Thousands of people – mainly young (and overwhelmingly white) have been enthusiastically turning out to hear Bernie Sanders speak forcefully on such things as income inequality, national health care insurance and free education. He also attacks the domination over politics by the “one percent”, the billionaires, as he calls them.
Those thousands who are turning out are looking for somebody who will resolve their personal crisis. It would make things a lot easier if Sanders can or will. But will he? In fact, can he?
Some who support Sanders think that what he’s doing is “opening up a political space” in which to discuss socialist ideas and build a movement for an alternative to the Democrats. How ironic that while this is their claim, they shrink from actually doing so! This is no accident, as what Sanders appeals to, what his entire campaign is based upon, is an appeal to let him – and presumably other Democrats – resolve people’s problems for them.
Contrary to what defenders of Sanders claim, we are not looking for a “perfect” candidate. But a good dose of reality never hurt, and we have to measure Sanders’ present rhetoric against his actual past.
While many workers pay less attention to foreign policy, for Corporate America this is central. It determines how the US government will defend Corporate America’s interests abroad. Back in the 1960s and ’70s, a wing of the Democrats were known as “Cold War liberals.” They supported concessions to US workers at home while they determinedly pursued US corporate interests abroad. At the same time, they opposed and repressed anybody with any sort of socialist agenda at home or abroad. Hubert Humphrey was one of the foremost examples of these liberals. Today, the “War on Terror” has replaced the Cold War for Corporate America. Sanders has proven himself to Corporate America on this score:
- In 1999, he supported then-President Clinton’s War in Kosovo. (He later had some protesters arrested who sat in in his office.)
- He has always voted for war appropriations for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
- In 2006, he voted for HR 921, which gave full support for Israel’s war against Lebanon and for HR 4681, which imposed sanctions on the Palestinian Authority as a result of the democratic election of Hamas in Gaza.
- To this day, he supports drone warfare.
Support for Israel – one of the most racist and reactionary states in the world – is a litmus test for Corporate America. Sanders passes the test. He has visited Israel several times. There is no indication that he did so to support the Palestinian rights advocates there. He has made some mild criticisms of some of Israel’s more extreme actions (as has Obama), but when push came to shove, he defended Israel, as when he voted for Senate Resolution 498 in July of 2014. This was the resolution that supported Israel’s murderous war on Gaza on the basis of Israel’s
“right to defend itself.” (What never gets addressed is whether the Palestinians also have a right to defend themselves against land and water theft, racist attacks, etc.)
Repression at Home
- In 1996, Sanders voted for Bill Clinton’s “Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act.” This act laid the foundation for Bush’s “War on Terror” (murder abroad) as well as making it easier for the government to execute people here at home.
Ties to the Democrats
Sanders first ran for office in 1968 and was defeated. After that defeat, he attended Harvard’s Kennedy School. That, in itself, was the tipoff. The Kennedy School is run in order to help build and spread the influence of the liberal establishment. Sanders’ attendance there cannot be understood as anything but a conscious decision to join that establishment.
- In 1981, Sanders won his first election as mayor of Burlington, VT. While in office, he teamed up with real estate, hotel and other business interests to support construction on the city’s waterfront and wetlands – a project that was opposed by environmentalists at that time.
- In 1990, Sanders was elected to the US House of Representatives and to the US Senate in 2006 (and reelected in 2012). As if in anticipation of the present disgust with both parties, Sanders has remained officially an “independent”. This fits with the current mood, in which 39% of voters aren’t aligned with either of the two main parties (vs. 32% Democrats and 23% Republicans). The reality is that ever since the days that he attended the Kennedy School, Sanders has tied himself with a thousand threads to the Democratic Party.
- In 2006, when he first ran for the Senate, he cut a deal with the Democratic tops that they wouldn’t help finance any Democratic opponent in exchange for his supporting Democrats in other races. Having supported Bill Clinton in the ‘90s and John Kerry in 2004, it was easy for Sanders to hold up his end of the bargain as did the Democratic Party leadership did for their end. He was supported by Chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Senator Chuck Schumer as well as by the Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid. Sanders supported Democrats against independents like Progressive Party candidate David Zuckerman.
Meanwhile, he waltzes around the issue of privatization of education and has refused to support those communities and teachers who are opposing closure of public schools like those in Chicago. Part of his problem is that like in so many other similar cases, he’d have to directly oppose a fellow Democrat (Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel), something he’s refused to do so far.
Essentially, what Sanders advocates is that he will solve the problems that the majority of Americans face for them. There can be no other meaning, for instance, to his recent announcement that he’s introducing a bill to establish free higher education in the US. What sort of campaign is he seeking to organize for this, aside from his own election campaign? In other words, this bill has less chance of passing than he does of winning the race for president.
This is the entire underlying theme of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. It is used to suck any social movement – as well as the unions – into that swamp where it will lose its way and drown. Those who doubt it should suggest a simple step: That Sanders’ campaign set up an e mail list for all the local chapters of Sanders supporters to directly communicate with each other. Just as MoveOn.org refuses to do this, the Sanders campaign won’t either.
The bitter pill is that workers and young people have no alternative but to organize their own movement, completely independent of all wings of the Democrats and, through this, to build a new, mass workers’ party. It can start down that road by linking the protests in the streets with running independent political candidates, most likely at the local level for a start. Support for Bernie Sanders is a diversion from this path.