04.17.16 Bernie Sanders for President (with caveats)

Bernie Sanders represents my values. It’s about time we had a national leader who is not only willing but eager to speak truth to power. Sanders is right to describe our economic and political systems as rigged for the wealthy and powerful (who, of course, are usually the same). He is right to condemn corporate corruption. He is right to speak out against a Democratic Party establishment (currently embodied by the odious DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz) that has tried repeatedly to rig the current presidential campaign in favor of the establishment candidate, Hillary Clinton.

From a progressive-values standpoint, Sanders has very few flaws. He didn’t suddenly discover the moral catastrophe of economic inequality because of pressure during this campaign. He has been speaking up for the left-out, the “little people,” ever since he ran for mayor of Burlington, decades ago. Before that, he was an active participant in the civil rights movement. (Hints from Clinton supporters like [for shame!] Congressman John Lewis [D-GA] that he might have been insufficiently so, have been proven a lie.) His own integrity and incorruptibility are beyond question.

The only less-than-bright spot in Bernie Sanders is his relative lack of enthusiasm for gun control, which is hardly surprising for a politician from a rural state. Attempts by Clinton to portray Sanders as a gun nut, though, are wildly off the mark.

So, why have I lacked passion in my support for Sanders for president? Partly, it’s because I assumed he never had a chance. Party, it has been my assumption that his nomination would doom the Democrats in November. (I have softened on this as his poll numbers against Trump and Cruz have remained higher than Clinton’s; though I still believe that his numbers would drop significantly under a full-throttled GOP onslaught.)

I have also been thrown by the almost obsessive opposition to Sanders by progressive figures like Nobel laureate and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. Krugman and others have been hammering away at how Sanders’s economic numbers don’t add up and how he lacks any reasonable plan for getting getting his program through a Congress that has stopped even the decidedly centrist Obama in his tracks.

I find these arguments compelling, but also have to remind myself (and you, dear reader) that almost no political candidate’s numbers add up or plans for success have any chance in the real world. Bernie Sanders’s campaign is aspirational. It is not a legislative program. And, Sanders is right that the only hope for progress in this country is a political revolution. That revolution isn’t going to start in Congress. But it has to start somewhere. If not Bernie Sanders, then who?!

Finally, I have been disturbed by Sanders’s almost complete failure to reach out to and captivate African Americans. I cannot imagine a political revolution in this country that does not include the very people who were the targets of America’s Original Sin and the country’s ongoing indifference to their daily lives and struggle. In creating his campaign, Sanders forgot African Americans and wrote off the South. To some extent, this was a reflection of his own skepticism about his chances. If he wasn’t really trying to win then it hardly mattered if he lost too many states with early primaries.

To some extent, Sanders’s blindness to building a real “rainbow coalition” (to use a phrase that ended up sounding empty in Jesse Jackson’s mouth), like his stance on guns, is a result of decades serving a lily-white rural state. Sanders has tried to repair the damage recently and had some success. He is certainly not a bigot himself. But his early failures figure into my relative lack of passion for his candidacy.

The New York State primary campaign has provided an opportunity for me to rekindle some passion. Sanders has shown his typical, unusual courage in speaking out against Israeli policy and Prince of Darkness Benyamin Netanyahu ­– in Brooklyn of all places! Sure, college students have been pushing for boycotts and some progressive Jewish leaders have been denouncing AIPAC and Likud. But an actual elected official speaking the truth about Israel? And a Jewish one, at that? Unheard of! (Your blogger is also Jewish, but foremost a humanist.) This alone reinforces my commitment to support Sanders over a Clinton, whose whole family swears allegiance not only to AIPAC and Likud, but also to the butchers in Cairo (Mubarak and Sisi) and Riyadh.

Hillary Clinton, meanwhile is a poster child for most of what is wrong in our political system and country. I’m glad she has moved decidedly left in the course of this campaign, under pressure from Bernie Sanders and his supporters. She says she now opposes free-trade-at-all-costs and Wall St. dominance. Her utterances on this and other topics are encouraging, if not wholly persuasive. (Remember, Barack Obama appointed Wall St. and the NSA to run his administration after sounding very different during his campaign.)

As I have written, I have particular loathing for the Clintons because their hubris leads them over and over again to waste political capital on scandals of their own making. Open the books on Whitewater in 1992 and there is no impeachment. Admit to flawed judgment and release all the emails in 2015 and “Emailgate” disappears. Release transcripts of the Goldman Sachs speeches and you start to climb out of the hole your politically incompetent decision to feed at that trough dug in the first place.

I will never understand how African Americans managed to forgive the Clintons for the explicitly racist campaign Bill ran on Hillary’s behalf in 2008, and the implicit racism of Hillary’s dog whistles for the folks who now support Trump in places like West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Now we have the spectacle of Bill’s shouting down Black Lives Matter protesters last week. (The thought of that man running loose in the White House gives me the [slick] willies.)

(I accept Hillary’s denunciation of the 1994 crime bill. Everyone has learned a lot since then, including her. This is a case where she should be applauded for growth, rather than condemned for flip-flopping.)

To the extent that Clinton’s consistent progressive rhetoric this campaign season can be believed, there remains one area of profound difference between her and Sanders: foreign policy. Clinton voted for the Iraq War and has tried to distance herself from that decision only out of political expediency. Her embrace of military intervention in Libya more recently shows a continued arrogance (your blogger was torn on the issue at the time for humanitarian reasons, but was not secretary of state). It’s not not only that Clinton puts too much stock in military solutions; it is also that she believes in an American mission to remake the world. Hillary Clinton is a neocon. The fact that the GOP neocon establishment has recently hinted at supporting her in November should give more circumspect foreign policy analysts pause.

