Though Bernie Sanders – as a “democratic socialist” – is the most progressive presidential candidate in years, some progressives are rejecting his campaign because he doesn’t go far enough, a stance that Rick Sterling rejects.
By Rick Sterling
In the past year, some progressives have explained why they are not supporting Bernie Sanders. Last summer, Bruce Dixon from Black Agenda Report presented a “sheepdog” theory suggesting that people who join the Bernie Sanders campaign will eventually be herded into supporting Hillary Clinton. More recently, Chris Hedges wrote “We must focus exclusively on revolt” and break with the establishment parties. Steven Salaita criticized Sanders’s lack of a radically different foreign policy, especially regarding Israel and Palestine.
While there is some truth in all these criticisms, I personally think it’s important to support Bernie Sanders. In my view, here is why:
Sanders is not just a “lesser evil.” His proposals and policies are good on some key issues such as economic inequality, health-care, education, and the judicial/criminal system. His ideas on foreign policy suggest a substantial shift away from interventionism and militarism.
In addition, Sanders seeks to change the current electoral process based on money coming from corporations, political action committees and wealthy individuals. Changing this system is the first step toward breaking the strangle-hold of the military-industrial complex, Wall Street and reactionary lobbies such as AIPAC and the NRA.
While some people will be led from supporting Sanders to supporting Clinton, this is not a given. Many people pushing for Bernie now will not vote Hillary if she is the Democratic Party nominee. Why? Because there is a huge difference in policies and because campaigning for Bernie significantly involves criticizing and exposing Hillary’s history and policies.
The Democratic Party establishment has not been encouraging Sanders, as suggested by the “sheepdog” theory. On the contrary, it seems they have been trying to diminish or undermine his campaign from the start. Sanders is rounding up new voters and activists, but they are coming for his message which is substantially different than that of the Democratic Party establishment.
Some people falsely assume one needs to commit to one candidate or one party. Given the year-long-or-longer length of the U.S. presidential campaign (compared to most countries where elections start and finish in less than three months), there is time to campaign for the Green Party’s Jill Stein after the Democratic Party Convention if Clinton becomes the nominee.
I personally support the campaigns of BOTH Bernie and Jill. But strategically, right now, Bernie Sanders has a small but real chance to win the Presidency which would result in a huge change. Even if he does not win the nomination, millions of people are being educated and inspired by a message that directly criticizes our current economic/political system. Many of these newly inspired voters can and should be encouraged to vote for principles not party.
Though surely there are multiple reasons to criticize Sanders or any other politician, following are specific reasons why I believe that Sanders is not simply a “lesser evil” candidate:
–He is not part of the Democratic Party establishment. Sanders was elected to Congress as an Independent.
–He has a long history as a left-liberal mayor, congressman and then senator with principles.
–He is not afraid to buck the tide. Sanders did a one-person filibuster trying to stop the Wall Street bailout.
–Unlike President Obama, Sanders was not vetted by Wall Street. On the contrary, he is opposed by Wall Street.
–Sanders’ opposes the core U.S. foreign policy of aggression and “regime change.” He opposed the invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of the Libyan government. He opposes current calls for aggression via a “no fly zone” or “safe zone” against Syria.
–He is one of the few in Congress who openly questions or criticizes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the U.S. weapons trade to Israel. He is the only major candidate who did not speak at the recent AIPAC convention. He is the only candidate who says he wants to be a friend of Palestine, not just Israel.
–Sanders’ calls for an audit of the Defense Department. This is the necessary first step toward dramatic military budget cuts.
–Sanders has energized and educated young people about systemic inequality, the domination of Wall Street and corruption in the U.S. political process. Sanders explicitly calls for a “political revolution.”
–Sanders has called for working with Russia against the Islamic State and terrorism instead of promoting division and rivalry as pushed by neoconservatives such as the Clinton-appointed State Department bureaucrat Victoria Nuland, who now serves as assistant secretary of state for European Affairs.
–Sanders has consistently opposed “free trade” agreements which have been disastrous for workers at home and abroad. He opposes the looming TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership).
–Sanders opposes the demonization and pervasive expulsion of refugees.
–Sanders has a better chance of countering Donald Trump or whoever is the Republican nominee because Sanders can increase voter turnout, especially among the youth. In contrast, Hillary Clinton may well increase Republican voter turnout because of her intense unpopularity among much of the U.S. population.
Sanders’s policies are closer to those advocated by Green Party candidate Jill Stein than the policies of Hillary Clinton. But unlike Jill Stein, Sanders has a remote but real chance of winning the presidency. And, it’s not only a question of how much Sanders can turn American politics and policies in beneficial directions; it’s also a question of how bad things will be with either Trump or Clinton.
Clinton is the single person most responsible for the political and human rights disasters in Honduras and Libya. If she becomes President, she will likely continue her dangerous and aggressive policies against Iran and Russia, not to mention Syria. As African-American academic Cornel West, campaigning for Sanders, recently said: “Clinton is hawkish, right wing and imperial.”
Though time is running out – as Clinton builds a substantial delegate lead – U.S. progressives have a chance to join a populist campaign reaching millions of people. With enough grassroots effort, there is still a chance for an upset victory. Some critics believe the contests have already been decided, but this has been a year of surprises, as shown by the advances of both Trump and Sanders.
It would seem to me to be a lost opportunity for progressives to sit on the sidelines or give up without trying.
Rick Sterling has been an organizer and activist for about 45 years. He currently works with Task Force on the Americas, Mt Diablo Peace & Justice Center and Syria Solidarity Movement. The views expressed in this article are his own. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org