Thursday, July 9, 2015

Bernie Sanders: Once Again, the Lesser of Two Evils

The large crowds -- larger by far than any other presidential candidate, whether Republican or Democratic -- that Bernie Sanders is drawing are becoming a story.  The Clinton camp is registering concern that Hillary might fall short in Iowa once again. In New Hampshire, Sanders is now only trailing Clinton by 10 points after Hillary had a 50-point lead just a few months ago.

So there is a Sanders boom. The New York Times is not deep on analysis as to what the Sanders phenomenon is all about. The Gray Lady is too busy trying to box in the Vermont Senator by defining him as a marginal, old Hippie (see Sarah Lyall's lazy, dismissive "Bernie Sanders’s Revolutionary Roots Were Nurtured in ’60s Vermont").

An explanation for the Sanders crowds is not hard to come by. People who pay attention to politics and current events understand that Hillary represents business as usual, and business as usual is destroying the planet. People are daily confronted by the reality of perpetual warfare, a no-growth economy, skyrocketing inequality, drought, mass species extinction.

Niqnaq publishes a post today by Colonel Cassad, "Economic preconditions of world conflict," which can pretty well be summarized with the slogan "We Are All Greece Now." Labor unrest is rife throughout Europe. The neoliberal consensus has lost the allegiance of the masses. And we are confronted by an unresponsive electoral system. Politicians of the mainstream parties are completely captured by concentrated wealth. So voters are grasping -- Syriza, Scottish National Party, Sinn Féin, Podemos, Marine Le Pen's National Front, Bernie Sanders socialism-lite -- at alternatives to the political status quo. It is happening all across the Western world.

But Bernie Sanders is not the answer. To understand why one must read Bruce K. Gagnon's "Sanders Bullshit Meter Goes Off the Charts in Portland, Maine," which appeared Tuesday on CounterPunch's web site:
I spent two hours yesterday holding a banner (joined by eight others with signs and a 2nd banner) outside the Bernie Sanders for President rally in Portland, Maine that reportedly drew about 9,000 people.  It was an impressive crowd for someone who once claimed he was a ‘socialist’.
People began lining up before 5:00 pm for the 7:00 event and during those two hours I kept a steady stream of requests going to folks as they entered the Portland Civic Center.  I suggested to eager Sanders supporters, “Please ask Bernie his position on the $400 billion F-35 fighter plane project.  Ask him if it is true that he has lobbied to bring the plane to Vermont?”
I suggested to the excited crowd, with many young people in line, that they might ask Sanders, “His position on NATO expansion up to Russia’s border – can we really afford war with Russia?”
“Informed citizens need to know the answers to Bernie’s foreign policy – he’s not talking about these issues,” I said.
Once the line had ended I folded up my banner and made a dash inside just as the rally was starting.  All seats in the arena were taken and the entry onto the floor was blocked but I wedged my way down onto the hockey stadium floor within 25 feet of the stage that Sanders was speaking from.  The candidate was getting huge applause as he took on Wall St, the Koch brothers, income inequality and the like.  He touched on all the traditional progressive buttons just like I’d heard Jesse Jackson, Ralph Nader, and Dennis Kucinich do in the past. Women’s issues, single-payer health care, student loans hitting young people, and more were addressed.  Sanders called for free college tuition for all.  He wants to create millions of new jobs.  He talked about fixing our neglected and broken infrastructure.  He hit hard on climate change calling for a sustainable society.
It was when he mentioned climate change that I figured he had to talk about the military industrial complex, because after all that is the pot of gold that has to be tapped in order to pay for building the new vision of America that Bernie so eloquently laid out.  But nothing was said about the metastasizing Pentagon budget nor a mumbling word was spoken about foreign policy.  Nothing about Russia (Sanders does support sanctions on Moscow), nothing about NATO expansion, nothing about Israel’s brutal attacks on Gaza (Sanders has publicly supported Tel Aviv’s attacks on Palestinians), nothing about negotiations with Iran, nothing about waste, fraud, abuse at the Pentagon, nothing about our endless wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Ukraine, etc, and nothing about conversion of the military industrial complex to peaceful production.
Eventually these positions are going to catch up with Sanders, and some of the enthusiasm on the Left will dissipate. Remember, a lot of people were burned by the belief that Obama was a legitimate peace advocate. Voters are more jaded now. Sanders has been getting a free pass. I think that is about to change.

Nate Cohn's "Why Bernie Sanders’s Momentum Is Not Built to Last" makes the argument that Sanders cannot appeal to the moderate Dems and Independents as Obama did, nor can he juice turnout among Blacks; hence, his insurgent campaign will soon peter out after the early boutique contests in Iowa and New Hampshire.

While Hillary will have some reach into the suburbs and exurbs for the fabled "soccer moms," what Cohn does not mention is that Hillary will be unable to draw Blacks and Latinos in anywhere near the same numbers as Obama. And the Clinton campaign, at least for public consumption, argues that it can win a general election in 2016 by returning the Obama coalition to the polls. This is a fantasy.

We don't know how the P5+1 talks are going to play out. But if no agreement is reached Democrats will be hurt. "If there is no difference between the parties on war and peace, why even go to the polls?" A valid query that a not insignificant number of voters will ask.

Also hurting Dems is Obama's aggressive championing of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. This issue alone will sideline a critical segment of the activist community should Hillary win the Democratic Party nomination.

So what we have here is the making of an aporetic national election for the Democrats. Sanders can't win because he is flawed from even a Left perspective; Hillary is largely reviled and cannot guarantee turnout from the Democratic base.

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