Public Comment

The Bernie Sanders you do not know

Harry Brill
Thursday August 04, 2016 - 09:49:00 AM

In a recent discussion on Amy Goodman's Democracy Now program, Robert Reich and Chris Hedges debated the upcoming presidential election. Reich argued in favor of Hillary Clinton while Hedges made the argument that we should instead support a third party candidate. However, it is important to note Reich did agree with Hedges that in the long run building a political movement including a third party is the route to go.

Bernie Sanders during the 1980s was sympathetic to a third party political agenda. But since 1990, unlike Reich and Hedges, he changed his mind, and made a pact with the Vermont Democratic Party. The Democratic Party would not officially endorse any candidate that runs against Bernie. In return, Bernie would use his influence, which he has done several times, to block third party efforts. The Vermont Democrats had been worried that a third party might emerge.

Because of Bernie's reputation as an anti-war advocate we might have expected that the Democratic Party would have second thoughts about favoring him. The catch is, however, that his reputation does not reflect the reality. Yes, he did oppose the war in Iraq. However, in a subsequent vote that has made two protracted wars possible, he voted to fund the wars both in Iraq and Afghanistan. So Bernie was able for the most part to satisfy both sides; those who favor peace and those who favor war. Bernie has also supported the NATO bombing of Serbia. 

Those who have been active in the anti-war movement are aware of Bernie's pro-war record. Some peace activists protested by occupying his office. If Bernie thought he was misunderstood he could have explained himself to the occupiers. Instead, he called the police. Not surprisingly, then, the Vermont Democratic Party leadership has appreciated that although Bernie ran as an independent he was really one of them. The Senate Democratic Party Caucus, in fact, has included Bernie Sanders as a member, which is a rarely offered to a non-Democrat. 

In 1990 Bernie ran for a seat in the House of Representatives against Delores Sandoval, who is an African American progressive. She ran as an unauthorized candidate of the state Democratic Party. The Party's leadership attempted to persuade her, but without success, to withdraw. In contrast to Bernie, she opposed the war on drugs, which she realized was a disguised racist assault. She was also a peace candidate. He wasn't. To assure her defeat she was completely ignored by the Democratic Party. Bernie easily won. 

As you know. Since Hillary won the presidential nomination, Bernie has given her his unqualified and enthusiastic support. Like most of us, he is terrified with the prospect of Trump as our next president. But this is not the first time that Bernie has supported Democratic Party presidential candidates. He voted for John Kerry in2002 and also Bill Clinton both in 1992 and 1996. Bernie had once claimed that there was no difference between the two major parties. But he apparently changed his mind.  

So Bernie voted for Bill Clinton for a second term despite Clinton's reactionary record during his first term. Clinton successfully twisted arms in Congress to win passage of the onerous, anti-labor, pro-corporate NAFTA bill. He gutted the welfare program at the expense of very poor families including mostly children. Clinton also signed into law a crime bill which has encouraged police surveillance and racial profiling. This law also has led to mass incarceration of the poor, particularly African Americans. Clinton even eliminated funds to provide educational programs for inmates. 

Bernie justified his support of Bill Clinton by making the tiresome lesser of two evils argument. But the reality was that Clinton's Democratic Party was closer to the Republicans than Bernie realized. Consider the following outrage. Clinton and the Republican Newt Gingrich, who was Speaker of the House of Representatives, secretly devised a plan to privatize Social Security. Fortunately this scheme was dropped because soon after, Clinton was weighed down by the revelations of his sexual contact with a White House intern. 

Bernie Sanders has just run a very progressive campaign against Hillary Clinton. It was among the most refreshing events in recent American history. Despite her many advantages, he did incredibly well. In fact, he did much better than the official figures showed. Hillary was declared the winner in California even though, as Bernie and the rest of us learned, 2 1/2 million votes in the state had not yet been counted. Quite suspicious. Also, there were serious questions about the legitimacy of the count elsewhere. 

But particularly disturbing was how Bernie reacted to the flagrant irregularities. Although Bernie did not at first concede, nor did he respond aggressively, which he should have. He was for the most part silent despite the deceit by the Hillary campaign. The obvious question is why didn't he attempt to stir things up.  

Actually, former presidential candidates who have been cheated have behaved similarly. Even the Republican Nixon who was competing with Kennedy decided against challenging the votes that the Democrats illegally Nixon apparently did not want to make public the revelation that our democracy is not quite democratic. Some other presidential candidates who have been cheated have done the same. Perhaps Bernie had a similar concern, particularly with regard to protecting the reputation of the Democratic Party. 

The rather "patriotic" code of silence on voting irregularities is not only unfortunate. It is dangerous. Bernie should have broken from that tradition. No matter how high minded his motives may have been, his reticence has been tantamount to complicity. Bernie has something to learn from the Spanish philosopher, Miguel De Unamuno, who was trouble that "sometimes to remain silent is to tell a lie". Bernie's reticence is especially disappointing to hear from someone who calls himself a Democratic Socialist. 

Instead, Bernie should have taken his cues from Election Justice USA, which is a national organization of experts on election integrity. It has conducted a thorough investigation of voter fraud this year and found plenty of wrong doings. The organization proposes "calling for decertification of the 2016 primary in every state in which we have established a reasonable doubt as to the accuracy of the vote tally". Obviously, a nation that is really democratic does not only assure us the right to vote. It guarantees us that our votes will be accurately counted. 

Please do not misinterpret my criticisms of Bernie. I certainly wish that he had won the nomination. If Bernie then became our next president, he would have been a lot more progressive than Hillary. Indeed, it would have been an extraordinary step forward. But it is important that we do not rationalize our support for a candidate by overlooking his or her shortcomings.  

What is especially salutary and promising about Bernie's campaign is that while Hillary's money comes mainly from Wall Street. Bernie's from the grass roots!