Going Global: Bernie Sanders’s Challenge

As Bernie Sanders ponders his next step, he could fall in line behind the Clinton bandwagon or break free and take his critique of economic injustice to a global stage, starting with a challenge to Brazil’s pro-corruption coup, writes Sam Husseini.

By Sam Husseini

This past week, many eulogists lauded Muhammad Ali, noting that Ali’s greatest contribution was not being a talented athlete and heavyweight champion. After all, there are many prominent sports figures, but they don’t play the historic role that Ali did.

Ali’s true greatness came because at the height of his fame and powers, he challenged an oppressive system: He refused to go into the Army during the Vietnam War. It cost him a great deal of money and popularity (at the time) – but tremendously helped the world and resulted in his canonization as a global hero.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination.

Bernie Sanders has a similar opportunity now. As pundits are voicing alleged ecstasy over Hillary Clinton “shattering the glass ceiling” by becoming the first female presidential nominee of a major political party, the first female president in Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, has been ousted in a defacto coup.

This was fostered by establishment media in Brazil, as for-profit media often plays the role of kingmaker in ways stark and subtle in every country, including the U.S., as we’ve seen in this current election.  Rousseff’s cabinet was diverse, both in terms of gender and ethnically. The new government is all white males.

Rousseff was set to investigate corruption, including in the Brazilian Senate, and the coup was planned by corrupt senators. Indeed, the anticorruption minister in the new coup government was recently forced to resign when a tape was leaked about how he was trying to cover up corruption. All this and more is being done with U.S. government’s silence and tacit support.

Certainly, Sanders has challenged the power of Wall Street and America’s “billionaire class” from within the Democratic Party. But, with the media placing a mantle of celebrity around Hillary Clinton (and Donald Trump for that matter), they are the likely nominees.

But perhaps, for all the good that Sanders did, he might feel a measure of remorse for what he didn’t do: He hasn’t spoken seriously or consistently about the U.S. government’s role in the world. Even in his discussions of inequality, he’s confined himself to inequality inside the U.S. But what about global poverty?

Has Sanders been moved by slums in Latin America? Refugee camps in the Mideast? Stark poverty in Africa? Sweatshops in Asia? He went to a Vatican conference where Bolivian President Evo Morales also spoke. They chatted. What can be built from that? How can progressive leaders work together globally? How can movements cross boundaries? Are not movements weakened when they confine themselves to national barriers?

Ali took himself out of his comfort zone. He focused not just on getting a seat on a bus for himself, and not just for African-Americans, but spoke against the Vietnam War (and made a point of holding high-profile fights in Zaire – “the rumble in the jungle” – and the Philippines – “the thrilla in Manila.” By contrast, Sanders has not transcended his domestic critique, transforming it into a fully formed global analysis.

As Ben Jealous has said – in praising the Vermont senator’s consistency – Sanders “has been giving the same damn speech for 50 years.” Well, that’s not necessarily or entirely a good thing. There are people living in horrible conditions around the world, in large part because of economic, political and military policies determined in marble-façade buildings in Washington, D.C. Sanders has been remarkably mute about that.

Global Power

The power of the Establishment rests in large part on its global interconnections. But progressive forces have been reluctant to build and wield similar power. Recall shortly before the invasion of Iraq, there were quasi-global protests against the war on Feb. 15, 2003. Just after that, the New York Times called the peace movement “the second super power.” Yes, that didn’t stop the war, but that was because there was only some global solidarity late in the day. The answer is more solidarity sooner.

Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff addressing the United Nations General Assembly. (UN Photo by Marco Castro)

Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff addressing the United Nations General Assembly. (UN Photo by Marco Castro)

And now, Sanders has mounted a campaign in all 50 states. It’s late in the day, but not too late for him to break down the wall that has kept him focused on domestic American issues and seriously engage the rest of the world. That should start with going to Brazil and meeting with Rousseff. By doing so, Sanders could help overturn the coup, providing a tremendous service to the people of Brazil and it would put the heat on the U.S. government regarding its behind-the-scenes machinations.

