Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

February 14, 2016

Bernie Sanders pulls his punches

Filed under: Bernie Sanders — louisproyect @ 11:16 pm

I am a big sports fan but it is very rare for me to watch a basketball, baseball or football game from beginning to end. Generally I prefer to read sports columns in the NY Times or, even better, to listen to ESPN or WFAN with “Vinnie from Staten Island” waxing eloquently on Phil Jackson’s Zen deviations.

It is sort of the same thing with presidential elections, which are generally treated as a sporting event as well–like “Sanders and Clinton are neck in neck in Iowa”, etc. I like to read the commentary but would prefer root canal to sitting through a Sanders-Clinton debate. It was a lot easier for me to read the transcript for the latest debate that was moderated by a couple of knuckleheads from PBS.

After skimming through it, I am beginning to wonder if Sanders is fighting with one hand behind his back. Hillary Clinton has figured out that by wrapping herself in Obama’s flag she can line up Black votes. In the PBS debate,  she kept demanding that he kneel before the President under whom Black poverty has increased geometrically and under whose watch cops shoot Black people with impunity.

For example, she said that Sanders “wrote a forward for a book that basically argued voters should have buyers’ remorse when it comes to President Obama’s leadership and legacy.” Well, it turns out that he wrote no forward but just a blurb for Bill Press’s “Buyer’s Remorse: How Obama Let Progressives Down.”

Sanders tried to wriggle out of this by saying that the blurb was not actually an attack on Obama but only one that said “the next president of the United States has got to be aggressive in bringing people into the political process.” The exact words:

Bill Press makes the case why, long after taking the oath of office, the next president of the United States must keep rallying the people who elected him or her on behalf of progressive causes. That is the only way real change will happen. Read this book.

So Clinton was lying about what Sanders wrote–no surprise there. Meanwhile Sanders took the opportunity to demonstrate his fealty to the “transformative” President:

President Obama and I are friends. As you know, he came to Vermont to campaign for me when he was a senator. I have worked for his re-election. His first election and his re-election.

But I think it is really unfair to suggest that I have not been supportive of the president. I have been a strong ally with him on virtually every issue. Do senators have the right to disagree with the president? Have you ever disagreed with a president? I suspect you may have.

So, comrades, what kind of socialist characterizes himself as “a strong ally” of Barack Obama on “virtually every issue”? As far as I am concerned, Obama has been a disaster across the board, virtually functioning as the third and fourth term of the George W. Bush administration. He has backed Wall Street’s efforts to remain above the law. He has thrown his weight behind the charter school movement that is not only inimical to the interests of unionized teachers but one that is of dubious educational value. He has given the green light to oil drilling in environmentally sensitive areas and boosted fracking and nuclear power. This is not to speak of his rancid foreign policy initiatives that are hallmarked by drone attacks across the entire planet victimizing the innocent and trade agreements that are in the Clinton NAFTA mold.

So how in the fuck does Sanders say he was with Obama on “virtually every issue”? Is he trying to con his audience? Or us? We know that he has been opposed to fracking and Wall Street crooks but how can you really be opposed without drawing a clear class line between yourself and the chief executive, at least if your “socialism” has a smattering of engagement with the ABC’s of socialist theory, namely that society is divided into classes. Maybe Sanders’s “socialism” is just a word he has some kind of emotional attachment to like Linus’s blanket. From my perspective, he has about as much connection to socialism as I do to Madame Blavatsky’s spiritualism.

Joan Walsh, the insufferable Hillary Clinton supporter who edits Salon.com, has a piece in the latest Nation titled “Bernie Sanders Has an Obama Problem” (http://www.thenation.com/article/bernie-sanders-has-an-obama-problem/) that tut-tuts Sanders for racial insensitivity. When asked by halfwit Judy Woodruff how a Sanders presidency would improve race relations, he replied that he would create jobs that would end young Blacks “hanging out on street corners”. For Walsh, this was tantamount to racism:

Again, I’m sure he didn’t mean it this way, but Sanders essentially said that race relations will improve when black kids stop hanging out on street corners and live productive lives instead. That would be the worst of respectability politics, if that’s what Sanders meant.

