Sandersphobia and Its Discontents

The latest ejaculation from the Sanderphobe ranks broadcast into the left echo chamber notes that despite having been affiliated with the Democrats for less than five of the 372 months of his political career, Sanders might as well be one since he VOTES WITH THE DEMOCRATS 98% OF THE TIME!!!!  As with the smirks accompanying this “devastating indictment”, one can just as easily imagine that not one issuing it has for one second considered the obvious rejoinder:  the 2% of the time Sanders failed to vote with the Democrats, he voted with the Republicans.  If this number were higher, say, 20%, one knows perfectly well what the response would be: “You see!!! Just like we said.  Bernie is not just a closet neoliberal he’s a closet neo-con fascist!!!” nicely complementing the Sanders-as-white-supremacist meme beloved of Sanderphobes a few month back.  (Now partly forgotten, it remains within the Clintonite playbook for future deployment in battleground states.)  In any case, heads I win, tails you lose logic, while impressive to true believers is unlikely to convince many outside their shrinking ranks.

What made this smear particularly clueless was that a day or so prior, Sanders had, in fact, not just in the far left imagination, placed himself squarely in the camp of the reactionary right. The trigger was the most recent smear from the Clinton campaign, which focussed on Sanders’s complementary remarks about the election of Jeremy Corbyn. Applying the time honored, red-baiting logic, Corbyn’s association with the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is proof positive of Sanders’s enthusiasm for bloodthirsty tyrants, among them “Communist dictator” Chavez.  Rather than easily exposing this as a lie-for example, by citing the fact that Chavez won by landslides in elections certified as fair by numerous international observers, Sanders chose to accept the reactionary framing, repudiating any association with Chavez, and by extension, the Latin American left, whose successful counterattack against the same neoliberal forces opposing Sanders should be embraced by him, not rejected.

Not surprisingly, and quite justifiably, this cynical display of capitulatory Realpolitik provoked plenty of pushback from the left (such as it is) including this petition which I signed and urge others to do likewise. Putting aside the obvious fact that Sanders’s gambit was a disgrace, it will be interesting to see whether he will be forced to respond to outrage from his core supporters.  It will be recalled that this is exactly what he did in reacting to Black Lives Matter protests, immediately including a racial justice component of his platform now prominently displayed on his website.  Will he unveil a non-interventionist policy with respect to Latin America, as well as, one hopes, a commitment to the international law and the U.N. charter, particularly as applied to the leading recipient of U.S. aid, the State of Israel?

In this case, he could, and should but there is reason to believe that he won’t.  As FAIR’s Jim Naureckas observed in a facebook posting, Sanders has likely made the calculation that doing so won’t pay off: the left constituency he would gain won’t compensate for the attacks sure to be inflicted by defenders of U.S. imperial domination in the media, establishment think tanks and the academy should he commit to a non-interventionist foreign policy.

To be clear, this in no way constitutes a defense of Sanders’s position.  Rather it is simply an analysis of the kind of brute force strategic calculation probably necessary for a candidate serious about winning to assemble the required coalition.  In this connection it is worth pointing to a significant difference in comparison to the Corbyn campaign which is that while impressive and important, it remains a very open question whether Corbyn has a chance to go on to defeat the Conservatives or whether he will go down as a McGovern of the Labor Party followed by a inevitable reprise of New Labor neoliberalism.  In contrast, a prospective Sanders primary victory, should it occur, is much more consequential since what is likely to be utterly feckless Republican opposition guarantees that Sanders will not be another McGovern: he will win, according to most polls and this a fact that likely has financial and corporate elites more than a little concerned.

That such questions are now seriously discussed is one more nail in the coffin of “he can’t win” mantra intoned by the Sanderphobes though they now seem to intoning it sotto voce as reality submerges it.  They will continue to poo-poo the huge crowds, the tens of thousands devoting time and money to the campaign, the increasing poll numbers, instead circulating the well established media talking point asserting the “inevitability” of a Clinton nomination.  In doing so, they position themselves to the right of the corporate media including, most conspicuously, Time magazine which featured Sanders on this week’s cover as “the man who brought back fire to the Democratic Party.”  Unlike the left which, as is its usual fashion, simply invents a reality to conform to its perceptions, Time, in this admittedly uncharacteristic instance, does its job in reporting the facts.

One of the facts highlighted by Time is “Corbin Trent, a 35-year-old who sold his food-truck business” who recognizes that “The end goal is to build a political movement that pushes beyond whatever the campaign is or does.”  Trent along with numerous other Sanders supporters is giving voice to the traditional left critique of candidate centered “quadrennial electoral extravaganzas” demobilizing rather than reinforcing than the mass protest movements which should be their accompaniment.  That he specifically references “a political movement beyond the campaign” shows that they are not “sheep” or “sheeple”, but are participating with the expectation that if-or more likely when-Sanders loses in the primary, that they will be on the streets protesting whatever corporate stooge the Democrat leadership anoints in a 21st century version of a smoke filled room, quite possibly during the Philadelphia convention.

The Sanderphobe contingent doesn’t bother with Corbin Trent, or Noam Chomsky, or Cornel West, or Adolph Reed, all of whom have expressed provisional support along similar lines.  Nor does it bother with the 10,000 Sanders supporters who signed onto the Bernie or Bust petition as well as others having a similar content, pledging to vehemently oppose the imposition of neoliberal business as usual candidate, whether Clinton or an unnamed dark horse. That Sanders has pledged to support the nominee is entirely irrelevant.  Like any other leader, he is useful only insofar as he gives voice to core, consensus positions.  The moment he ceases to do so, he will be rightly marginalized and ignored.  All indications are that Sanders delivering his endorsement of Clinton will be the precise moment when he has become useless.

Rather than endlessly recycling Sanders’s real and imagined liabilities and belittling his supporters, why not work to develop the movement which is temporarily coalescing behind but which has explicitly stated its intention to “push beyond the campaign”.  Why not focus discussion on the kind of organization that will be required to be on the streets regardless of who wins the nomination or the general election, including Sanders, as Sanders himself has repeatedly asserted?

Of course, to make this suggestion assumes that the opposition to Sanders is a) rational and b) based on a good faith, principled disagreement with respect to strategy and tactics, conditions not always applicable to the Sanderphobes, as I suggested previously.

Whatever the explanations, the old slogan “Man overboard, full speed ahead!” seems increasingly to be the best response as a vibrant, confusing and, as always, contradictory, populist mass movement takes shape without the participation of sectors of the self described left, and in many cases in the face of their direct opposition.

John Halle blogs at Outrages and Interludes. He tweets at: jghalle.

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