A DEEP GREEN PERSPECTIVE ON BERNIE SANDERS

11 07 2015
sanderswoodcut
Not since the halcyon days when Rev. Martin Luther King broadened his perspective from civil rights for African-Americans to human rights for everybody, and called for an end to poverty, oppression, and warfare, has there been such thunder on the left.  Bernie Sanders has come out swinging, not just as a populist, but as a socialist, and he has tapped into a vein of enthusiasm that just might propel him into the Democratic Party nomination for President, and from there into the White House.
Bernie Sanders’ career has, over the years, built a solid foundation for such an attempt.  As a college student he worked with the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee in Mississippi, and he spent time on a kibbutz in Israel before moving to Vermont and getting into politics with the Liberty Union Party. He was a frequent losing candidate throughout the 70’s, and ultimately left the LUP.  Then, in 1981, friends urged him to run for mayor of Burlington, his home and the largest city in Vermont. Sanders ran as an independent and a socialist, won by ten votes, and went on to serve four terms, beating Republicans, Democrats, and Republican-Democratic fusion candidates.  Sanders’ tenure as mayor, according to Peter Dreier and Pierre Clavel, writing in The Nation, produced the following results:
… the city’s largest housing development is now resident-owned, its largest supermarket is a consumer-owned cooperative, one of its largest private employers is worker-owned, and most of its people-oriented waterfront is publicly owned. Its publicly owned utility, the Burlington Electric Department, recently announced that Burlington is the first American city of any decent size to run entirely on renewable electricity.
 
The city has largely continued in the direction Sanders set it in, with protégés of his winning election most of the time since his retirement as mayor in 1989.  The changes that Sanders made in Burlington have remained because they are so popular with so many people, independents, Democrats, Republicans, and socialists alike.  In 1990, again running as an independent, he won Vermont’s seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.  One of his first acts as a Congressman was to establish the “Progressive Caucus.” However, his role since arriving on the national scene has more as a conscience than as a get-it-done legislator.  He has introduced what would be landmark legislation if it went anywhere, but, between hostile Republicans and indifferent Democrats, only one bill, and some floor amendments, have Sanders’ name on them. The bill was a largely procedural one allowing Vermont and New Hampshire to co-operate on taking care of the Connecticut River.