This is as disingenuous as anything Clinton would have said. It was obvious that Sanders was decrying the unemployment rate of young blacks that was 21.4 percent in 2014 and probably gotten worse. Furthermore, if anything Sanders was a lot less obtuse than Obama who has practically reduced the question of Black failure to the kind of pop psychology Bill Cosby made infamous.

In May 2013, Obama gave a commencement speech at Morehouse College, a historically Black institution, where he said:

We know that too many young men in our community continue to make bad choices.  And I have to say, growing up, I made quite a few myself.  Sometimes I wrote off my own failings as just another example of the world trying to keep a black man down.  I had a tendency sometimes to make excuses for me not doing the right thing. . .

Nobody cares how tough your upbringing was.  Nobody cares if you suffered some discrimination.  And moreover, you have to remember that whatever you’ve gone through, it pales in comparison to the hardships previous generations endured — and they overcame them.  And if they overcame them, you can overcome them, too.

After eight years of this kind of bullshit, isn’t about time that Obama got called out? What kind of socialist is Sanders to pull his punches on Obama? In terms of sporting events, what is he trying to do? Emulate the Washington Generals who used to play the Harlem Globetrotters?

What a strange campaign that Sanders is running. Every other word out of his mouth is on Wall Street billionaires. He is appalled by the Koch brothers but has little to say about how Obama catered to Wall Street interests over the past 8 years.

What you need to do is Google “Obama” with the domain of https://berniesanders.com. It speaks volumes to see what comes up in the first page of results. I didn’t go past the first page because it was too depressing to press forward.

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  1. What’s wrong with nuclear power? France gets what, 80% of its power from nuclear, for example. And you’re an unrepentant Marxist buying the Green movement? Marx is turning over in his grave!

    P.S. Shame on you if you don’t post this mildly critical/a touch derisive comment!

    Comment by George Balanchine — February 14, 2016 @ 11:37 pm

  2. As long as he is running as a Democrat, he has to “pull his punches.” If he was running as an independent, he could unload with both barrels on Bill Clinton’s racist and neoliberal record which Hillary fully supported. But he wants to prove his loyalty and has already pledged in advance to support her if she gets the nomination. This is precisely why the Left should not be supporting him.

    Comment by Dennis Brasky — February 14, 2016 @ 11:47 pm

  3. Good post, Louis. Lucky for your, the Berniebots among our faux leftists haven’t gone after you yet. Or maybe they have and I don’t know about it. It shows how far to the right this nation has drifted and how strong bourgeois ideology is that what Sanders is for can be thought of as socialism or that anyone can believe that his campaign is a movement in the making or is even already a radical movement. Oh, and BTW, I’d rather watch Vanderpump Rules than one of these debates.

    Comment by michael yates — February 15, 2016 @ 2:03 am

  4. How is a white candidate for President coming from a nearly all-white state supposed to “call out” the first African-American President without being seen as insensitive or racist? To say this is treading a fine line is an understatement. As the campaign progresses, perhaps he’ll find a way.

    Comment by Sheldon — February 15, 2016 @ 3:43 am

  5. The question misses the point. Nobody could possibly expect Bernie Sanders to be like Ralph Nader who has been calling Obama out for 8 years. That’s the reason that the DP sicced its lawyers on Nader in 2004.

