By Paul Street
After his unsuccessful run for president, during which Bernie Sanders failed to challenge rampant vote theft and irregularities in primary elections from New York to California, he endorsed Hillary Clinton and re-joined the dismal dollar Democrats. Now Sanders is pushing out the same bellicose “Russia did it” line as his DNC pic Keith Ellison, and the man who defeated him, Tom Perez. But this is what company men do, isn’t it? Bernie Sanders: Company Man
Originally published at Counterpunch on April 14, 2017
As I pointed out back in July of 2015, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (“I”-VT) is not the independent left politician many progressives claim he is. He’s a Democratic Party company man.
That has been clear from his long Congressional record of voting with the neoliberal, dollar-drenched Democrats and accepting their seniority-based committee assignments. It was clear when he came out to Iowa City in December of 2014 to give a speech so focused on the terrible Republicans that a professor had to remind him that corporate and imperial Democrats are a problem too. It was clear when he decided to the run for the U.S. presidency as a Democrat and promised to back the Democrats’ eventual nominee (Hillary Clinton).
It was evident when he failed to go for the jugular against “the lying neoliberal warmonger” (LNW) Hillary Clinton during the primary race.
It was transparent when he submitted with only mild protest to the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) rigging of the Democratic Party primaries and Caucuses for the LNW.
It was manifest when he instructed his followers to line up behind the corrupt, two-faced, miserable, and arch-corporatist war hawk Hillary and her atrociously dull center-right running mate in the general election.
It is clear from Bernie’s recent agreement to go on an eight-state “unity tour” with Clinton Democrat Tom Perez, who defeated Sanders’ “progressive Democrat” ally Keith Ellison in the election for chairmanship of the DNC.
And it is unmistakable with his participation in the Democrats’ noxious and dysfunctional attempt to paint out Donald Trump as a tool and/or ally of Russia.
Russiagate is, among things, a false-flag fabrication designed to help the DNC and the Democratic Party elite avoid responsibility for blowing the election. The “dismal Dems” (Doug Henwood’s phrase) went with a wooden, Wall Street-captive, and (sorry) crooked candidate who couldn’t mobilize enough working- and lower-class and minority voters to defeat the hyper-poisonous and widely hated Trumpenstein. And they fixed the intraparty game to ensure the defeat of Sanders, who would have bested Herr Donald. (Sanders would certainly have mobilized enough working class and rural voters to prevail. All the match-up polls during the primary season had Sanders trouncing Trump one-on-one and doing far better than Hillary against the Clockwork Orangatun. Even I, one of candidate Sanders’ earliest and most insistent online radical left critics, would have had to vote for Bernie over Trump).
The “Moscow Stole It” narrative is a fancy version of “My Dog Ate My Homework” for a Democratic Party that abandoned the working class and the causes of peace, social justice, and environmental sustainability decades ago. The “inauthentic opposition” party (as the late Sheldon Wolin rightly described the Democrats of the neoliberal age) would rather not take a long, hard, and honest look at what it has become. It does not want to concede anything to those who dream of turning it into an authentically progressive organization.
The “Russia Did It” charge works on both scores. It has therefore proven irresistible to establishment Democrats determined to stave off demands from leftish-progressive-populist types in their own party.
According to the leading U.S. social-democrat and Bernie backer Bhaskar Sunkara last January, “There were positive steps [during the 2016 presidential campaign] in the direction of addressing the need for a class-based, populist approach, even if it meant alienating some of the business interests in the Democratic tent in the wake of the November defeat. Among a lot of Democrats,” Sunkara told The Washington Post last January, “it seems like that conversation has been halted. I blame the focus on Russia, largely.”
To make matters worse from a progressive perspective, Russiagate is a losing strategy, even a “conspiracy trap” (Masha Gessen) for progressives. since there’s no real smoking-gun proof and few voters can or will follow the bouncing ball of complex allegations and counters. It directs public attention onto something Trump isn’t, a Kremlin tool, rather than what he really is: an arch-plutocratic pre-fascist racist, sexist, and nativist and a super-militarist enemy of the poor and working-class majority. It’s given Trump a free pass on numerous policies and actions over which a remotely genuine opposition party would be crucifying him
It has already (as I predicted here exactly two weeks ago) helped egg the Orange Tinted Beast into a reckless military action conducted in part to prove that he is not a Russian puppet or ally – the launch of 59 Tomahawk missiles into Syria.
If it were to succeed in unseating Trump, moreover, it would set a dangerous new precedent of potent “intelligence community” (CIA) interference in domestic U.S. politics at the highest level.
You’d think all this Russia madness would have really pissed off Bernie Sanders, official leader of the nation’s progressive Democrats. You might think that Bernie would have called bullshit on the establishment Dems’ whole preposterous Bear Ate Our Homework narrative. You might fancy him saying something like this: “Look, it’s not like Gucifer, WikiKeaks, and the Kremlin or whoever made it up that the Hillary Clinton campaign and the DNC rigged the primary election against me. That really happened – and if it hadn’t, my fellow Americans, Donald Trump would not be your president today!”
