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What is Bernie Up To?

I sure don’t know, and I’m sure that Hillary Clinton and her campaign managers are wondering too.

In today’s New York Times, the independent socialist Senator from Vermont published a hard-hitting opinion-page piece attacking presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, but really targeting Democratic Party leaders, super delegates, and the Democrats’ presumptive nominee Clinton — though he carefully avoided naming her.

Significantly, Sanders, in an article headlined “Democrats Have to Wake Up,” identified himself at the end of the article as “a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination.”

The message is clear: Sanders is still in the race for the Democratic nomination.

The message is also clear in saying, in the wake of the stunning rejection of European Union membership by a majority of British voters who feel that globalization and the common and tariff-free borders of the EU have only hurt them:

“We need a president who will vigorously support international cooperation that brings the people of the world closer together, reduces hypernationalism and decreases the possibility of war. We also need a president who respects the democratic rights of the people, and who will fight for an economy that protects the interests of working people, not just Wall Street, the drug companies and other powerful special interests.

“We need to fundamentally reject our “free trade” policies and move to fair trade. Americans should not have to compete against workers in low-wage countries who earn pennies an hour. We must defeat the Trans-Pacific Partnership. We must help poor countries develop sustainable economic models.

“We need to end the international scandal in which large corporations and the wealthy avoid paying trillions of dollars in taxes to their national governments.

“We need to create tens of millions of jobs worldwide by combating global climate change and by transforming the world’s energy system away from fossil fuels.

“We need international efforts to cut military spending around the globe and address the causes of war: poverty, hatred, hopelessness and ignorance.”

Clearly Hillary Clinton is none of those things. In international affairs Clinton is calling for yet more regime change, this time in Syria, in what could be a direct military confrontation with Russia. She is pushing for expanded NATO bases and missiles along Russia’s western border — another huge risk of a third world war confrontation. Clinton also does not respect democratic rights, favoring things like aggressive prosecution of whistleblowers and those who assist them like Edward Snowden and Julian Assange, while also supporting the so-called Patriot Act, which Sanders has consistently opposed.

On trade, while the primary campaigning Hillary Clinton claimed she opposes the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) asian “trade” agreement, her cronies on the Democratic Party Platform Committee this past week deep-sixed efforts by Sanders’ appointees to include opposition to the TPP in the platform, and of course she played a key role as Secretary of State in negotiating that job-killing treaty when she was calling it the “gold standard” of trade agreements.

Clinton solicits huge campaign “contributions” (bribes) from corporations that are using accounting gimmicks and offshore “headquarters” to duck their corporate taxes, and so won’t do anything about that multi-trillion robbery of the treasury and opposes any serious attack on climate change, such as a tax on carbon emissions. As for cutting military spending and closing down the US weapons bazaar that drives it globally? Forget it. Clinton is a militarist. Period.

So after he has penned a powerful indictment of Clinton like this op-ed article, which condemns Clinton so relentlessly, how can anyone expect Sanders, in one month’s time when the convention is over, to turn around and endorse her candidacy as the Democratic presidential nominee? How can anyone expect him to “deliver” — or as his left critics disparagingly put it “sheepdog” —  his millions of supporters over to Clinton?

I may be naive (or a victim of what CountePrunch editor Jeff St. Clair calls “magical thinking”), but it sure looks to me like Sanders, who is a consummate politician used to being on the outside of the two-party electoral game, is playing a cagey game. The question is, what  kind of game is it? Either he is trying to appear hard-core, demanding a real progressive campaign by Clinton (which he knows she won’t deliver), in hopes that his backers will stick with him while he and his platform appointees fight for a stronger platform, after which he’ll try to say, “We got the best deal we could and now we all have to back Clinton against Trump” — and that’s simply not going to work for some 50% of his supporters who will see through it immediately. Or perhaps he’s letting everyone know he’s still in the running, hoping against hope that the FBI or Justice Department will announce an indictment of Clinton or of people close to her before the July 25 Democratic Convention cements her as the nominee, in which case he will stand ready to be the nominee. Or then again, perhaps he is still kicking around the idea of giving his primary candidacy the best shot he can until the Convention, after which he will consider the option of running as a Green candidate in the general election, which prospective Green presidential nominee Dr. Jill Stein has offered to help him get if he wants it.

To date, Sanders has not even responded to Stein’s offer, which was made in a letter which she released publicly. But that said, he has also not rejected her offer. His only statement so far regarding running for president outside of the Democratic Party, has been one made early in his campaign, saying he did not want to be “another “Nader” — a reference to Ralph Nader’s role running for president as an independent in 2000, which many people saw (wrongly) as having thrown the Florida vote, and thus the national election to George W. Bush instead of Al Gore.  But as Sanders surely knows, his running as a Green nominee would not at all be like Nader running as an independent — and 2016 is nothing like 2000 either.