    Comment by louisproyect — February 15, 2016 @ 3:47 am

  6. Louis,

    By the end of your post, you seem to have forgotten your correct initial observation that the reason Sanders is fighting with one hand behind his back is because he does not want to take Hilary’s bait of attacking Obama for the fear of not getting the support of African-Americans. Whatever we think of Sanders, we have to understand where he is coming from. Had you watched the debate, you could have also seen his visible frustration in trying to avoid responding to Hillary’s point that Obama was also being supported by Wall Street, so what? Sanders is not stupid, and he could have demolished Hilary’s argument by pointing out how Wall Street has shaped Obama’s presidency from day one. After all, he has already repeatedly pointed out that it is Wall Street that controls the Congress (that obviously include members of his own party whom for obvious reasons are not supporting him) and not the other way round. His dilemma is waging a “political revolution” by pursuing a reformist agenda within a corrupt political establishment. In doing so, however, he has managed to take considerable air time on corporate media during the debates and after his victory in New Hampshire to attack Corporate America and Wall Street, and to expose inequality, crimes of Kissinger and the U.S. foreign policy in overthrowing democratic governments, as well as the charade of American democracy to millions of people, who have never heard anything like it on the CNN and the rest of the corporate media. The non-sectarian Left should welcome Sanders’ campaign for bringing awareness to millions of people, and creating an opening for the Left to put forward its own argument on what socialism really is, while pointing out that Sander’s agenda is not really to transform the system, but to reform it. Those who attack Sanders just because he has committed the crime of not running as a third party candidate, obviously, have, as always, the option of engaging in the ritual of voting for the Green Party presidential candidate to take a personal stand that has no impact whatsoever. And you probably shouldn’t rush declaring your intention of voting for Jill Stein at this point, because the Green Party, believe it or not, has its own primary of five candidates this time! However, the nominee will be assured of another “lively debate” with the presidential candidates of other fringe parties on Democracy Now! to the delight of the American Left. And will do that again four years from now.

    Comment by Ramin — February 15, 2016 @ 5:14 am

  7. I think it’s a fine strategy: first of all Sanders has attacked Obama on egregious things like deportations, not arresting Wall Street bankers etc. which Clinton and the establishments took to be harsh criticisms. But if you look at the black community, for various reasons they HAVE wrapped themselves up into supporting Obama (I think it’s something like 90%) and given his race he can’t just outright attack him and expect to win support.

    The strategy of agreeing on Obama’s mild reforms but attacking him for the overtly egregious things is a good way to go about it.

    Comment by cartoondiablo — February 15, 2016 @ 5:24 am

  8. I keep hearing about all this mass “awareness” Bernie Sanders is allegedly generating, but I have not heard any consciousness from anything but a tiny, tiny handful of his supporters of the kind of political machinery they’re up against. It seems to me that if their “movement” were anywhere near as hot as they think it is they’d be a lot less butt hurt around the jackassry of the democratic national committee and its favored candidate. They get caught flat footed by the basic viciousness of the Clinton machine every time, and it’s not exactly like we’ve never seen a backwoods nasty politician at the national level. That is what the national parties do, after all. I am so tired of their shock and dismay at this mess that I’ve recently stopped discussing the Sanders candidacy one way or another with anyone on facebook. It’s exhausting, I heard the same arguments about Obama, about Kucinich etc. The democratic party, in the meantime, has grown far more consultant driven, far more insular, far more stacked with precinct committee people who do nothing but parrot the wealthier sections of the leadership. It has done nothing of any promise, really, since the rebellion within its ranks driven by personalities like Chisholm and McGovern almost 45 years ago. The Rainbow Coalition was a best a faint, faint echo of that energy, and from what I’ve seen so far, the Sanders forces aren’t even that. I have yet to have a single Bernie volunteer knock on my door. I do not believe they have either the depth or the breadth they claim for themselves, even as democratic party activists.

    Comment by Michael Hureaux — February 15, 2016 @ 7:50 pm

  9. Michael Hureaux,

    Actually, if some of my completely apolitical, older relatives (in their 70s) are any indication, Bernie has had a pretty impressive effect on the conversations people are having regarding the huge disparities of income and wealth distribution in this country. I’d say that’s a ‘huge’ effect.

    That said, I am not saying real socialists should support a Sanders candidacy. The point is something different. The point is that for too long the socialist left in the U.S. has had an all-or-nothing attitude toward national candidates during presidential cycles, as if a national candidate that comes up every four or eight or twelve years is going to solve all the problems in this country and bring about a socialist revolution. If only it was that easy. But, in expecting everything, down the purest of a socialist platform, from a national candidate for presidency, those leftist socialists are simply abdicating their own responsibilities for organizing and rallying people in a meaningful way around socialist principles. If Bernie’s phony talk of socialism can rally so many millions, why can’t the real socialists rally anybody around their own ‘real’ socialist agendas? Maybe we should be asking ourselves that?