It would also highlight the fake feminism that surrounds the Clinton campaign. Do we want women in officialdom simply so that they can be as murderous and corrupt as men have been? Or do we want a different kind of politics that is inclusive in terms of gender, but that is based on solidarity and uplift rather than “I got mine”?

Clinton’s crimes on foreign policy constitute quite a rap sheet. In mildly criticizing her, Sanders has at best scratched the surface. From voting for the Iraq War to bombing Libya, from backing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s repression of the Palestinian people to backing the Honduran coup which contributed to the killing of Berta Cáceres, Clinton has compiled a gruesome record which rarely is referenced or examined in detail.

Perhaps Sanders, struck by fear of Donald Trump, desperately wants to look away from Clinton’s history because to do otherwise might improve Trump’s electoral chances. But does Sanders want to be just another cog in the Clinton machine? Does he want to slip into the subservient roles of other past “insurgent” candidates, such as Howard Dean, Jesse Jackson and Dennis Kucinich.

They are now “sheepdogging,” in the phrase of black commentator Bruce Dixon, herding progressives into the camp of the Democratic Party establishment. That same fate, as  accessory to an increasingly pro-corporate Democratic Party, could now await Bernie Sanders.

The “consultants” and “advisers” whom he’s meeting with this weekend in Vermont are probably pushing Sanders to accept what bread crumbs he can get from Clinton & Co. After all, they are political professionals who have their careers to think about, and their careers are with the Democratic Party machine or some appendage of it.

But real power, real greatness, doesn’t come from accepting such a role. That’s why we remember the name Muhammad Ali and forget many, many others.

Sam Husseini is communications director for the Institute for Public Accuracy and founder of votepact.org, which urges left-right cooperation. Follow him on twitter: @samhusseini.

21 comments for “Going Global: Bernie Sanders’s Challenge

  1. diogenes
    June 14, 2016 at 04:13

    The Democratic Party machine rigged the primary in New York and did the same in California. Bernie Sanders can fall in line behind these traitors if he has the stomach for it, but if he or they think that most of us will therefore vote for Mrs. Clinton, they will learn otherwise in November.

    The biggest treason to American democracy so far this year — which is saying a lot — is the complete suppression of all serious investigation of flagrant corruption of the vote by the so call mainstream media. No wonder not one American in five regards them as other than the lying whores that they are.

  2. D5-5
    June 13, 2016 at 12:24

    “Slipped into subservient roles”? Dennis Kucinich? This piece was probably on its way to Counterpunch and somehow got re-routed here. This writer and many Counterpunch commentators just can’t stop whining that Sanders does not behave as they expect him to. He’s been consistent since a year ago on his decision, whether right or not, to challenge via the Democratic Party. He’s also consistently said his campaign “is not about me.” Further, he has awakened millions of people to the need for change. It looks very much that he will now retire from the race and emphasize the importance of influencing the Democratic Platform and holding DEM candidates’ feet to the fire on keeping after it. If so, this is entirely consistent with what he has been saying for the past year, whether you personally like it or not. As for me, thanks, Bernie, and I’ll now turn to Jill Stein.

  3. Madhu
    June 13, 2016 at 09:38

    I would be interested in what can be done within the Washington Consensus to create a stable source of policy work and presence for non-militarists and realists within the DC.

    Sander’s money model of small donations could provide what is missing in DC: money for think tanks and an infrastructure to combat neoconservatism and liberal interventionism from within the system.

    If you are a young person interested in policy and would like to work in Washington but don’t care for our militarized foreign policy, where do you go to work, get noticed or appointed to all of those mid level jobs that steer bureaucracies? There are a few places but CATO or certain left leaning think tanks are clearly not enough. This is how the neoconservatives and liberal internationalists created a permanent space for themselves within and are part of the pro war bloc that Mr. Parry often mentions.