As I have written before, when Nader ran in 2000, he was an independent and had to spend enormous amounts of time and money battling obstructive state laws designed to keep independents off of state ballots. As well, he only scored a few points in national polls, and so was never allowed into any of the presidential debates, and never got any coverage in the  media. This meant that most people, even given Nader’s wide name recognition as a consumer advocate, he was an unknown as far as his progressive campaign positions went. In contrast, Sanders, running as a Democrat this election year, was automatically in all the televised Democratic primary debates, and since he campaigned relentlessly in 46 states and ran as a candidate against Clinton in all 50 state primaries (plus DC and Puerto Rico), he and his policies and principles are as well or better known to voters as are Clinton’s. The media has had to take him seriously, and with his popular base of millions of voters — something Nader never had — would continue to have to report on him as a Green candidate. Because of that, Sanders would surely continue polling in high double digits (perhaps higher than Trump or Clinton!) and would thus have to be included in the coming presidential debates. And his proven ability already to raise over $200 million during the primaries in just small donations from his supporters will continue if he runs as a green, assuring that even in the area of buying paid advertising, and covering the costs of a national campaign, he will be competitive (he will also easily qualify for federal matching funds based upon whatever he raises from his non-corporate donors).

That is to say, put simply, Sanders not only would not be a “spoiler” running as a Green candidate for president. He would be a contender, and perhaps even a winner.

Could Sanders win the necessary 270 electoral votes to be elected president? Technically the answer is yes. He would have to win a majority vote in states with a total of 270 electors. At present the Green Party already has a line in 22 states with a total of 316 electoral votes, which would mean Sanders, to get 270 electoral votes, would have to basically run the table on Election Day in November. But the Greens have active campaigns underway to get their party a line in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, and the party expects to have 47 of them for sure by Election Day. A strenuous effort is planned for the other three (North Carolina, Indiana and Oklahoma), which have particularly onerous obstacles. So if those efforts, even without those last three red states, are successful, certainly Sanders would have a shot at winning. He’s already beaten Clinton in many of them in the primaries and caucuses, and with independents and disgruntled Republicans free to vote for him in a national contest, his chances of doing so again could be even better.  (I’ve also noted that since Electoral College delegates under the Constitution are not bound to vote for whoever wins in their state, and since Sanders and Clinton between them would almost certainly win more than 270 electoral votes in November, a deal could be struck by those two, as was reportedly done, but never activated, by Richard Nixon and George Wallace in 1968–namely that in the event that no candidate in a multi-candidate race were to get a 270 majority, the one who received the lower delegate total would tell those delegates to vote for the one with the higher delegate count, in order to put the latter over the top and prevent the contest from being sent to the Republican-led House to decide, or, in Nixon’s case, to a Democratic House.)

As I said, Sanders, a man who won his positions as a US Representative and Senator from Vermont running as a third party candidate, not as a Democrat, surely knows all this, so while he’s being very cagey, I still have to think that he may be playing that third game: pushing loyally for as long as he can in hopes of displacing Clinton as the Democrats’ nominee, and then reserving the option of jumping over to the Greens, who hold their own nominating convention in Houston on Aug. 4-7.

I know, I know. Most people on the left have already written Sanders off, and are calling for a shift to backing Jill Stein. But let’s be real. Stein is a great person with great politics, and a Stein campaign this year could be a whole new ballgame for the Greens, who could see support for their party and candidate surge past 5% and maybe even get into double digits, with her running against two of the least liked, least trusted major party candidates in history. But that said, she will still probably not be allowed into the corruptly run presidential debates, still will be ignored by the media, and still will not be taken seriously by most voters.

Her candidacy is certainly worth supporting if Sanders will not run as a Green. But if he were to decide to run as a Green, it would suddenly be a revolutionary moment in US history: a tremendously popular “socialist” candidate with huge name recognition, ample resources and a shot at winning the presidency, while pulling progressive candidates for Congress to victory along with him, and at the same time converting the Green Party from decades of being simply a protest vote vehicle into major-party status with a permanent line on state ballots across the nation (and in the process crushing or severely wounding the Democratic Party, that graveyard of progressive action for over a century).

That’s worth still hoping for, pushing for and even being called naive for in my book, even if it is a long shot.

Meanwhile, let Sanders know you want him to run as a Green, and that under no circumstances are you going to take any advice from him or anyone calling on you to vote for Clinton.

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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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