Social Security tax at the same rate as everyone else, and that college students should not incur so much debt that many intelligent and worthy people do not even consider attending. When he is done reading it, I will ask him to pass it on to other voters in my three generation family. There are those who consider their vote to be the most important political action they can take. There are others who, despite claiming it is not true, act as if voting was a moral act on par with Rosa Parks taking that seat on that bus. As far as I’m concerned, though, voting is just one more tool in the box–a poor tool to be certain and not one that will fix the problem by itself. Consequently, I believe it should be applied tactically with no expectations that it will make a lick of difference. Does this mean that I believe Bernie Sanders can change the US into the nation it claims to be? No, but I am willing to encourage those less disgusted with the US than me to consider that possibility. What’s there to lose?

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He has a new book, titled Nowhere Land: Journeys Through a Broken Nation coming out in Spring 2024.   He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: