Bernie’s Last Tape

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

[Author’s Note: In fact, this transcript (printed as the epilogue to Bernie and the Sandernistas) turned out to be Bernie’s second-to-last tape. But the last tape itself proved to be a less vigorous re-run of the previous tape. As the man said, Fail. Fail again. Fail worse. –JSC]

Bench. Lafayette Park. Facing White House. An old man in a sleeping bag, fiddling with a vintage cassette recorder. Suddenly a pigeon alights on his shoulder. Shits. It is a sign. The man speaks.

Did they cheer me once? Did they? So hard to tell. The echoes are dim now. Fading. People pass by and give me looks. Someone pitches a quarter and a couple of pennies. 27 cents. It was dollars once, wasn’t it? Don’t they know me now? Hearing has gone. Gone since the batteries died. Jane used to buy them. At Costco, was it? Not Wal-Mart. Never Wal-Mart. I could never put them in. Big fat fingers, tiny little hearing machine. She had such nice hands. Jane. Small, delicate. Good for that kind of stuff. Hearing is the first to go. Of the senses. It warmed me once. Those cheers. On a cold night in Des Moines. Corn stubble covered with snow. I could have won Iowa, they told me. Someone did. Later. Who, I don’t know. Memory fades. Something about missing ballots. Coin tosses. I should have objected, they said. Too late. Didn’t want to make a fuss. They pulled the same trick, time after time. Nevada. Missouri. Arizona. But I did better than I hoped. Hope is what kills you. In the end. At the beginning there was no hope. I was free then. Free to say what I wanted. Crazy old man, yelling at the banks. That’s what they said. Some of them. I think. I could say what they couldn’t. What they thought. That’s why they came. Maybe. To hear the crazy man speak their thoughts. People came. Out of nowhere. Madison. Portland, where that other bird came. Propitious bird. [Turns to pigeon.] He didn’t shit did he? Not on TV. Not like you. Berkeley. Boulder. Masses of people. Young ones. Young women. Younger than Jane. Whiter than Jane. Most of them. My flock. All I had to do was whistle. They would come. Eager faces. Eager to please. Eager for revolt. Even that Rachel at MSDNC. She used to call every week. Seemed to like me. Once. Later they turned on me. Like that Warren woman. Just when I was closing in, the knives came out. Didn’t they? So hard to recall.

Pause. Wipes away a tear or perhaps a flake of snow.

It was the blacks who did me in. The blacks who never got me. The blacks who didn’t vote. Why did they go for her, after all I did for them. Getting arrested in Chicago. Marching with Dr. King. It was Dr. King, wasn’t it? One of them. Wasn’t there a photo? The only time they came to my rallies was to interrupt me. Heckle me. To make demands. From me. Of all people. So ungrateful. Black Lives Matter. Of course, they do. But did that give them the right? Yes, I voted for the Crime Bill. But I didn’t call them Super-Predators, did I? Rude. Unyielding. Never build a movement like that. I tried to tell them. Ours was the real Revolution that would carry them, too. Eventually. Patience. They wouldn’t listen. Not like my Sandernistas. Someone called them that. The kids who came running when I called.

Pause. Closes his eyes. Broods.

Ah, youth. You were my nectar. Then came hope. Bitter, bitter hope. That woman. The other. The woman with the pant suits, the Armani jackets and the Super Pac. She seemed invincible. Super Delegate Woman. I showed her. Didn’t I? At the beginning. My instincts. I should have trusted them. Base old instincts. Not the Advisors. Where did they come from? The Advisors. Who sent them? That first night. Under the lights. With the cameras rolling. Funny little Chaffee, down on the end. Had he been smoking weed? That’s what someone whispered. I didn’t smell it on him. Perhaps he vaped. I miss him now. Silly little Lincoln. Town Car we called him. Old family. Small state. Spoke his mind. Not much on it. Still…

Pause. Rummages in a garbage bag. Pulls out frayed photo of him hugging Hillary.

I close my eyes and it slowly comes back to me. I had my chance. I could have taken her that night. I could have gone for the throat. Tiny little throat. Ripe for the slashing. The question hangs before me even now. CNN. Clinton News Nitwits. That Anderson Cooper. Why did I say it? It was scripted wasn’t it? By whom? The question and the answer. We knew it was coming. The one about the emails. They were her weakness. Stupid little emails. Stupid little answer. Jane didn’t like her. Never did. Go for the throat, Bernie. She said. Take her down. Take them all down, Bernie. Jane said. Where is she now? Jane? With Chaffee? She saw something in me. Once. What was it? Be above the fray, they said. Don’t go negative. Preserve your image. Be chivalrous. So I intervened. Came to her rescue. Made my pact, can’t turn back. “The American people are sick of hearing about her damn emails!” The press loved it. I was the white knight. It was over then. I didn’t know it. Hillary did. She knew, dammit. That smirk. Walking dead. That’s what Jane said. You blew it, Bernie. But the polls, I said, look at the polls! I’ll always have the polls to comfort me. They can’t take that away from me. The polls and the money. $220 million. Where did it all go? If I could have it all back. The fire. The children. Hope. No, better this way. Better not to hope.

Bernie hangs his head. The tape records only silence.

Post-script: My pal Carl G. Estabrook, looking very trim, devotes the first few minutes of his must watch show on politics, culture and the media out of Champaign-Urbana, News From Neptune (the antecedent is Chomsky not Hendrix or William Morris) to a reading of my little drama, “Bernie’s Last Tape.” Carl has actually performed Beckett, to great acclaim, I’ve merely slandered Lonesome Sam’s reputation through parody. (Someone should stop me before I write the sequel: Bernie’s Last Krapp.)

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 @JeffreyStClair3