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What was Missing From The Nation’s Interview with Bernie Sanders

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Photo by DonkeyHotey | CC BY 2.0

Photo by DonkeyHotey | CC BY 2.0

The September 20, 2016 interview with Bernie Sanders in The Nation (“Bernie Sanders: The Nation Interview”) had almost everything that a liberal, or a progressive wanted to hear about the 2016 presidential campaign, besides the lack of discussion of third-party candidates. But, there was even something more glaring in its omission, and the proverbial elephant in the living room seemed to be fouling the air with its presence.

Sanders’ interviewers were Katrina vanden Heuvel, Editor and Publisher of The Nation, and John Nichols, the magazine’s national affairs correspondent.  So these were not Jane and Johnny come lately to issues of substance. These were heavy hitters in progressive online and print media.

Bernie Sanders says that he is “optimistic about the future” based on his having waged  his campaign. He is satisfied that issues about “Medicare for all” and “free tuition to public colleges and universities,” and “progressive taxation,” are all on the political table, so to speak, because of the success of his campaign. He talks about the tremendous support he received from young voters and his lack of enthusiasm from seniors and senior members of minority groups. He speaks about the outrageously high unemployment rate among young African Americans. He  discusses how he brought the ideas of democratic socialism to the attention of large numbers of people and that those ideas were accepted as meriting debate in the larger society…  He speaks about preventing cuts to Social Security… about raising the minimum wage… pay equity… supporting progressive candidates at all levels of government in the general election… student debt… breaking up large financial institutions…action on climate change… the progressive/liberal ideas in the Democratic Party platform… And the importance of supporting Clinton in her opposition to Donald Trump.

And all of those issues are of the upmost importance in the U.S., and the senator makes a point in the interview that Hillary Clinton knows that there is a constituency that strongly backs this progressive agenda. But there’s still that damn elephant that begs for attention and that elephant  makes up 44 percent of the 2017 fiscal federal budget that will go toward fighting the endless wars that the U.S. is now involved in. It is nothing less than the guns vs. butter debate and how those guns often spill over into domestic shootouts with devastating consequences. It was no accident that the “peace dividend” at the end of the Cold War would soon be forgotten in the new fog of war. It’s almost as if militarism and military spending never missed a step in the transition from the Cold War to the War on Terror.

There was not a word about the trillions of dollars spent in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Syria, Somalia, and Pakistan… the billions in military aid to Israel… the billions that go to Egypt… the billions in aid to Saudi Arabia… the money that goes into domestic surveillance. There was not a word spoken about the blowback of terrorism, in part the result of decades of war, which has left a political vacuum in the Middle East that has been filled by religious extremists.

Not a word about the planned troop “surge” of more than 600 soldiers into Iraq to counter ISIS; the no-fly zone over Syria championed by Clinton; and the near invisibility of a vibrant antiwar movement in the U.S. in the face of unending wars. No talk of how Afghanistan and Iraq and Syria and Libya are all failed states in one respect or another following the “investment’ of American blood and trillions of dollars and the loss of life of innocent civilians in those wars. There was not even a mention of The Geneva Conventions or the Nuremberg Principles or the principles of the United Nations Charter.

Senator Sanders contributed mightily to opening up a debate on a host of vital issues and brought a sense of sanity back into the culture of a rigged Citizens United political system. When pushed by his campaign constituents and campaign workers, he began to address the issues of war and peace, but that elephant in the living room seems to have lost its presence and stature in The Nation interview.

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Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He is the author of Against the Wall: Memoir of a Vietnam-Era War Resister (2017).

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