farewell to the revolution - part 1

When Bernie Sanders announced his campaign to run against Hillary Clinton for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, a cynical scenario came to mind: Sanders would talk a grand progressive game, sweep up all the people frustrated by President Obama’s neoliberal administration, and deliver his supporters to a candidate whose progressiveness in everything but social issues can be charitably described as Republican-lite. It would be a neat shell game of establishment politics driven once again by fear of the Republican presidential candidate.

The surprise was that Sanders ran a campaign that seemed authentically revolutionary in the limited scope allowed by the American political system. Although not a socialist in the technical sense of the word, his New Deal liberalism was a fresh drink of water in a political system parched of everything but corporate and military-industrial interests.

Naturally, the system conspired against him. The media and political elites (e.g. the DNC), championing a de facto Clinton nomination, consistently (and with great condescension) echoed the narrative of Sanders as political outlier and usurper. Throughout all this, Trump was made to play the role of Democrat’s bogeyman better than the media could have hoped, although Ted Cruz would have been equally noxious. Naturally, it became even easier for establishment politicians and their media cheerleaders to rally around Clinton. With the dismissive and reluctant coverage provided to Sanders – in contrast to the obsessive reality-TV coverage of Trump and the sycophantic support for Clinton – it’s no surprise that Sanders ultimately didn’t win the nomination.

Regardless of Sanders’ policy difference with Clinton and Republicans, there were reasons at the outset not to feel the Bern too deeply. There was, of course, the matter of his so-called socialism, which remains a provocative label misapplied to old-school liberalism more than an expression of radical anti-capitalist politics. For committed socialists, the mislabeling was rather jarring. There was also the fact that his record didn’t neatly fit in with the values and policies espoused by deep progressives. Apart from his willingness to criticize Israel and put in a good word for Palestinian dignity, Sanders’ voting record on foreign policy issues is a bit dodgier than his reductive assertion that, unlike Clinton, he voted against the Iraq War. The same could be said of his voting on domestic issues, although in this respect he is better than most politicians. See Ron Jacobs’ The Problem with Bernie at CounterPunch.) But the most obvious omen of Sanders eventual capitulation were his own words. Most notably, Sanders was adamant about third-party candidacies as spoilers, making it clear when asked about running as an independent candidate that “I made the promise that I would not, and I will keep that promise.” (See “No, Bernie Sanders still isn’t going to run as an independent” at the Washington Post )

It was there all along – but it’s easy to see why Sanders’ supporters glossed over it as the primaries picked up momentum.

(to be continued)

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