You might imagine that Bernie would have used his big barrel-chested Brooklyn truck driver’s voice to denounce a failed xenophobic and neo-McCarthyite conspiracy ploy that distracts attention both from Trump’s real threats evils and from the Democrats’ responsibility for putting a dangerously unhinged right-wing uber-narcissist in the White House. You might picture him denouncing the “deep state” “intelligence community’s” meddling in U.S. politics.
You might visualize the anti-plutocratic Senator mockingly asking, “just what great American democratic process is it that was supposedly subverted by the Russians?!” Even mainstream liberal political scientists like Marin Gilens and Benjamin Page have demonstrated and acknowledged that the U.S is now essentially a corporate-financial oligarchy in which the working-class majority’s policy preferences are largely irrelevant regardless of which party or what party configuration holds sway in Washington.
Dream on. None of this has happened because Bernie Sanders continues to insult the Eugene Debs poster that sits in his office by being a Democratic Party company man. And that has meant playing along obediently with Russiagate.
At a CNN town hall last January 10th, Sanders unaccountably proclaimed that “the evidence is overwhelming” that Russia interfered “to help elect the candidate of their choice, Mr. Trump” and “to undermine in a significant way American democracy.”
In a YouTube video last February, Bernie pronounced that “the U.S. intelligence community has concluded that Russia played an active role in the 2016 election with the goals of electing Donald Trump has president…the Trump campaign had repeated contacts with the senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election.” Sanders worried about a “dossier” showing that Russian agents had damaging evidence on Trump’s private life – evidence he said the Kremlin could use to “blackmail” the White House. So, what if it’s all pretty much trumped-up speculation fed by shady “deep state” suggestion and innuendo?
Sanders has at the very least fellow-travelled along with the dollar-drenched, demobilizing, and dullard Democrats depressing descent into CIA-serving conspiratorialism regarding the Kremlin’s allegedly relevant interference in our supposedly democratic political process.
Along the way, Bernie has recently played along with Trump’s dog-wagging pretext for illegally chucking 59 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian air base. He has joined in the establishment chorus of reflexive support for the highly questionable claim that Syria chemical-bombed innocent civilians.
Recently I asked my “social media” correspondents if any among them had been following Sanders’ positions and statements on Russiagate. Was I correct in suspecting that he’d been pretty much following the party line? One journalist wrote to say “I don’t think so.. when this was all blowing up a few weeks ago, instead of talking about Russiagate, he was marching with Nissan workers in Mississippi and said such struggles are the most vital right now. Also, he criticized more Democrats for not showing up.” The journalist sent me a link to an interview in which Sanders explained why he went to Dixie to help workers fight for a union. Sanders said the following:
“What matters most to the people is whether or not they’re going to have a decent standard of living; whether they can feed their kids; send their kids to college; have childcare; get some time off. And that’s what this struggle is about. It’s what workers here at the Nissan plant in Canton, Mississippi are going to have dignity; are going to have decent wages and decent benefits. It’s very basic and at a time when the middle class of this country is shrinking, when so many people in my state, here, all over the world, all over this country are working longer hours for low wages. This is a fight that has to be engaged and has to be won.”
When the interviewer asked Sanders whether the fight for economic justice “is a big enough priority right now for the Democratic Party as a whole?” Sanders said this: “what priority is more important than making sure that we expand the middle class, that people have decent wages, decent benefits, and decent healthcare? The Democratic Party has got to be in the middle of this struggle in Mississippi, in Vermont and all over this country.”
It’s good that Sanders went to support auto workers in the Deep South. It’s admirable that he called for decent wages and benefits for workers across the country. It’s true that Sanders is a New Deal pro-labor and anti-poverty pro-single payer and anti-plutocratic progressive Democrat.
But so was my grandfather in the middle 1960s, when he participated in the federal War on Poverty program in Harlan County while arguing Lyndon Johnson’s mass-murderous side for the U.S. war on Southeast Asia in debates with antiwar radicals at the University of Kentucky. What my grandfather and countless other Great Society liberals didn’t understand was something Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. tried to warn them about on April 4, 1967, one year to the day before King’s assassination (or execution): the U.S. desperately needed to slash its giant and murderous military system and drop its attachment to global empire if it wanted to be fiscally and morally situated to solve its vast domestic social and political problems.
Sanders may have opposed the Vietnam War and the U.S. proxy wars in Central America (good for him) during his young adulthood and middle age, but during the post-Cold War years, “Bernie and the [F-35] Jets” Sanders fell badly into the Empire trap that King tried to advise liberals against.
It’s a little tough to take Sanders’ outrage against Bashar al-Assad’s war criminality (real and alleged) all that seriously given candidate Bernie’s support for Barack Obama’s drone war program, rightly described by Noam Chomsky as “the most extreme terrorist campaign of modern times.” And that kind of moral and policy hypocrisy is no small part of why many of us on the actual (“radical” and “hard”) U.S. left refused to do principle-trashing cartwheels for Bernie’s presidential candidacy.