This lack of enthusiastic Democratic Party support for his ideas could be one of Sanders’ stumbling blocks as a President, should he get that far. I’ll have more to say about a potential Sanders Presidency later, but first let’s look at what lies between him and the nomination, and next at what difficulties he might have to overcome to get elected. Then we can look at the possibilities of Chief Executive Bernie.
Like many who overall feel heartened by his candidacy, I have some reservations about him. He is not a pacifist. He has voted for a few mid-East war-related bills, but not many. MLKingJrT He has been, and remains, a strong critic of the Patriot Act and the Afghan-Iraq war.  On the other hand, while he thinks the Israelis step over the line from time to time, he essentially supports Israel.  In his defence, the basic foreign policy alignment of the US is a very, very tough system to challenge, even more so than the mainstream domestic agenda, and it’s hard to fault him for not wanting to take on both at once. Or, maybe he really does think those things are OK.  So, while Sanders may evoke The Reverend King when he speaks of domestic injustice, he doesn’t quite seem to share Rev. King’s vision of  world justice.  Still–it’s one thing to speak as the leader of a movement grounded in Gandhi and “moral force,”  like Rev. King, and another to speak as a politician who has to work with  a broad spectrum of people who may or may not agree with him, and who may or may not be open to changing their minds.
And, speaking of working with people who may or may not be open to changing their minds, he’s going to have to overcome the “Democratic Establishment”– the Clintons, Joe Biden, Rahm Emmanuel, Chuck Schumer, and the rest.  This was supposed to be Hillary Clinton’s party, and they don’t care to have it crashed by Bernie.  You can bet that Hillary Clinton will say whatever she has to say to appeal to Bernie’s constituency–and that those promises won’t be worth the pixels they were promulgated in if she wins the election.  The Democrats have a long history, dating back to the last high tide of Socialism in the 1930’s, of beating back attempts to radicalize the party. I talked/wrote about this in some detail recently, so here’s the short version: it hasn’t worked yet.  But “the times they are a-changing,” for sure, this time, right?  Just like all the other times? Forgive my cynicism. Maybe Bernie is the one who can topple Goliath.  Maybe.
What the record shows is that, the one time a left Democratic insurgency actually got its candidate nominated, in 1972, the “owners” of the Party passively sabotaged George McGovern’s campaign with a marked lack of enthusiasm and $upport. McGovern was nowhere near as radical as Sanders, who, I think can expect the same treatment.  Or maybe things will be somewhat different this time.  The AFL-CIO didn’t endorse or work for McGovern, but Sanders is so rousingly in favor of unions that they might just throw down for him.
And yes, George McGovern might have lost to Nixon even with the full faith and credit of the Democratic Party, but the fact remains that they didn’t support him the way a Democratic Party Presidential candidate is usually supported. After the McGovern debacle, in which Democratic Party insiders proved that they were willing to lose an election to win back the party, they changed the rules for how a candidate is nominated to give themselves a larger say in the matter and make it easier to overrule “insurgent” candidates like McGovern–and Bernie Sanders.  I’m sure we can also expect to see the best Democratic Party minds for hire in America look for ways to “swift boat” Bernie and seal the nomination for Hillary. “Better we do it to him than the Republicans do it to us,” they’ll tell themselves.
Foreign policy differences aside, Bernie Sanders has picked up the mantle of Dr. Martin Luther King, and that mantle has a bullseye on it.  If the corporatists can’t take him down any other way, there’s always a deranged right-wing, socialist-hating gun nut to be manipulated. Here’s what Robert Scheer, former editor of Ramparts Magazine and current editor of the Truthdig website, has to say on the subject:
King had become an irritant to people of power, a big irritant. When he died, he was there working with garbage collectors in Memphis who were on strike, dealing with poverty issue.So he wouldn’t stay put in his moral concerns…..
…if there is a King alive today, he will be destroyed and you won’t even know it. I’m not talking about the creepy stuff like you control his car and smash into a cliff or do all the other things that can be done with modern technology. I mean, all of us are vulnerable to people who want to smear us, whether they use true stuff or false stuff, whether they make it (up) or they manufacture it. Scott Ritter, who was the most effective critic of the whole phony weapons of mass destruction, he gets entrapped by a police agent in some kind of Internet sex thing and serves time in jail. Elliott Spitzer, the most effective critic of the banks when he was attorney general in New York and then governor, suddenly it’s a big deal that he went to a house of prostitution or something, and he’s destroyed. So the ability to destroy people, like a Martin Luther King or anyone else, is out there. It’s in the hands of all these government agencies, all these police forces. Trust me, it’s going to be rampant.
music break:  Richard  Thompson, “You Can’t Win.”
Unfortunately for the powers-that-be, we all already know a lot about Bernie Sanders, and he knows to watch his back, both literally and figuratively.  v2n05-may-1919-liberator-hrcoverBernie has blown the political dialogue in this country way more open than it’s been since the days of Eugene Debs, let alone Martin Luther King, who had to work with a country that was far to the right of where it had been when Debs was in his heyday.
So…suppose Sanders is nominated and elected?  What happens next?  Here’s a scenario that was offered on the “Commondreams” website:
How does (the) power structure imprison the president?  As a thought experiment, imagine the morning after he is elected President in 2016.  What would greet President-elect Bernie Sanders after the victory parties die down and residents of Burlington, VT awaken to their first cup of coffee?   The most immediate impact would be a steep decline in global financial markets, as investors registered their panic at the “reckless” decision reached by U.S. voters.  The swift negative response would be amplified by fears in corporate boardrooms, as the specter of severe market instability and declining business confidence wracked the capitalist world.  With a financial meltdown looming, president-elect Sanders would be facing a business reaction known as “capital strike.”  And that’s just day one after the election.  With little prospect of the economic tumult subsiding during his 11 week transition period, Sanders would face enormous pressure to calm the fears of the market by announcing the appointment of moderates to hold Cabinet positions—non-confrontational, non-ideological people who would be “acceptable” to political and economic power holders.  No radicals for the Treasury Department, no thoughts of Ben and Jerry as Co-Secretaries of Commerce, no union firebrand to head the Labor Department, no Bill McKibben leading the Interior Department.  Only nice, “safe” choices would suffice—personnel decisions that would undermine the progressive vision of his campaign.  In short, the economics of “capital strike” would threaten to trump the verdict of democracy.
I think the main operative phrase in that “thought experiment” is “capital strike.”  Just as workers strike, choosing to lose pay in the short term in order to gain benefits in the long term, so capital–the money providers–can “go on strike,” causing financial loss and chaos in the short term in order to gain the upper hand in the long term, just as the Democratic Party establishment in 1972 chose to abandon McGovern in order to regain control of the party.
But here’s the thing that is not “same as it ever was”: I think Bernie’s popularity is a symptom of the same political restlessness that has brought Syriza to power in Greece, elected anti-establishment mayors in Barcelona and Madrid, and that, throughout Europe, is shattering the political monopoly once held by “centrist,” corporatist, mainstream parties. The US political setup makes it very difficult for “third parties” to succeed, so what we have seen instead is lower and lower voter enthusiasm and turnout, as citizens quit believing in the promises made by Democrats, and the Republicans pander to an ever-crazier base.  How crazy are the Republicans getting?  The reason so many of them are running for President, in my humble, amateur opinon, is because the candidates are too sociopathic to consider the possibility that somebody else might do a better job than they could, let alone the notion that what they would consider “a good job” would be dangerous to themselves and others.  My prediction is that, whoever the Republican candidate is, s/he and/or the Republican Party will self-destruct over the course of the campaign.  The more energy psyches like theirs take on, the crazier they get.  Factor in Republican overconfidence in their own echo chamber, as well as the fact that, as he has repeatedly demonstrated in Vermont, Sanders’ appeal cuts across party lines, and Brother Bernie might just win the election in spite of the corporate Democrats and their corporate Republican counterparts.
Might I vote for Bernie? First of all, it’s not at all certain that he’ll get the nomination. If he does, and if I thought he had a chance of carrying Tennessee, and he hasn’t been sucked back into the amorphous mainstream like Al Gore in 2000, I might very well vote for him. If it seems like there’s no chance of him carrying Tennessee, or if Hillary’s the nominee (and she certainly won’t carry Tennessee) I’d vote Green, just to try to get us up to the percentage we need to get (and stay) on the ballot. Ballot access…one of the many ways this country censors political discussion.  But that’s a topic for another time.
One thing that bothers me about Sanders is that, at this point, he is a one-off.  He doesn’t come with a slate of candidates.  While Burlington has remained more or less on the track he set it on as mayor, his replacement in the U.S. House was a liberal Democrat, not another Socialist. His nomination, if it happens, will not automatically alter the consciousness of everybody in The Democratic Party and cause them to take seven giant steps to the left.
logo-of-the-gpusa_square_weblogo_0The Green Party, on the other hand, is a long-standing, nationwide–international, actually–network. The Green Party does not need to be captured and moved to the left. Well, maybe a little…..
Here’s what it will take to make Bernie Sanders’ run for the Presidency meaningful: If thousands of people who like his ideas, or The Green Party’s very similar platform, run for office, and enough of us actually win, we could have the ballot box revolution that Bernie talks about, just like the ones that have happened in Greece and Spain and Alberta, and a great many of those elected might be Greens. If Bernie doesn’t get the nomination, and all that “Bernie” energy has to pledge allegiance to corporate clone Clinton, dissipate, or find another focus, the Green Party will still be here. It would be great if we had candidates with track records like Bernie’s, but so far we have not had that kind of success. It’s hard to challenge a system that runs on huge corporate contributions when one of your first principles is not taking corporate contributions! Perhaps the U.S. Green Party should do what our Canadian counterparts did when they figured out a parliamentary seat that their chairwoman could probably get elected to and moved her across the country so she could win that seat and take her place on the national stage.
One “inconvenient truth” of the American political process is that it has largely been captured by the two corporate parties, the Democrats and Republicans, and they take care to make it difficult for outsiders to get in, especially outsiders who challenge the hegemony of the corporate state that Democrats and Republicans both take for granted.  Bernie has been extremely fortunate to be in the right place at the right time to climb farther up the American political power pyramid than any other countercultural radical, and I appreciate how much he has retained his integrity in the course of that climb.