(Your blogger is not an isolationist and has some fear that Sanders could be too much of one. As destructive as US involvement in the world has usually been, the chaos that would result from complete US disengagement would not be pretty.)

A Democrat better win in November. The stakes for anyone to the left of Attila the Hun are higher this year than perhaps ever in American history. Unlike in the disaster years of 1980 and 2000, Democrats now have precious few holds on power across the country. Even as the national GOP is providing an amusing political spectacle this year, right-wing freaks own outright a substantial majority of governorships, state legislatures, and school boards from coast to coast. A slightly unbalanced Supreme Court has broadly expanded the powers of the corporate elite in the past 20 years and game will be up if the GOP gets one more appointment there. The only thing standing in the way of a right-wing extremist abyss is the presidency.

In this context, it is frightening to hear Sanders supporters tout a “Bernie or Bust” line. It’s bad enough that Nader and his supporters deemed Gore the larger evil in 2000, leading to hundreds of thousands dead in Iraq, not to mention W’s myriad other policy disasters, which – at best – will take decades to recover from.

It seems unlikely now that the Democratic nominee will be anyone other than Hillary Clinton. Trump and Cruz may be flawed enough to lose even in the face of an uninspired Democratic electorate or a new Clinton scandal. But if Bernie supporters stay home, or – worse – continue to attack Clinton after the nomination is secured – they create unacceptable risk.

So, why am I still going to vote for Bernie Sanders in the Maryland Democratic primary on April 26? Because his voice still needs to be heard. Also, because if he can manage to win convincingly in the remaining primaries (which I doubt), he could just eke out a victory in July. (If Sanders does not win in New York this Tuesday, I will call publicly for him to tone down the anti-Clinton rhetoric.)

Bernie Sanders is an American hero for raising issues that Democrats have ignored for decades. He is worthy of your vote. But let not your love of Bernie now blind you to the greater imperative of Democratic victory in November.

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6 Comments on “04.17.16 Bernie Sanders for President (with caveats)”

  1. Hi Keith,

    I am a Bernie supporter. Though I have doubts about him too. He is speaking in the rec hall free (well it better be! It’s college students) at Penn State where my daughter attends. This Tues April 19th. I am not that happy as a democrat. No one has given me a decent volunteer job yet. That may have to do a little with the fact that I have back trouble and can at times be late or just call and not come. But I am very loyal and consistent if I have a real job.

    I am for Jamie Raskin and Chris Van Hollen as well.

    Best wishes to you and thank you for having this column,

    I listen a lot to Siriux Radio’s POTUS channel on 124 in my car. Do you?

    Shoshana Mintz-Urquhart 2405957109 Mintz.Urquhart@gmail.com

    Sent from my iPhone



    • Keith Berner Says:

      Thanks for your comment, Shoshana. I am not a not a subscriber to any radio or TV services. I get all my news from print sources, particularly NYT, WaPo, Atlantic, New Yorker, and local blogs (like, Seventh State and Maryland Scramble).


  2. Hank Prensky Says:

    “Sanders’s almost complete failure to reach out to and captivate African Americans”…How about a term like “the lack of success in reaching AA voters”…to imply that he has failed and didn’t give a shit is plain wrong. Read Michelle Alexander on why AAs should NOT be supporting the destructive Clintons, and put some blame on that community’s ability to vote AGAINST their own interests…”Bill Clinton, the first Black President”…what an absurdity!

    “Your blogger is not an isolationist and has some fear that Sanders could be too much of one”…I read or hear NO credible evidence that Bernie is an isolationist…to say that we should not be engaging in wars of occupation and domination is NOT to say stay out of all foreign affairs…too broad a brush, Keith.

    “Nader and his supporters deemed Gore the larger evil in 2000, leading to hundreds of thousands dead in Iraq”…to put the blame on Ralph Nader, a hero and a patriot, for the deaths of thousands is the height of inanity, insanity and akin to blaming the Jews for the holocaust…Nader sought your voet to be able to raise a third party challenge in future elections, and if more Dems had exercised the strength of their alleged convictions, and Nader had amassed 5% of the popular vote, there would have been $40 Million in Federal funds to mount a 3rd party challenge to the know-nothing, destroy-everything presidency of Cheney/Bush…Nader didn’t elect Bush, YOU did.


  3. Keith Berner Says:

    Always nice to hear from you, Hank.

    Actually, a number of people involved in the Sanders campaign decry the campaign’s failure to strategize for African American outreach. Sure, African American have themselves to blame for failing to recognize that the Clintons don’t have their backs – I cite this in my post. But Sanders’s failure in this regard is ultimately why he won’t win the nomination.

    My views on foreign policy and on a responsible, progressive approach to it are more nuanced than I presented in this post. In any case, I am not painting Sanders with a broad brush; I’m merely raising a potential concern.

    As for your accusation that I elected Bush, I’d be offended if I took that seriously. I voted for Gore, as did all responsible lefties who valued outcomes over purity. Gore was an awful candidate, but Nader CHOSE to go after him, rather than W, just like the Bernie or Bust crowd appears ready to do this year. Nader had a great record pre-2000. But his ego and rage got the better of him. I will never forgive him and his supporters for what happened.


  4. […] as I have written previously, this year, our nation stands at the edge of an abyss the likes of which it has not seen in the […]


  5. […] endorsed and contributed to Bernie Sanders’s campaign (twice). When it was apparent (after the New York primary) that he had no path to victory in the […]


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