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Not Feeling the Bern

“Only Bernie Sanders can break the power of capitalism in the U.S.” So read a bizarre headline in an online edition of the Guardian. It is just one example of the drivel, magical thinking, misplaced concerns and out and out lies produced by liberal love for Bernie Sanders.

How would Bernie Sanders, or any other presidential candidate, break the power of capitalism? The answer is simple. He can’t. It is difficult to imagine capitalists quaking in their boots because a liberal darling was in the oval office. Then again Sanders has never made a claim to want anything of the kind so the headline is doubly foolish.

The Sanders fans do not let any opportunity pass to make much ado about very little. Sanders’ much vaunted trip to the Vatican was nothing but a public relations gimmick carried out by Jeffrey Sachs, one of his foreign policy advisers. Sachs was at the center of every neo-liberal heist which took place in the last twenty years.  He coined the term “shock therapy” which means privatization of publicly owned assets, elimination of price controls, withdrawal of state subsidies, job cuts and a litany of measures which create suffering for millions of people. People in Russia, Poland and Bolivia all endured the Sachs punishment.

So while Sachs wangled an invite for Sanders to attend a Vatican academic conference, the episode was used by the starry eyed to further their trip down the rabbit hole. Well paid pseudo-progressive Democratic functionaries like David Sirota waxed poetic about something that didn’t amount to much. Sirota tweeted a photo of Sanders at the Vatican with Bolivian president Evo Morales. “In scope of history, this image is epic: US Jewish POTUS candidate at Vatican with indigenous Latin American leader.” There is nothing epic about a senator meeting a foreign head of state nor is it miraculous that a Jewish and indigenous American man sat next to each other. This nonsense substitutes for politics and serious thought. But then again liberals aren’t very serious about politics or thought.

The Sanders phenomenon is a repeat of the Obama 2008 marketing extravaganza. Sanders is the flavor of the month for people who are disenchanted with the front runner, Hillary Clinton. Her presence creates mass revulsion and first Obama and now Sanders moved up in voter preference when given an opportunity to make a case before the public.

But there is something particularly disconcerting about the Sanders phenomenon. Like Obama he allows liberals to be proud of uttering mealy-mouthed words instead of acting to make the change they say they want. In a recent debate in New York City Sanders famously declared that “we have to treat the Palestinians with respect and dignity.” He added that Israel has a “right to exist” and said only that the Israel massacre in Gaza was “a disproportionate response.”

His words regarding the Palestinians are rarely heard from the mouth of an American politician, certainly not a presidential candidate. However, kudos showered on Sanders give the impression that Palestinians weren’t worthy of respect and dignity until he said they were. The reaction from Sanders acolytes is in fact an indictment of U.S. foreign policy and Americans acquiescence to decades of pro-Israel propaganda. He doesn’t challenge the Zionist project, in fact he constantly mentions that he once lived in Israel and has family there.

The Palestinians get nothing but pats on the head from Bernie Sanders. They need an end to occupation and a right to return to the land and the homes stolen from them. The Sanders paternalistic feint may impress liberals looking for a politician to love but it does nothing to address a grave injustice.

The injustices that Democrats don’t want to fight were much closer to home on primary voting day in New York. Voting in New York state is very restrictive, with long periods needed to change party affiliations or to request absentee ballots. The board of elections is an ineffective patronage mill that doesn’t serve voters’ needs.

The state has one of the lowest rates of voter participation because of these obstacles but no one cared very much until masses of white people were prevented from voting for their new idol. New York has always had closed primaries and no one can vote without a party affiliation. Open primaries allow for mischief such as against left candidates like Cynthia McKinney. The former congresswoman lost her last election in 2006 because Republicans were allowed to vote for her opponent.

A good case can be made for restricting primaries to party members. Suddenly that defensible position is cast aside because people who aren’t politically involved didn’t pay attention and then couldn’t get their way.

The Sanders people are conspicuous in their absence from other disenfranchisement issues. Convicted felons can’t cast a ballot at all but that is less interesting than tales of Bernie supporters who found out they can’t vote. If they want a revolution they can start by helping others get the right to vote too.

There is a long slog ahead until the Democratic party convention in July. Hillary Clinton will continue to repulse and Bernie Sanders will claim the Pope or a king or a queen wanted to meet him. The Sanders people need to do as the Black Agenda Report advised and plan for his eventual exit. Despite all the nonsensical hype, they still don’t have their Plan B.

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Margaret Kimberley writes the Freedom Rider column for Black Agenda Report, where this essay originally appeared. 

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