    There was a CSPAN history talk yesterday by Fredrik Logevall that mentioned this in a talk about Grand Strategy and the Cold War, The talk covered many topics but one was the way in which our system is more activist abroad because of the interplay between public opinion and elite desires, a feed back loop where the FP elites scare up fears to get votes.

    This connects with the discussion on propaganda and Paul Pillar’s recent National Interest article linked here.

    It would be interesting to begin creating the same thing in the other direction. The local might be an even better place to start.

  4. rick sterling
    June 13, 2016 at 00:41

    this article offers excellent and creative idea for sanders to ponder:

    will he be bought off by the lavish attention of harry reid and chuck schumer plus financial and other perks?

    or will he stay true to the message he has advocated?

  5. NoHayMal QueDura CienAños
    June 12, 2016 at 22:34

    Did Hillary win?

    Or was she imposed through voter suppression by the Democratic Party Establishment and the mainstream mass media?

  6. Joe Tedesky
    June 12, 2016 at 16:47

    Sam Husseini I too feel your frustration, but let’s give Senator Sanders some credit where credit is due. If nothing else Bernie broke through the barrier of organized politics, by running as a Democrate. Sure, there was a lot left on the table, but let’s face it in a country with a corporate owned mass media such as ours anything more critically said by Bernie Sanders would have been demonized to the highest degree. Our American media thrives on sound bits, and educated speeches get loss over the waves of noise that is called responsible journalism. I was very disappointed when Sanders said, ‘enough with the emails’, but by his critique of our 1% favored society, he started a long overdue conversation. Something much bigger than one lonely senator speaking out against the inequality of our norms, is going to have to occur, in order for our people to begin to tear down this wall that money has built so high that it seems impossible to scale. Globalization will not just be accomplished by big business, no globalization will need to extend to all the peoples of the world, and then and only then will we the people be able to function inside this new world order that the oligarchs have planned for us. I’m afraid that some may resort to violence, but I would argue differently, that although it will mean people taking to the streets, we will need a MLK, Ghandi, Francis Assis, an Ali to lead us, but shutting it down is what will be needed. A new Alinsky will be required. I wouldn’t lose the faith, because we are only at the beginning, and hopefully Bernie awoke a whole new generation, who will change what needs changed.

    • Bill Bodden
      June 12, 2016 at 18:42

      Joe: You have a good point. Too often, especially in politics, people see other people and things in black or white when they are almost always grey. Let’s give Sanders credit for waking up a sizable section of the American people – something this nation desperately needed and still needs. He wasn’t a perfect leader but very few leaders, if any, are perfection.

      • Joe Tedesky
        June 12, 2016 at 18:49

        Bill I must give you credit for waking me up to us all not supporting these two so called presumptive Wall Street candidates. Even if we end up on the losing side, then at least we didn’t show these two phony pseudo-Americans that they have our support. Why give either of these two scoundrels our political capital, when they don’t deserve it. Plus I have to live with myself & the beat goes on!

        • Bill Bodden
          June 12, 2016 at 20:27


          I got my wake up call reading a compendium of essays by Walter Karp published in four volumes by Harper’s almost 20 years ago. You can get used copies at alibris.com. Short of getting them for free, you won’t find a better bargain in political reading – on a par with Robert Parry’s books.

  7. Pat
    June 12, 2016 at 16:35

    If Bernie Sanders went into Palestine, raised his staff, and singlehandedly smote the Oppressor, Sam Husseini would write about what he failed to do. Good journalists should challenge the established order. It’s their job to expose the rot and corruption. But Sam Husseini just makes s–t up. I used to like his commentaries and thought his idea for getting out of the two-party chokehold was brilliant, but at one point it became clear that his constant Bernie-bashing was a fixation and had nothing to do with journalism.

    Note to Bob Parry: Next time Sam Husseini offers you an article, tell him it doesn’t meet the high standards of Consortium News and suggest that he try CounterPunch.

