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Should Progressives Support Bernie?

In the past year, some progressives have explained why they are not supporting Bernie Sanders. Last summer, Bruce Dixon from Black Agenda Report presented a “sheepdog” theory suggesting that people who join the Bernie campaign will eventually be herded into supporting Hillary. More recently, Chris Hedges wrote “We must focus exclusively on revolt” and break with the establishment parties. Steven Salaita criticized Sanders’ lack of a radically different foreign policy, especially regarding Israel and Palestine. While there is some truth in all these criticisms, I think it’s important to support Bernie Sanders. Here is why.

Sanders is not just a “lesser evil”. His proposals and policies are good regarding economic inequality, health-care, education, and the judicial/criminal system. His ideas on foreign policy suggest a substantial shift away from interventionism and militarism. In addition, Sanders seeks to change the current electoral process based on money coming from corporations, political action committees and wealthy individuals. Changing this system is the first step toward breaking the strangle-hold of the military complex, Wall Street and reactionary lobbies such as AIPAC and the NRA.

While some people will be led from supporting Bernie to supporting Hillary, this is not a given. Many people pushing for Bernie now will not vote Clinton if she is the Democratic Party nominee. Why? Because there is a huge difference in policies and because campaigning for Bernie significantly involves criticizing and exposing Hillary Clinton’s history and policies.

The Democratic Party establishment has not been encouraging Bernie, as suggested by the “sheepdog” theory. On the contrary, it seems they have been trying to diminish or undermine his campaign. Sanders is rounding up new voters and activists, but they are coming for his message which is substantially different than that of the Party establishment.

Some people falsely assume one needs to commit to one candidate or one party. There is time to campaign for Jill Stein after the Democratic Party Convention if Clinton becomes the nominee. Elections in most countries start, continue and finish in less than three months. I personally support the campaigns of BOTH Bernie and Jill. But strategically, right now, Bernie Sanders has a small but real chance to win the Presidency which would result in huge change. Even if he does not win the nomination, millions of people are being educated and inspired by a message that directly criticizes our current economic/political system. Many of these newly inspired voters can and should be encouraged to vote for principles not party.

Following are specific reasons why Sanders is not simply a “lesser evil” candidate:

* He is not part of the Democratic Party establishment. Sanders was elected as an Independent.

* He has long history as left liberal mayor, congressman, and then senator with principles.

* He is not afraid to buck the tide. Sanders did a one-person filibuster trying to stop the Wall Street bailout.

* Unlike Obama, Sanders was not vetted by Wall Street. On the contrary, he is opposed by Wall Street.

* Sanders’ opposes the core US foreign policy of aggression and “regime change”. He opposed the invasion of Iraq and overthrow of the Libyan government. He opposes current calls for aggression via “no fly zone” against Syria.

* He is one of the few in Congress who openly questions or criticizes Netanyahu and US weapons trade to Israel. He is the only major candidate who did not speak at the recent APAIC convention. He is the only candidate who says he wants to be a friend of Palestine not just Israel.

* Sanders’ calls for audit of the Defense Department. This is the necessary first step toward dramatic military budget cuts.

* Sanders has energized and educated young people about systemic inequality, the domination of Wall Street and corruption in the US political process. Sanders explicitly calls for a “political revolution”.

* Sanders has called for working with Russia against ISIS and terrorism instead of promoting division and rivalry as pushed by neo-conservatives such as the Clinton appointed Victoria Nuland.

* Sanders has consistently opposed “free trade” agreements which have been disastrous for workers at home and abroad. He opposes the looming TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership).

* Sanders opposes the demonization and pervasive expulsion of refugees.

* Sanders will be more effective in countering Trump or whoever is the Republican nominee. He will increase voter turnout, especially among youth. In contrast, Hillary Clinton will increase Republican voter turnout.

Sanders’ policies are closer to those advocated by Green Party candidate Jill Stein than the policies of Hillary Clinton. But unlike Jill Stein, Sanders has a remote but real chance of winning the presidency.

It’s not only a question of how much better things would be if Sanders was President. It’s also a question of how bad things will be with either Trump or Clinton. Clinton is the single person most responsible for the disasters in Honduras and Libya. If she becomes President, she will likely continue her dangerous and aggressive policies against Iran and Russia. It is crucial to expose, denounce and do everything possible to prevent her or Donald Trump winning the presidency. As Cornel West, campaigning for Sanders, recently said: “Clinton is hawkish, right wing and imperial.”

Progressives in the US have a chance to join a populist campaign reaching millions of people. With enough grass roots effort there is chance for an upset victory. Some critics believe the contests have already been decided. But this is a year of surprises, as shown by the advances of both Trump and Sanders. It seems a big mistake to stand on the sidelines or give up without trying. While insuring there is a valid third party option, I believe progressives should do everything possible to support Bernie Sanders.

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Rick Sterling is a retired aerospace engineer who now does research/writing on international issues. He can be contacted at rsterling1@gmail.com.

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