Bernie Sanders, the Latest Great White Hope?

Jim Connolly’s “Sniping at the Sandernistas” (CP, Sept. 4, 2015) is one of those painfully long essays that could have been boiled down to a bland aphorism: “The perfect is the enemy of the good,” or perhaps, “Shut up and get on the Bernie bandwagon!”

In response I offer the following: “Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice, shame on you,” or perhaps, “The emperor has no clothes.”

For the sake of readers’ expectations, I will elaborate. Let’s go back eight years. When was the first time you realized Barack Obama was nothing more than a flim-flam man, a snake-oil salesman, a sham? For me, it was long before the elections, or even the primaries. It might have been when he threw his reverend, Jeremiah Wright, under the bus. It might have been when he threw his wife under the bus. Remember that? She made a speech expressing black anger and was thenceforth and forevermore muzzled.

You don’t need me to provide you with the copious evidence of Obama’s deceitfulness and slippery politics. Read the same edition of CounterPunch for Paul Street’s article (“Bi-polar Disorder: Obama’s Bait-and-Switch Politics”) and the previous day’s for Dave Lindorff’s (“Is Obama the Worst President Ever?”). Look, I’d be the first one to pull the lever for an African-American candidate, or even better, an African-American woman, and for any minority or female candidate who truly had the interests of the people in mind. If you still deceive yourself into thinking that Barack Obama is that guy, i.e., not the President by and for the banks, insurance companies, military-law enforcement-industrial complex, TPP, the myth of American Exceptionalism, well. It leaves me dumbfounded.

All of this was in plain sight in 2007 and 2008. You’re darn right I told you so, or at least I told anyone who would listen. You’re welcome.

Now here comes Sanders, and here we go again. Instead of smooth talk of hope and change, we get Bernie’s Brooklyn Bluster. Blunt talk will save us all, we’re told. Isn’t it wonderful? He cares about us, about the people, about the little guy!

Nonsense. Come on, people. He’s poised to throw us and himself under the bus in support of the Big Grinding Democratic Machine of Death. He’s a self-proclaimed socialist who’s an utter fake, a Democratic loyalist. Do you really believe he has the guts to stand up to the political establishment, the Joint Chiefs, the Wall Streeters, the One Percent? What are you smoking?

Barack Obama promised all that and more. He delivered a half-baked healthcare plan—an improvement, to be sure—and little else. Like Bernie, Obama was the darling of the “grassroots campaign.” It helped get him elected. But like every other politician, he left the bride at the altar. No loyalty and no love. It was a calculated, focus-group-approved posture to win office. Bernie Sanders will be no different. Get over it. (By the way, is there any doubt that disaffection with Obama is what drives a lot of Democrats and “progressives” into the arms of Sanders?)

As was the case with Obama, there are abundant clues to Sanders’ true intentions. Much has been made of his slowness to respond to the Black Lives Matter movement and to diversify his message and constituency. To his credit, Sanders has taken positive steps in this direction.

Of far greater concern is his paucity of statements on foreign policy (as of this writing, Sanders’ website remains silent on this), his past record of funding wars and weapons boondoggles, and the statements he has made that indicate a hawkish, empire-supporting belligerence—most notably his recent claim that he intends on continuing the drone program.

Many writers have already pointed out, correctly, that an inability or unwillingness to take on the empire’s defense machine renders his domestic platform all but moot. How can you promise jobs, higher wages, income equality, a better environment, and what he calls “real family values” without dealing with the bloated military budget? Raising taxes on the “billionaire class,” even if he can pull that trick off (and he won’t), will never be enough. Once again, it’s all pretty words, and no substance. Sound familiar?

I would like to add another perspective, however. It’s bad enough that a critique of his foreign policy that focuses on how it will affect our domestic affairs is another instance of American Exceptionalism. We need to have a frank discussion about what it means to continue the drone program, an illegal and immoral killing spree directed from the highest levels of our government, from the President himself. This is not beside the point. This is the issue. It sickens me that we can cheer for any candidate, let alone elect one, that has no problem perpetuating a program of deliberate and wanton murder, a program that takes the lives of hundreds if not thousands of innocent citizens, women and children among them.

Perfectionism has nothing to do with it. This is a moral imperative. We don’t need a President who will use the drone program “judiciously.” We need put a stop to it. Period. And of course, American militarism is connected to every other part of the body politic, from the mistreatment of women and minorities to economic injustice to the aggressive police state to massive spying on citizens.

It may be wishful thinking to say we need to tear up the system from the roots, not just put in prettier flowers; but it’s no more wishful than thinking that pretty flowers will hide the smell of moral rot—or make our country substantively better than it is.

So, here we are again. In 2007-2008 it was the Great Black Hope. Now in 2015-2016 it’s the Great White Hope. You remember what happens, right? He throws the fight.

Fred Baumgarten is a writer living in western Massachusetts.

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