  8. Bill Bodden
    June 12, 2016 at 14:45

    If Sanders falls in line with Clinton and the Democratic (?) Party’s oligarchy then he will be remembered (in some cases, vilified) for that and all that he inspired will be forgotten unless some other leader can be recognized and appreciated and is able to pick up the pieces and put them back together again sooner or later. It is not only a question of what Sanders will do, but also one of what the Sandernistas will do.

    • Gabriela
      June 13, 2016 at 11:42

      Sandernistas! Clever.

      • Bill Bodden
        June 13, 2016 at 14:38

        Sandernistas is not my creation. Clever is right but I don’t know who should get the credit for its origin.

  9. Bart Gruzalski
    June 12, 2016 at 13:52

    Sam Husseini’s article begins:

    “As Bernie Sanders ponders his next step, he could fall in line behind the Clinton bandwagon or break free and take his critique of economic injustice to a global stage.”

    This sentence suggests that Husseini thinks these are Sanders’ only options. In fact, he has many more that two. For example, he could:

    (1) keep on the campaign trail bucking the Clinton juggernaut


    (2) continue giving talks about the issues he favors:

    • shutting the too big to fail banks,
    • keep pushing for the Public Option over Obamacare (which is only a way of forcing Americans to sign up for corporate health insurance),
    • talk about his view of how to create jobs in our economy,
    • push for a New NATO that included Russia,
    • keep exposing the lopsided support we give to Israel over the Palestinians (including making clear that the US gives $3Billion to Israel on the first business day of January)
    • banning fracking


    (3) Focus on one of the items above and do what he can to generate support for it throughout the country.
    I thought you made a very nice point when you pointed out that “perhaps Sanders, struck by fear of Donald Trump, desperately wants to look away from Clinton’s history because to do otherwise might improve Trump’s electoral chances.” Your rhetorical question response was on target: But does Sanders want to be just another cog in the Clinton machine? I believe that Sanders does not since doing so would basically betray his supporters.
    Finally, even Muhammad Ali couldn’t overturn a Brazilian coup, and the international prowess of Sanders is insignificant compared to the international soft power of Muhammad Ali. Everyone knew Ali—great sports figures in events that are international are much better known that an American politician who apparently lost his race against Clinton.

    This last comment is also a response to “exiled off mainstreet.”

    The occasion you think Bernie could rise to is not international diplomacy. On what credentials could he do that? He’s not that well known even if we think he’s “the one.”

    • Rikhard Ravindra Tanskanen
      June 12, 2016 at 18:46

      Sanders said he’ll support Clinton if she wins.

      • John
        June 13, 2016 at 02:02

        With all the evidence of electoral fraud, he would be able to point to this and say she didn’t win, then join Jill on the Green ticket (he won’t have time to get on the ballot as an independent)

        • Ann Tattersall
          June 13, 2016 at 05:23

          If California is forced to count all the votes, Clinton’s lopsided win may turn out to have been largely a mirage. Bernie’s promise to supporters in D.C. to make sure all the votes are counted is a good omen for California, a well.

          Bernie Sanders could announce “I support Hillary over Trump,” and then go fishing for the next 6 months, or he could do his best to screw up the coup in Brazil and then go fishing. My strong preference is for the last option. Millions of people would be grateful for a televised meeting between Sanders and Dilma Rousseff.

          I applaud the remarks about Hillary’s fake feminism. Dilma Rousseff’s election was a victory for feminism and a victory for women. Hillary’s coronation will be neither. We need to ask, “what does a feminist look like?” Who is the defender of home health care aides, fast food workers, convenience store clerks, “at will” college teachers on 3 month contracts, and millions of other working women and men? Not Hillary.

    • Gabriela
      June 13, 2016 at 11:39

      Excellent analysis.

  10. exiled off mainstreet
    June 12, 2016 at 13:27

    This is an excellent comment. I don’t see Sanders rising to the occasion, though.

  11. jo6pac
    June 12, 2016 at 12:17

    My money is on he falls inline.

    • Chuck
      June 12, 2016 at 12:28

      Unfortunately, I think you’re right. An independent run would be nice but not likely.

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