    The point is that Sanders, as Ramin astutely points out, has opened up a political space that can be used by real socialists. The fact that campaigns such as Sanders or the Rainbow Coalition of Jackson in 1988, for example, raise certain issues that attract millions of voters points to something. What is that something? But, more importantly, why can the real socialists not capitalize on such sentiments? Chris Hedges can talk all he wants in purist terms denouncing Sander. In doing so he is no different from the likes of Sparts or any other tiny sect-like group on the far left. He is just stating the obvious: we need a revolution! Wow! Really? Jeez, I had no idea!

    The point is that revolution starts right here and within this system. Right now. HOW is the real socialist left going to do anything to change the system fundamentally? I’ve been saying this to my ‘principled and very pure’ socialist friends for a very long time: to say we need a revolution is like telling a cancer patient he/she needs to get well. In other words, it’s saying nothing.

    Comment by Reza — February 15, 2016 @ 10:54 pm

  10. Reza: thank you for the old purist argument. But if you’ll look at my post again, you will see n call for doctrinal purity, which is the line the
    Liberal factions of the democratic party is still using to derail criticisms of sanders imperialist
    Politics. What you may see is the expectation that a group of socialists use their brains to counter the basic methodology of the democrats. The refusal of the party to allow any leadership hat openly confronts the war machine of the empire should be rigorously confronted. Further, the idea the sanders front has that a real political revolution can be made without taking on the question of the permanent warfare state is patronizing, and purist in its own right.

    Comment by Michael hureaux — February 16, 2016 @ 12:44 am

  11. Michael,

    I see that you have nothing to say about the fact that the real socialists have been totally unable to do anything meaningful in the past (I’d say) sixty years or more, to reorient and organize all those millions who are *cyclically* drawn to phony left-oriented or even democratic socialist-oriented candidates. You simply raise a red-herring, or change the subject, to speak clearly.

    I explicitly stated that the point is NOT Sanders, or whether/if we should support him. I don’t even vote in this corrupt system.

    The point you evade is, why is it that on a regular and cyclical basis, we see manifestations of deep-seated and publicly-stated disillusionment with the existing system, and yet, the western left, while able to operate openly, whose speakers, like Chris Hedges, charge money for making public speeches to assemblies of like-minded people, and where none of these people get arrested or jailed or tortured or disappeared for the speeches they deliver or attend … How is it that under such conditions, the likes of Sanders can connect to and organize *millions* of disaffected and channel their frustrated energies into this electoral charade that kills those energies dead while pretending to be the only possibility for ‘democratic’ input from the people?

    YET … How is that even after the people get their heads banged against the political wall again and again, electoral cycle after another, and still they show willingness to listen to somebody, ANYBODY who proposes some solutions even if coming from the party of the establishment, how is it that the real socialists (who, again, are completely free to act and proselytize, so to speak) cannot even attract a small assembly of people to do anything?

    The point is, long before anybody will even listen to you going on about obvious things like, “The Democrats are part of the ruling elites!” (as if that is some novel revelation), you needed to have been by the people’s side in their real and concrete struggles. And people’s struggles are *always* concrete. Until real socialists understand this most basic ABC of politics, they will forever remain clueless and hence irrelevant, as they are now.

    Comment by Reza — February 16, 2016 @ 1:26 am

  12. Reza,

    Excellent points, though I wonder why you stop short of an endorsement. If the Sanders campaign has opened up political space for ‘real socialists’, wouldn’t a Sanders presidency continue to do the same thing, and in a much more significant way? Suddenly a debate in mainstream discourse over, say, workers’ control vs. state nationalization wouldn’t seem so far fetched. Sanders is a social democrat, of course, but there are some indications he would forcefully back greater economic democracy or democracy in the workplace, including the promotion of the emerging cooperative movement. As for grassroots organizing and movement politics, his career suggests he would encourage such efforts; when he says he’s a ‘democratic socialist’ he’s trying to draw a distinction from the authoritarian socialism of the USSR, but there are also signs he’s quite open to the agenda of actual democratic socialists, who appear to completely back his campaign. This takes us beyond simple top-down social democratic policy making.

