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Bernie and the Jets

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“Bernie and the Jets” by Nick Roney.

As Clintons are wont to do, Hillary laid a political trap and Bernie Sanders, in his Schlemiel-like way, stumbled right into it. In the wake of Jeremy Corbyn’s smashing victory as the new leader of Britain’s Labour Party, Hillary’s super-PAC, Correct the Record, tarred Sanders as a Corbyn-lite renegade who has cozied up to untouchable figures like Hugo Chavez.

About a decade ago, Sanders was part of a delegation that negotiated a sensible deal to bring low-cost heating oil from Venezuela to poor families in the northeastern United States. But instead of defending his honorable role in this ex parte negotiation, Sanders wilted. In a fundraising email to his legions of Sandernistas, Bernie fumed at being “linked to a dead Communist dictator.”

Of course, Hugo Chavez represented everything that Bernie Sanders claims to be but isn’t. Namely, an independent socialist, whose immense popularity in his own country led to his Bolivaran Party winning 18 straight hotly-contested elections since 1996, not to mention surviving several coup attempts backed by the CIA and the editorial board of the New York Times, plots that elicited not a squeak of dissent from Bernie the Red.

One might be tempted to cut the Vermont senator some slack on the matter. After all, Sanders seems to have given foreign policy in the post-911 era about as much attention as he has police violence in urban American. As the American military skids into Syria, one looks to Sanders (who else is there?) for new ideas, for a holistic political philosophy that links neoliberal economics to racism and imperial adventurism. Yet we see nothing of the kind. How does Sanders feel about the latest war we’ve backed our way into in the Middle East? Who can really say? No one is sure if Sanders himself really knows, and this not merely because Bernie so often seems to be speaking in tongues, without even the spiritual uplift a Pentecostal sermon provides.

Sanders’ core political ideas seem scrawled on parchment, as stale and faded as those of the American politician he most resembles, Hubert H. Humphrey. The country’s most acerbic political journalist, Robert Sherrill, called Humphrey the Drugstore Liberal. The Minnesota Democrat was an economic populist, perhaps even to the Left of Sanders, who remained insensate to the horrors of the American war machine. Like Sanders, Humphrey directed almost all of his economic rhetoric at the middle class ­— what nearly everyone else in the world calls the bourgeoisie — a curious target demographic for an avowed socialist.

As the nation sank deeper into the blood of Vietnam, Humphrey’s sole consolation was to dole out economic palliatives while talking up the number of high-paying jobs generated by the arms manufacturers. Like Humphrey, Sanders is a military Keynesian who seems to believe that the never-ending War on Terror is one sure-fire route toward full-employment. In other words, he’s a Cold War Liberal lost in a post-Cold War world.

Still, Bernie clings to his death-dealing supersonic relics, most fervently to the F-35 Lightning II fighter jet. As Andrew Cockburn reported in Harper’s, Sanders and his Vermont colleague Patrick Leahy waged a fierce bureaucratic fight to bring the jet to the Burlington Air Base as the premier weapon of the Green Mountain Boys, the 158th Fighter Wing of the Vermont Air National Guard. At $191 million per aircraft, the F-35 represents a technological wish-fulfillment for the defense lobby. Larded with the latest high-tech thanatic gizmos, the porcine and unstable Stealth fighter will prowl cloud-free skies (too dainty to fly in rain) on an endless quest to confront an enemy that no longer exists, and perhaps never did. The only people who will be terrorized by Bernie’s fleet of F-35s when they finally arrive are the poor residents of South Burlington, whose homes will be perpetually quaking from the caterwauling squeal of the jet’s after-burning turbofan engine.

Award Bernie bonus points for consistency here. He is equally supportive of gun manufacturers, rejecting even the most timid restrictions on gun sales (the Brady Bill) and voting to shield weapons-makers from liability suits brought by victims of mass shootings. A few hours after the rampage at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, Bernie hypocritically tweeted out a statement of condolence for the victims which was notable only for the extreme banality of its sentiment.

Two days later, when U.S. airstrikes targeted a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, killing 22 medical workers and patients, Sanders’s twitter-wire went tellingly mute. But what could Sanders say about this war crime in real time, an attack that infused a new meaning to the phrase ‘surgical strike’? The miserable 14-year-long war on Afghanistan is the battle Sanders said had to be waged, a war without regrets.

Alexander Cockburn used to say that one of the pre-conditions for being a “serious presidential contender” was the ability to confess publicly, often live on Meet the Press, that you were willing to launch nuclear weapons against (pick a country, any country will do….), even at the risk of incinerating life on Earth.

Of course, these days, you also have to pledge support for Obama’s drone killing program, as Bernie Sanders has faithfully done. Sanders told George Stephanopoulos in August that if he becomes the next joystick bombardier in the Oval Office, he won’t pull the plug on the drones but he will endeavor to kill fewer innocent people. Rarely has the moral hollowness of American liberalism been expressed more clearly.

Thank you, Comrade Bernie.

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Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His most recent books are Bernie and the Sandernistas: Field Notes From a Failed Revolution and The Big Heat: Earth on the Brink (with Joshua Frank) He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net or on Twitter  @JSCCounterPunch

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