And notice what Sanders did NOT say in that interview. He did not say, “no, economic justice is not a big enough priority for the Democratic Party right now.” He certainly did not say anything about how the Russia madness has helped keep dismal dollar Dems mired in the neoliberal nothingness that explains much of how the Republicans’ absurd control of all three branches of the federal government and most of the state governments in a nation whose populace hates the Republican Party.
Bernie Sanders is a major party company man.
A recent essay sent to me bears the title “Is Bernie Sanders Distancing himself from ‘Russiagate’?” The author answers in the affirmative because the Senator recently said the following at a rally in Boston:
“Some people think the people who voted for Trump are racists and sexists and homophobes and deplorable folks. I don’t agree, because I’ve been there…..Let me tell you something else some of you might not agree with. It wasn’t that Donald Trump won the election, it was that the Democratic party lost the election…We need a Democratic party that is not a party of the liberal elite but of the working class of this country, we need a party that is a grassroots party, where candidates are talking to working people not spending their time raising money for the wealthy and the powerful. And when we do that, when we transform the Democratic party, we transform America.”
The author says that “Sanders’s comments appear to distance him from the Democratic Party’s current orthodoxy: that Hillary Clinton lost the election because of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.”
The critical word there is “appear.” It’s good that Sanders wants to see the emergence of a real opposition party that is “not a party of the liberal elite but of the working class of this country, …a grassroots party.” It’s super that Sanders criticized the Clinton’s campaign’s noxious neoliberal and identity-politicized shaming of the nation’s white working class and rural majority. He’s right to note that the dismal dollar Dems lost the election more than the radical reactionary Republicans won it.
But no, Sanders’ comments in Boston contain no explicit distancing from, or criticism of, Russiagate or of the warmongering, Pentagon-feeding imperial doctrine that informs the neo-McCarthyite anti-Russia rhetoric of the nation’s foreign policy establishment. Sanders’ speech gives no indication that he will break radically from the Pentagon system and the U.S. global Empire to seriously confront poverty and inequality at home and abroad. Sanders gave no reason why we should believe against all historical evidence that the Democratic Party is a fit vehicle for the transformation – the “political revolution” (can we have a social one too Bernie?) – he claims to seek. And if “the hot air factory from Vermont” (as Alexander Cockburn once called Sanders) is so critical of the Russia-blaming Democratic Party these days, why is he about to go on a big “unity” soiree with DNC chair Perez, who comes from the party’s reigning, Russia-obsessed LNW wing?
Let me add something else from the upper Midwestern heartland (Iowa) in response to Bernie’s comments in Boston. Sorry Senator, but many white “people who voted for Trump are racists and sexists and homophobes and deplorable folks.” I know this for a fact, Bernie, because I’m there.
Nobody sent me the best statement Sanders has made suggesting some distancing on his part from the Great Russia Distraction. It came in an interview he gave to the Washington Post’s David Weigel last January. “You gotta walk and chew bubble gum [at the same time],” Sanders told Weigel: “Russian intervention into an American election is of some significance. But the [cabinet] nominees we’re opposing, we’re opposing on issues like health care, the environment, education. What we’re trying to do is show the Republicans that it would be a great political mistake to repeal the Affordable Care Act.”
Never mind for now the corporatist nature and Republican origins of Obamneycare. The really striking thing here was Sanders’ belief that he could play along with the deadly New Cold War (NCW) and advance social and economic justice at the same time. He saw no conflict there, just like my grandfather thought he could have his Cold War-“anti-communist”-Southeast Asia-crucifying cake and eat the war on poverty (which was devoured by the increase in war spending) too. This was a big mid-1960s problem for many Americans well to my grandfather’s left, including leading “democratic socialists” like Michael Harrington and Bayard Rustin.
War socialism is an old problem on the left.
Russiagate, we should not forget, is also a ploy whereby the bipartisan foreign policy establishment has sought to make sure that Trump does not act on his campaign promises to normalize relations with Russia and thereby roll back the United States-led NCW – a dangerous confrontation with the world’s other top nuclear weapons state and a great profit stream for the military industrial complex. Sanders signed up for the NCW back in the l990s, when Vermont peace activists dubbed him “Bernie the Bomber” because of his fierce and disturbing support for Bill Clinton’s criminal war on Serbia.
No, Senator, you can’t walk social and economic justice and blow New Cold War bubbles at the same time.
Anti-poverty and pro-economic justice progressives aren’t going to get anywhere without becoming serious anti-imperialists (and serious anti-racists/-sexists/-homophobes/-nationalists/-ecodidalists) at the same time. Empire and inequality are “evils that are interrelated,” to use a phrase from Dr. King. They and other scourges (including environmental degradation) are all tied together and serious left progressives must find a way to effectively oppose all of them at one and same time. If they think they can do that through the Democratic Party they are living in a dream world that Bernie seems to have made his late-life work of sustaining.
Paul Street’s latest book is They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm, 2014)