Why I’m on board with Bernie

Democratic presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders acknowledges the audience's applause at a campaign event in Des Moines

Reuters photo

Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders waves to his audience at a packed Drake University auditorium in Des Moines, Iowa, on Friday. Sanders has surged in recent New Hampshire polling but still has work to do in Iowa toward winning the 2016 Democratic Party presidential nomination. 

Americans apparently still are hungry for the hope and change that they ubiquitously were promised back in 2007 and 2008. That, I think, helps to explain why U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont is doing better in his quest for the White House than even he ever had anticipated that he would.

Initially written off as a dark-horse candidate at best and a joke at worst (replete with mad-scientist-like flyaway hair), Sanders is in the news lately for polling quite competitively in New Hampshire, the first state to hold a presidential primary election (on February 9), right after Iowa’s caucuses (on February 1).

Sanders (who as of late has had his flyaway hair under remarkable control) reaps not only the allegiance of those of us (including yours truly) who still are waiting for that once-much-promised hope and change, but reaps also the anyone-but-Billary vote, since the likes of Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden very apparently aren’t running.

This is no poor reflection upon Sanders; you – or at least I – go with the most-progressive-yet-still-viable presidential candidate, and Sanders fits the bill. And kudos to Sanders for not being too timid to compete against Queen Billary, who deserves a coronation now no more than she did in 2008.

It is to Sanders’ credit that until now, with his presidential run, he has not identified with the Democratic Party, but has been an independent, a self-identified democratic socialist (I’ve seen “democratic” there capitalized by some, but that’s quite incorrect), ever since he joined Congress in 1991.

Not that this is good enough for everyone.

Fellow leftist Chris “Chicken Little” Hedges, with whom I agree on most things but whose frequent hysteria and hyperbole make me look quite tame by comparison, has remarked that Sanders “lacks [Ralph] Nader’s moral fortitude” and that Sanders “will, when it is all done, push his followers into the vampire-like embrace of Hillary Clinton. He is a Pied Piper leading a line of children or rats — take your pick — into political oblivion.”

Wow. Condescending and reductionist. (And again: hyperbolic and hysterical.) I support Sanders now (he’s a Democrat in name only, but in a good way, for once), but I won’t vote for or otherwise support Billary Clinton (who’s a Democrat in name only in a bad way) in any shape, way, manner or form. Sanders is not a gateway drug who will lead me into the Billary camp; he will not lead me, like a mindless child or rat, into “political oblivion,” as I’m quite capable of thinking for myself.

Sanders has stated that he had to decide whether to run for president as an independent, as Ralph Nader* has done, or to run as a Democrat, since it’s much harder for an independent to run for president than it is for someone who is aligned with one of the duopolistic parties. I don’t fault Sanders for deciding to run on the Democratic Party ticket, and while Ralph Nader, as much as we might want to vaunt him (and I do admire Nader quite a lot), never has won elected office**, Sanders has been in the U.S. House of Representatives (from 1991 to 2007) and in the U.S. Senate (from 2007 to present), at least pressing for progressive change (Sanders co-founded the Congressional Progressive Caucus his very first year in Congress and chaired it in its first eight years of existence), albeit with the constriction of being the only self-identified democratic socialist in Congress and more or less being able to caucus only with Democrats.

Chris Hedges proclaims that in November 2016 he most likely will vote for the Green Party presidential candidate, whomever that turns out to be, and that’s fine; that’s Hedges’ choice. I voted for Ralph Nader when he ran on the Green Party ticket in 2000, almost voted for Nader in 2008, and I voted for Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein in 2012. (In 2004 I voted for John Kerry, as ousting George W. Bush from office was my No. 1 goal, and from the get-go I saw Kerry as the candidate best able to oust the incumbent [and ousting an incumbent president is usually quite difficult], and in 2008 I fell enough for the promises of “hope” and “change” to vote for Barack Obama.)

If Sanders doesn’t win the 2016 Democratic Party presidential nomination, there’s a good chance that, like Hedges, in November 2016 I’ll vote for the Green Party presidential candidate, of which I have a history.*** (I know that I won’t vote for Billary, no matter what. No, I never would vote for a Repugnican, but that doesn’t mean that I’d have to vote for Billary, because I don’t and I won’t.)

