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Bern Rate: the Once and Future Sandernistas

It ended the way it began, with Bernie Sanders drawing huge energetic crowds and winning few votes from blacks and Hispanics. Sanders could never connect with the most vulnerable voters in the country. That fact alone doomed his campaign.

Those vast crowds seemed to have acted on Sanders like a kind of opiate, numbing him to the political reality of his campaign. As noted in a recent Politico article, the Sanders campaign staff had known for months that the senator had no path to victory. Instead of being honest with their supporters, the Sanders campaign fed them one illusory scenario after another. Even Sanders himself got seduced by the fairy tale.

There’s no loyalty anymore. In that same Politco article, Sanders’s top political hired-hacks took pleasure in plunging anonymous knives into their leader’s back, blaming him for every misstep in the campaign. These professional turncoats are simply trying to scrub any lingering stains of their own hands and polish up their resumés for a job with Team Clinton. On the other hand, Bernie hired these deplorable operatives. You get what you pay for.

The dream campaign came to an abrupt end with Sanders’s crushing defeat in California. Bernie camped out in the Golden State for two weeks, doing three or four large events a day. The senator seemed energized by the sunshine and the adoring crowds. He was transfixed by his own hype.

But Sanders never had any real chance to win California. The demographics and party establishment were aligned against him. California is a machine state and Sanders didn’t throw enough monkeywrenches into the gears. In the end, he lost by more than 400,000 votes, a humiliating margin that can’t be written off to voter suppression or hacked machines. Such conspiracy mongering only serves to deflect attention from the real defects that fatally crippled the Sanders campaign. The stakes are too high to surrender to magical thinking.

Running as an economic revolutionary, Sanders spent most of his time in the cozy milieu of college campuses instead of in desolate urban landscapes or working-class suburbs. It’s hard to earn the trust of poor people when you don’t spend much time in their company.

Many inconsolate Sandernistas continue to reflexively blame blacks and Hispanics for backing Clinton, whose odious policies offer only a few morsels to temper the grinding misery of poor people. But Sanders didn’t do much to endear himself to the American underclass.

Sanders chided Clinton for her vote on the Iraq War, saying it disqualified her from being president. Yet, he never satisfactorily explained his own vote for the Clinton Crime Bill, which launched a 20-year long war on America’s blacks and Hispanics. If blacks voting for Clinton seemed irrational, blacks could easily justify a vote against Sanders for his role in backing the racially-motivated incarceration of millions of black Americans and putting 100,000 new cops onto the streets of urban America, with the predicable results ruined lives and dead youths. Payback is a bitch.

Of course, Sanders could have turned his anemic appeal to black Democratic voters to his advantage. It might have liberated him to frontally attack Obama’s dismal record (instead of huddling with him at the White House) as well as Hillary’s, without fear of losing support he never had.

His curious timidity against confronting Obama’s policies, from drone warfare to the president’s bailout of the insurance industry (AKA ObamaCare), hobbled Sanders from the starting gate. Obama and Hillary Clinton are both neoliberals, who have betrayed organized labor and pushed job-killing trade pacts across the world. Both are beholden to the energy cartels, backing widespread oil drilling, fracking and nuclear power. Both are military interventionists, pursuing wars on at least 12 different fronts, from Afghanistan to Yemen. Of course, Hillary and Obama are simply manifestations of the power structure of the Democratic Party itself, which is unapologetically hawkish. The same party Sanders belatedly joined.

But Sanders proved singularly incapable of targeting the imperialist ideology of the Obama/Clinton era. In fact, the senator is visibly uncomfortable when forced to talk about foreign policy. Even after the assassination of Goldman Prize winner Berta Cáceres by thugs associated with the Honduran regime, Sanders inexplicably refused to press Clinton on her backing of the Honduran coup that put Cácere’s killers into power. Similarly, Sanders awkwardly failed to land any punches against Hillary for her catastrophic Libyan debacle.

Sanders himself has blamed the Democratic Party for his loss, charging that the primary process was rigged by super-delegates, purged voter rolls, hackable voting machines and the pro-Clinton machinations of Debbie (Does DNC) Wasserman-Schultz. This is the silliest excuse of all. This may come as a shock, but Democratic Party is not a democratic institution. The function of the party is to promote politicians who adhere to the ideology of the party, which has been sternly neoliberal since the nomination of Jimmy Carter in 1976. To the extent that the party machine suppressed the Sanders insurgency, it wasn’t a matter of corruption but self-preservation.

But for most of the last 10 months, Sanders wasn’t treated too harshly by the party. He certainly wasn’t “McGoverned” by the party’s political black bag teams and dirty tricksters. In fact, the Democrats were surely gratified to see Sanders out there, drawing attention to a dull and lifeless party that would otherwise have been totally eclipsed by the Trump media blitzkrieg. Sanders served the valuable function of energizing and registering on the Democratic Party rolls tens of thousands of new voters, who otherwise would have been content to stay at home playing Warcraft and Snapchatting about the latest Kardashian outrage. And the party elites knew from the beginning that he never had even an outside chance at beating Hillary. The race was over after Super Tuesday, when Hillary swept the southland. The rest has been political theater.

The biggest threat that Sanders posed to the Democratic machine was his ability to raise independent money, and lots of it, outside of the party’s control. The most recent tally shows that Sanders raised more than $212 million, a staggering amount, mostly from small online donors. He didn’t incur large debts and doesn’t owe any financial obligations to the usual Democratic Party loan sharks. He broke the money-dispensing monopoly of the DNC and deserves credit for that.

But where did all of that money go? Most of it went to those duplicitous consultants. Bernie raised money quickly, but his campaign had a high “bern” rate and there’s precious little left to show for squandering all those millions. Imagine the havoc Black Lives Matter could unleash with only half of that warchest.

Sanders has built a “yuuge” following. It’s yet to be determined whether these youthful hordes can be mobilized into a real movement. The movement is certainly going nowhere as long as Sanders loyalists remain locked inside the entropic hothouse of the Democratic Party, where their hero has led and left them, awaiting a couple of planks in the platform drafted in disappearing ink.

The most energetic political movement in the country right now is the combative Chicano-led masses stalking Trump and his racist retinue from venue-to-venue. If only there existed a similar movement haunting Hillary’s every step.

Real political revolutions (as opposed to rhetorical ones) begin after the futility of the ballot box has been proven. Sustainable movements are driven by issues not personalities. And sometimes you have to bust your idols for kindling to get things ignited.

Your move, Sandernistas.

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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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