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The Birkenstock Bomber: When Bernie Did Serbia

The most useful parable about progressives is that offered by Bernard Sanders, self-styled “socialist-progressive-independent” rep from Vermont. Sanders owes his political career to rage against the Vietnam War among radicals, many of whom moved into the state in the early 1970s. They forthwith planned a long-term, carefully organized, assault on Vermont’s two-party structure. Sanders linked his political ambitions to this effort to organize a third force, the Progressive Alliance. He became mayor of Burlington and, later, congressman.

At a rapid clip the emphasis moved from party-building to Sanders-building. By 1994, it was apparent that the only movement B. Sanders was interested in was that of liberal money into his political campaign trough. One political piece of opportunism followed another, always forgiven by Vermont pwogressives who are frightened of Sanders and fear to speak out against the loudmouth fraud, even though, in 1998, Sanders spoke vehemently in Congress in favor of sending his state’s nuclear waste into a poor, largely Hispanic, township in Texas called Sierra Blanca.

Sanders supported sanctions against Iraq. Then he voted in favor of the war on Serbia. He did it once, he did it twice and on April 28, 1999, he did it again. This was the astounding imp-cr213-213 tie vote, which meant that the House of Representatives repudiated the war on Serbia launched by Clinton in violation of Article One of the US Constitution., which reserves war-making powers to Congress. So if the “socialist progressive” Sanders, who owes his entire career to antiwar sentiment, had not voted for NATO’s bombers, the result would have been even more dramatic, a straight majority for the coalition of Republicans and radical Democrats, such as Dennis Kucinich, Cynthia McKinney, Barbara Lee, Pete Stark and a handful of others.

On April 26, 1999, even before his most recent vote of shame, Sanders’s office was occupied by fifteen radical Vermonters sickened by his stance. The last time any political rep from Vermont had an office occupied was when a group later known as the Winooski 44 sat in (Republican) Jim Jeffords’s office in 1984, protesting Reagan’s war in Central America. Jeffords waited three days before asking the police to remove the protesters. Sanders waited six hours.

On Monday May 3, Sanders held a town hall meeting in Monteplier attended by the fifteen protesters, wearing chains. The man in Sanders’s Burlington office who told the protesters that Sanders wouldn’t speak to them was Philip Fiermonte, ironically one of the Winooski 44.

Readers of the Washington Post’s first edition can be forgiven if they missed the historic House vote refusing to approve the bombings. At first the Post reported the vote coyly on page A27. In the late edition, the Post still played down the vote. The New York Times had a better sense of news and history and put the vote on its front page, above the fold: “Deadlocked House Denies Support for Air Campaign.” The Washington Times did better too, with a front-page banner headline: “House Refuses to Back Air War on Serbs: Separate Vote Denise Funds for Deploying Ground Forces.” In the Vietnam era it took years for resistance in the House to even approach that level. Too bad Sanders was on the side of the laptop bombers.

This article is excerpted from Imperial Crusades: Iraq, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia (Verso) by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair.

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His new book is The Big Heat: Earth on the Brink co-written with Joshua Frank. He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net. Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.

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