But let’s face it: the Green Party is incredibly politically weak. True, that’s in no small part because the duopolistic parties do their best to kill third parties and independent candidates (which is why the independent Sanders isn’t running for president as an independent or on a third-party ticket), but at the same time, Hedges and his ilk encourage us to tilt at windmills (such as by supporting the Green Party) to the point that it’s abusive.

It strikes me that the Green Party had an opportunity to grow since 2000, but has squandered the opportunity – in no small part, of course, because getting leftists on the same page is like herding cats on crack on a hot tin roof.

Chris Hedges calls for all-out revolution, and while an all-out revolution would be great (indeed, I’m reading Hedges’ current book, Wages of Rebellion: The Moral Imperative of Revolt, right now), it seems to me that we’re still fairly far away from the critical mass that is necessary for one. “Every action we take now must be directed at ripping down the structures of the corporate state. This means refusing to cooperate [such as in the duopolistic electoral process]. It means joining or building radical mass movements,” Hedges proclaims, and again, while I’d love a progressive revolution, and while I suppose that a revolution (a progressive or a regressive one) could erupt in the United States (revolutions often erupt taking everyone by surprise), the fizzle of the Occupy movement leads me to surmise that a progressive revolution isn’t going to happen in the United States soon.

And to paraphrase war criminal Donald Rumsfeld, you go to political war with the army that you have, not with the army that you wish you had. Just as I saw John Kerry as the best “army” to defeat incumbent George W. Bush in 2004, I see Bernie Sanders as the best shot for an actually progressive White House come January 2017.

Hedges, of course, disagrees. “Any further energy invested in these elections, including championing Bernie Sanders’ ill-advised decision to validate the Democratic Party by becoming one of its presidential candidates, is a waste of time,” Hedges, whose columns so often read like fatwas, proclaims, but real-world politics is about getting the most that you can get under the conditions that you actually have while doing your best to improve those conditions. Real-world politics is not about pouting and repeatedly supporting the Green Party candidate who has a snowball’s chance in hell of ever winning, which is tantamount to scooping up all of your marbles and storming home in a huff. (And isn’t supporting the Green Party candidate still participating in the system that needs to be overthrown?)

I don’t see that Bernie Sanders is “validating” the Democratic Party by having become one of its presidential candidates, especially when he has identified himself as an independent and a democratic socialist since at least 1991 and clearly has explained why he is running on the Democratic ticket (again, it’s a procedural thing, not his agreement, tacit or otherwise, with the direction in which the Democratic Party has gone). I see that Sanders apparently is trying to change the Democratic Party from within, which is much more likely to succeed than is the national electoral success of a progressive third party. (Again, the Green Party remains weak and will remain weak for some time; only under a parliamentarian system, it seems to me, could the Green Party flourish in the United States.)

Bernie Sanders might not succeed in winning the 2016 Democratic Party presidential nomination. While he obviously is politically stronger than he has been considered to be (even by himself, apparently) – he seems to have roused a sleepy giant, one that has been disappointed profoundly by Barack Obama – I concede that of course he might not succeed in his quest for the White House.

But it is a worthy quest to at least try to elect the most progressive president that we can, and while that’s still a possibility, I’m on board with Bernie Sanders.

P.S. I found it interesting to read that musician Neil Young, who has a problem with plutocratic jackass Donald Trump having used his song “Rockin’ in the Free World” without permission during his bogus presidential campaign rollout, supports Bernie Sanders…

*Nader ran for president on the Green Party ticket in 1996 and 2000 and as an independent in 2004 and 2008.

**That’s not a slam, and perhaps Nader has been most effective fighting from the outside. In any event, the fight can and should be fought from both within and from without the current corrupt system, it seems to me; this either-or, puritanical bullshit doesn’t sit well with me. Politics isn’t pure; it’s a dirty game.

***Having lived in the very blue state of California since 1998, it doesn’t matter whether I vote for the Democratic presidential candidate or not; the Democratic presidential candidate always wins California and all of its electoral votes in the winner-takes-call Electoral College, which needs to be scrapped for a simple popular vote of the U.S. president. (The last time that a Repugnican presidential candidate won California was in 1988.)

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