Another “inconvenient truth” of American politics is that there is a ruling class, and I’m not in it and, probably, neither are you.  To be a member, you pretty much have to be rich–a lawyer, a real estate mogul, or a business owner of some kind. Bernie has crashed that party, and is saying things that you’re not supposed to say if you’re a member of the ruling class. Will they find a way to toss him out? Or will he change the tone of the party?  I’ll say it again:  the thing that will help a “President Bernie” the most–and that will help even if he doesn’t get nominated, or elected–is for hundreds, even thousands, of people who agree with him to run for every office we can, from the U.S. Senate on down to city council, and actually get ourselves elected.  Syriza, after all, is a widespread popular movement.  Unexpected things do happen.  While it received little attention in the U.S., voters in Alberta, Canada, recently ended 44 years of reactionary rule and voted in the New Democrats, a left-wing, populist Canadian political party that suffered “third party” status for years, but has now replaced the Liberal Party as the main opposition party in Canada.

I wish Bernie all the luck in the world. He’s gonna need it. For fifty years, I have been hearing left-wing insurgencies swear that this time, the Democratic Party is theirs, only to see their efforts come to nothing.  Bernie Sanders is going to have to come up with a lot more than stirring radical rhetoric to convince me that he can get where he wants to go. But I am grateful to him for having the chutzpah to, at the very least, be this season’s Don Quixote, and to use his big megaphone to speak so many truths that warm my heart. Anything can happen.  Even now, anything can happen.  I just have to keep telling myself that.
music:  The Flames, “Stand Up And Be Counted
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6 responses

12 07 2015
Stacy

I like a lot of what you are saying here, but it also sounds like you are a little guilty of doing the same thing that you accuse the Democratic Party of doing. You too willing to tow your party line over giving Bernie more of a chance by just at least committing to voting for him no matter what. Supporting the Green Party is not as important as supporting Bernie Sanders, who if elected will do a lot more good for our country than the Green Party would do by merely splintering the left into more pieces. #FeelTheBern

13 07 2015
cseeman

Well thought out perspective.

The Super Delegates 20% of the Delegates chosen by Democratic Party Leaders, not the public at primary or caucus, are likely all that would be needed to prevent him from getting the Dem nomination. A party that limits the power of the rank and file is built to prevent reform.

That the DNC is limiting Sanders to 6 debates is another factor worth exploring. Sanders will otherwise be heavily dependent on the Corporate News Media.

That news media is for profit and ad revenue based. Clinton and her supporting PACs will be filling their bottom line with ad profits in a way Sanders can’t approach. That certainly can bias coverage.

There’s the other looming corporate media factor. The media is regulated by the FCC and you can be certain that media does not want Sanders appointing FCC commissioners, that includes Broadcast, Cable, the Telecom companies. That direct and motivated financial interest certainly may bias the media.

Some would argue that a grassroots effort can overcome all that. But the achilles heel, as you mention, is that as a Democrat he would not be running with a like minded slate, certainly not during the primary.

The only way one would “take over” the Democratic Party would be to elect County and State Committee members since they elect the County and State Party Leaders who, in turn, elect the DNC who make the rules and fill the Presidential Delegate vacancies as well.

The rank and file Democrats are acutely unaware of their own party rules and rarely run for those party positions and, when they do, the Party Leadership easily defends against them.

Certainly the Green Party would face the same corporate media obstacles but otherwise offers better potential. The process of selecting the nominee is far more democratic when it comes to rank and file input. Such Presidential Candidate, even in defeat, can pass ballot access legal thresholds (sometimes as low as 1%) to allow for more local partisan candidates. Such candidates can run on slates so that, should the voting public ever awaken, could elect like minded people from bottom to top.

It’s always against long odds either way but the Green Party provides better opportunity for bottom up change.

13 07 2015
Caz

Great analysis. Bernie could have a chance but the American people would have to wake from our slumber of political ignorance and party favoritism.

14 07 2015
brothermartin

Stacy, it sounds like you don’t understand the U.S. electoral system very well. “committing to voting for (Bernie) no matter what” (presuming, of course, he wins the nomination) will not necessarily help him get elected. All of each state’s electoral votes, which are the ones that actually count in a Presidential election, go to whoever wins the state. It doesn’t matter if there is one vote difference between the two candidates or a million. So, if you live in a state where your candidate is loses, your vote for that candidate is, so to speak, wasted.

As for the merits of supporting The Green Party over Bernie Sanders, Bernie is an outlier among the Democrats, who, in my opinion, are likely to shake him off and nominate Hillary Clinton, a candidate who does not challenge the corporatocracy. Bernie has pledged to support whoever the Democratic Party nominee is. The Green Party will still be here, challenging corporate hegemony in a way that is qualitatively different from the Democrats. We are not a splinter. We are a new tree. But, as I said, if it seems like Bernie could win Tennessee, I’d be inclined to vote for him.

14 07 2015
brothermartin

Thanks for elaborating the discussion of the obstacles Bernie faces in getting nominated and elected!

14 07 2015
brothermartin

Will the sleepers awake? Stay tuned!



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