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When Chivalry Fails: St. Bernard and the Machine

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Did Hillary Clinton really win the diversionary spectacle known as the Iowa Caucuses by two-tenths of a percent? Probably not. But we will never know. Why? Because Bernie Sanders refuses to call the results into question and demand the release of the raw vote totals, which would likely show the senator won the actual vote by a decisive margin.

Sound familiar? It echoes Al Gore’s “honorable” tactic during the 2000 recounts, when he refused to fight not only for his own election but also the voters (and members of the Congressional Black Caucus) who put it on the line for his campaign. As much as I like to credit Ralph Nader, Gore had only himself to blame for the debacle. Ditto: Bernie Sanders. Sanders had one real chance to derail Hillary Clinton: win Iowa and then New Hampshire. And he let it slip away.

The deflating outcome Iowa campaign must be a bitter disappointment to the young people flocking to his rallies, eager for a taste of real radical politics. I find Sanders’s speeches rather dreary, the lugubrious moth-eaten rhetoric of a distant era. But you can’t deny the continent-wide yearning for someone, anyone, who will attack the banks, Wall Street and grinding economic inequality that is rupturing the republic. Those spirited Sandernistas are also rightly angered by the manifest corruption of a political system that treats them as outcasts.

The specious nature of the Iowa results only confirms those suspicions, from coin flips to missing precinct workers to the notorious Microsoft vote-tabulating app (who would ever trust the company that created MS Windows?). Bernie should have been as furious as his band of collegiate san culottes. Instead, he raised the white flag of surrender. At that moment, the Clintons must have known they had his number. Panic averted.

Sanders seems to have learned how to campaign from reading Andreas Capellanus’s Art of Courtly Love, the medieval code of chivalric conduct for romantic knights. Bernie could have taken a tutorial in how to confront the Clinton machine from Nader, but Sanders has stubbornly distanced himself by the most courageous populist political figure of our time. By contrast, the Clintons honed their political chops from Machiavelli and Charles Bronson movies. Even as shanks are being driven into his back, Sanders meekly refuses to frontally attack Clinton. He won’t even deploy surrogates to blitz the Clintons on his behalf.

Yet the Clintons stand for everything Sanders claims to be against. They are the chief architects of the neoliberal takeover to the Democratic Party. They push austerity programs at home and abroad, while giving Wall Street traders the keys to the treasury. The slashed banking regulations and weakened environmental and food safety laws. They’ve rammed through job-killing trade pacts, from NAFTA to GATT and the WTO. They have supported interventionist wars from Kosovo to Colombia, Iraq to Libya. They gutted welfare, expanded the drug war and institutionalized the federal death penalty. All in the name of political realism. But Clintonian pragmatism only runs one direction: to the right. (See Diana Johnstone’s Queen of Chaos for Hillary’s full rap-sheet.)

Hillary knows Sander’s pressure points. Any time Bernie even talks abstractly about her perfidious ties to Wall Street and Goldman Sachs, she emits a yelp of faux-outrage, charging “sexism” and demanding that Sanders apologize for “going negative.” The Clintons must chuckle every night on their Snap Chat account about how easy it is to shame Sanders back into a posture of dutiful impotence. He’s the dog that doesn’t bite or even bark.

It’s one thing to chivalrously declare that Hillary Clinton’s email scandal is a manufactured controversy beneath debating. (It’s not.) But it’s something else entirely to let Hillary (who won Henry Kissinger’s seal of approval) slither off the hook for the Libyan debacle itself, an intervention that Clinton seemingly had to force down Obama’s throat. Libya is now the latest staging area for ISIS in North Africa. Of course, Sanders also supported the overthrow of Gaddafi and he’s not one to apologize for his own mistakes.

Meanwhile, the Clintons are sharpening their campaign cutlery. These are the same people who deployed two staffers to Iowa in the heat of the 2008 campaign to publicly smear Barack Obama as a cocaine dealer. In fact, the entire premise of HRC’s run against Obama was that America would never elect a black president and so, perhaps most notoriously in South Carolina, she and Bill played to racial prejudices within the party and the press. But Obama was made of sterner stuff and fought back aggressively, tagging Hillary again and again for her rancid vote to authorize the Iraq War. In revenge, Hillary drug out her doomed campaign until the last primary, refusing even then to concede. Why? Obama was squeaky clean. It seemed unlikely that a bimbo might erupt from one of his closets. Alexander Cockburn and I joked (with the creepy sensation that we just might have stumbled on to something) that Hillary was secretly hoping that Obama (who had been the target of more than 1,000 death threats) might be assassinated before the Democratic convention.

The Clinton hit teams are using the same playbook against Sanders. This time round the Clinton attack dogs are red-baiting Sanders, while seasoning the anti-communist slurs with a sprinkling of southern anti-Semitism. Did you know, Bernie’s a red? America will never elect a socialist. If he’s nominated he’d bring the entire party down with him. There’s even a whispering campaign now sweeping South Carolina about Sanders’ religion. Did you know he was a Jew? Not only a Jew, but an atheist Jew? A communist, atheist Jew!! So it goes. What else would you expect from the Clinton’s current political sicario, David Brock, the man who slimed Anita Hill?

In reality, the Sanders revolution was over before it started. The revolutionary aspiration expired the moment Sanders decided to run in the Democratic Party primaries, instead of as an independent, where he might have proved a real menace to the neoliberal establishment. Sanders even pledged to support HRC in the general election. What kind of “revolutionary” agrees to leave Marie Antoinette on the throne?

Revolutions aren’t led by well-meaning wimps. Revolutions are about seizing power. They are about righting wrongs. Revolutions demand fierce confrontation and, as Robespierre might say, sharply-administered accountability. But Sanders was never interested in a real revolution. He’s more Hubert Humphrey than Che Guevara–a timid reformer, an old-time liberal ranting in the antechambers of a party that has long since made its Faustian bargain with the agents of austerity. For the Democrats, there’s no going back from that deal of shame.

Left and right, the sour mood of the country burns for a true political and economic rebellion. It may well happen. But look for it out on the streets, not in the hollow rituals of these elections.

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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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