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Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s Surprise Bernie Sanders Endorsement

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Just as the media, in the wake of Hillary Clinton’s landslide win in South Carolina’s Democratic primary Saturday, are predictably writing the obituary for Bernie Sanders’ upstart and uphill campaign for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) has handed him an opportunity to jolt the American people awake.

Announcing on “Meet the Press” that Americans need a real choice of commander-in-chief — one “who has foresight, who exercises good judgment,” she announced today her resignation as vice-chair of the Democratic National Committee — an organization that has been actively working to promote Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

In a clear dig at Clinton, a neoliberal who has been at the forefront not just in backing President George W. Bush’s illegal invasion of Iraq, but in pushing for both the illegal and disastrous overthrow of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi and the current intervention to oust Syrian President Basher Al-Assad, Gabbard said, “There is a clear contrast between our two candidates with regard to my strong belief that we must end the interventionist, regime change policies that have cost us so much.” She added, “This is not just another ‘issue.’ This is the issue, and it’s deeply personal to me. This is why I’ve decided to resign as Vice Chair of the DNC so that I can support Bernie Sanders in his efforts to earn the Democratic nomination in the 2016 presidential race.”

Gabbard, while only a second-term member of the House, is no lightweight when it comes to US foreign and military policy. A major in the Hawaii National Guard who volunteered for two tours of duty in Iraq, she is one of only two female members of Congress to have served in a war zone. (While I couldn’t find a stat for how many male members of Congress have served in a war zone, given that only 25 were even in uniform in the period since 2001, and given that few of those 25 were in active war zones, and finally given that older vets like John McCain are few and far between, it’s a fair bet that there are not many.) She had the courage to introduce a bill in a Congress filled with war-besotted “chicken-hawks” to require the US to end its illegal intervention aimed at “regime change” in Syria.

Bernie Sanders should immediately grab this moment to shake up a primary race that has not been going well for him lately. He should promptly welcome the gutsy and outspoken Gabbard to his campaign, and announce that he plans to make her his vice presidential choice if he wins the nomination (she would be 35 by next January, and eligible to serve as president). At the same time, Sanders, who has been avoiding talking about the country’s military budget and its imperialist foreign policy, should use the opportunity of Gabbard’s defection from the DNC to announce that if elected he would immediately slash military spending by 25%, that he would begin pulling US forces back from most of the 800 or more bases they occupy around the world, and that he would end a decades-long foreign policy of overthrowing elected leaders around the globe.

It’s clearly not enough for Sanders to continue his denunciation of America’s “rigged economy.” Almost everyone agrees it’s a rigged game for the benefit of the wealthy and powerful. But when he calls for free public colleges, improved Social Security benefits, expansion of Medicare to cover everyone, massive spending on infrastructure, and other programs, even liberals are asking, “Where’s the money going to come from?”

It’s a fair question, and while much of the dough could come from raising taxes on the rich and on corporations, it wouldn’t be enough. But taking 25% from the flatulent $1.3-trillion military budget and shifting that over to funding programs that support average Americans instead of just wealthy investors does answer that question.

Sure it’s a gamble. Maybe even most Democrats have been so brainwashed by the terror-and-fear factory in Washington and its 24/7 echo chamber, the prostituted mainstream media, that they will recoil in horror at the notion of America unilaterally cutting back on its military spending. But running for office as a “revolutionary” is by definition a gamble, and successful gambles require making big bets.

My guess is that most people — at least on the Democratic side — are smarter than that. If two articulate candidates — Sen. Sanders and now the eminently qualified Rep. Gabbard — were to go out on the stump explaining that the decades of massive military spending and the decades of illegal wars and subversions initiated by the US have clearly and unarguably done nothing but make the world and the US more violent and unsafe, while meanwhile bankrupting America — people would probably get it, in which case Hillary Clinton’s big win in South Carolina would become little more than a historical artifact.

As I wrote in an earlier article, Clinton won in South Carolina because a battered and oppressed black population in that apartheid state, effectively barred from participation in their own state’s governance, and comprising almost two-thirds of a minority Democratic electorate there, desperately wants a Democratic president — any Democratic president. That’s why, despite widely believing Clinton to be untrustworthy, they voted for her: they simply didn’t believe Sanders could win.

To overcome that kind of defeatist thinking, Sanders needs to swing for the dollar seats and blow his opponent out of the water, and that means taking on the US war machine and challenging Clinton not as simply a woman with bad judgement (Iraq), but as a dangerous war-monger and a corporate shill who can be counted on to continue with massive military spending and war-mongering.

Gabbard’s surprise endorsement of Sanders, based on what she said is her respect for “his approach to foreign policy and avoiding unnecessary wars,” gives him the chance to take that big swing of the bat.

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Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

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