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My Hail Bernie Pass

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I’ve changed my mind. In September I wrote that I would not be fooled by another salesman named Bernie peddling hope and change. I deplored his foreign policy, and I still do. I questioned his commitment to bringing about greater equality, and I still do. His “socialism” is fake. At best, as others have said, he is a “social democrat.”

Up until now I planned to sit this election out. For me, it is a matter of conscience. Lending my support to any person who will use power to kill innocent civilians, at home and abroad, physically pains me. Lending my support to a broken electoral system just perpetuates it. Personally, making a decision to vote for Sanders, or virtually anyone else, is extremely difficult.

But here I am, the day of the Iowa caucus, ready to vote in my home state of Connecticut when the primary rolls around. “Probably,” because if by the time of our primary Bernie has already been done in by the broken voting system, which for no good reason gives Iowans and New Hampshirites more power than most of the rest of us, then I will return to my previous position and opt out.

Among the legions of CounterPunch writers I admire, I owe a lot of my decision to Dave Lindorff, who had a similar epiphany, if I may call it that, in January. I don’t want to go over the ground he covered so well. Suffice to say I am convinced Bernie is qualitatively different, certainly from Obama, and substantively from other “outsider” challenges.

What has pushed me over the line is the tone of the attacks on Sanders that have hit the media in the past week or two. They are clearly indicative of the political establishment circling the wagons to guard against a viable threat. That alone says Bernie’s arrows are hitting home.

Predictably, the euphemisms used include that Bernie is not “credible,” not “qualified,” and not “pragmatic” enough to get the “job” done. Aside from being absurd on its face, since he has been an elected official for most of his adult life, these attacks are really about someone who might just stick to his beliefs and fight for them, rather than compromise them away to oblivion. That’s the dead end track we’ve been on. “Experience” is code for “with the program.” Terrified are those who think Bernie might actually carry through on his policies and politics.

A more disturbing challenge is represented by a recent article that equated Sanders’ “anti-establishment” stance with “misogyny.” The gist of the author’s polemic is that Hillary Clinton can’t, by definition, be a member of the – white, male – political establishment, and therefore Bernie’s calling her a representative of the establishment is wrong and misogynistic. I admit I was pulled in by the argument, until I realized a few things:

(1) The author places much emphasis on Obama’s role as the first black President. By being “more than a symbol,” his presidency has “changed the establishment forever.” Not so – as those of us who refused to vote for him in the past could see even before he was elected. It’s possible to yearn for an African American President, or a woman President, or an African American woman President (I sure do!) and still believe Obama has been a tool of the political establishment.

(2) The author passes over the fact that Hillary has done quite well in politics, thank you, even if the Oval Office has been denied her, and as a woman has held positions of power.

(3) From the point of view of Hilary’s political leanings, neoliberalism, war-hawkishness, Wall Street backing, and a host of quotations very well chronicled here, it is simply not credible to consider her anything but part of the “political establishment” (i.e. the duopoly), notwithstanding that her being a woman puts her in a difficult position. I can no more vote for Clinton than I could for that empty suit, Obama.

If a big part of what keeps the political establishment entrenched is corporate control over elections, then Sanders’ financing his campaign with citizen-donations is a real antidote. It is proof that he is putting his money where his mouth is. Unlike any candidate I can think of, he has also opened himself up to feedback and adaptation, as he did under initial criticism from the Black Lives Matter movement. True, it could be a pose; and true, he drew the line at reparations, unfortunately. But, call it a hunch, I think he is genuine.

In response to my not voting for a president for the last two election cycles, and for proclaiming my intent not to vote in this one (as well as for voting for Nader once), I have been regularly and publicly dressed down by friends, families, and acquaintances. I’ve been told that I forfeit any right to “complain,” whatever that means. I’ve been told that I will have no voice at all if I don’t choose a president, I’ll be responsible for a Trump presidency, and I’ll be responsible for a right-wing Supreme Court and all that follows. I have been informed that not only is it my obligation to vote for a candidate, but it’s my obligation to vote for Hillary Clinton, because of course if she doesn’t win, Trump or Cruz or some other cretin will.

Now that I’m proclaiming my support for Sanders, I expect the vitriol to be no less intense, though maybe from some other quarters with different arguments. Secretly my friends will suspect that maybe I’m a misogynist, too, and don’t want a female president. I’ll be accused of being “impractical” and “hopelessly idealistic,” and of “wasting” my vote. And I’ll still be held personally responsible for getting Trump elected!

What’s ironic about this is what my friends don’t understand: that voting at all, even for Bernie, half feels like a surrender to our murderous façade of a system. But I’m willing to throw this one final Hail Mary pass before seeing it torn down completely, as is my most fervent hope.

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Fred Baumgarten is a writer living in western Massachusetts.

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