    Comment by Stepan Petrichenko (@pyotr_kropotkin) — February 17, 2016 @ 8:14 pm

  13. Stepan,

    I agree with your points. However … If I were to vote at all here in California, I would vote Jill Stein, simply for the purpose of getting the Greens enough votes so that they can get matching federal funding for the next elections cycle. Here in California, Dems have a lock on the presidential voting, so if I were to vote for a Democrat, I’d consider it a waste of my vote. So, if it’s Sanders v. any of the Republicans, California will vote for Sanders anyway. So, under such conditions, I would vote for a more progressive party, just so they can officially get matching federal funding. I may be mistaken in my calculation, but that’s my reasoning. I am however open to persuasion.

    Comment by Reza — February 18, 2016 @ 12:12 am

  14. -If he was running as an independent, he could unload with both barrels on Bill Clinton’s racist and neoliberal record which Hillary fully supported.-

    If he were running as an independent, no one would care about him at all.

    Sanders is mainstreaming a lot of progressive ideas that have been totally off the table. That is a good thing.

    Comment by Jeff — February 18, 2016 @ 5:04 am

  15. -Chris Hedges can talk all he wants in purist terms denouncing Sander.-

    People should be wary of anyone who talks in the language of purity like Hedges. It has a preacher’s feel to it, a Jim and Tammy Fae feel.

    Comment by Jeff — February 18, 2016 @ 5:07 am

  16. Reza,

    In that case, I understand voting for the Greens in the general election. But I was referring to the primary where, at least up until Saturday, he had a legit shot to win the nomination. Who knows – if he’s able to sweep most northern and western states, then the California primary may still prove relevant.

    Comment by Stepan Petrichenko (@pyotr_kropotkin) — February 21, 2016 @ 8:13 pm

  17. Stepan,

    I understand your question now. OK, if I were a Democrat voter, I would definitely vote Sanders in the primaries. But, my problem: I don’t vote Democrats.

    Back in 1988, at the university I was attending, there was a group of very honest, hard working students who self-identified as socialists, and were tabling for Jackson’s ‘Rainbow’ nomination. I went up to their table, as one of the people at the table was a classmate, and I respected her politics.

    A discussion ensued, and I presented a flip side. “Why doesn’t Jackson run an independent campaign, and use all the organizational ‘capital’ he has gained to really challenge the Democrats from the left?” That’s what was needed then, and that’s what’s needed now. For me, it has been and still is all about independent organizational capabilities that truly represent the interests of the working classes. The more organizations the working classes have, the better off they are, and better equipped they are in fighting the next stages of their long fight.

    It is important to note why it is that Sanders can attract the sympathies of so many millions of disaffected citizens. But, that for me is exactly the indication of the thirst people have for realistic answers for the here and now problems they have. Not just some pie-in-the-sky, future salvation in some “post-revolutionary utopia that will surely appear” rhetoric. Sanders is actually presenting realistic solutions. For example, taxing the Wall Street leeches to pay for free universal college education at public colleges and universities is a realistic proposal. Hence, his popularity among the young voters. And the list goes on.

    BUT … The millions of people that are attracted on a periodic basis to an *allusion* to change from the status quo are testimony to the readiness of millions of people, who constitute the working classes, for hearing some *real* solutions.

    Those historical ‘thirsts’ will not go away. And they will always be seeking solutions. So, real socialists had better start paying attention to those specific, concrete questions, or forever remain irrelevant wind-bags who pay money to attend, or charge money to give speeches at, conferences, and cannot organize even a group of fifty people to go up to Flint, Michigan to help people with poisoned water. At best, they go up there to make a report (as did Amy Goodman), just so they can pad their resumes for ‘helping to keep hope alive’.

    The real political solutions have to be formulated outside the establishment parties, as a historical necessity for the self-education of the working classes, who MUST go through that process of independent self-expression, to be able to take their next step in the class struggle, and on and on; until they can accomplish their ‘historical mission’, if you like grand narrative. And I do.

    So, to get back to your question, I would not waste a vote at any stage of this sham electoral system in this country. IF I were to vote at all, I would not vote for a Democrat. I’d go with the little person, and hope they get enough votes to get themselves some resources from the public funds to run better-funded campaigns in the future.

    Comment by Reza — February 23, 2016 @ 4:41 am

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