Home Politics Appreciating Bernie in Our Era of Hobson’s Choices

Appreciating Bernie in Our Era of Hobson’s Choices

28 min read

One thing we know for certain about what weighed on Bernie’s decision to suspend his campaign is that there are things we do not know for certain. Before and after the October 1st medical adventure his heart embarked on, I wrote he’d be ticking like a Timex and coming from behind like Seabiscuit, both prediction and prayer. I acknowledge my disappointment but refrain from judgment on what I believe to be a clean call. Bernie’s not infallible, but I believe he makes clean calls. That belief is why so many support him.

'Biden Blunders,' by Nancy Ohanian
Biden Blunders, by Nancy Ohanian

The Covid19 virus was a game-changer that undermined Bernie’s campaign strengths and his chances of overcoming the battery of establishment cannons arrayed against him, the pressure of which would buckle most people half his age. And unlike Perez and Biden, whatever the latest tune they whistle, Bernie wouldn’t have people risking lives in primaries in a game of Covid19 Russian roulette.  Biden has a minefield of banana peels before him, but waiting for him to slip from the grasp of his army of handlers and do a face-plant is not a political strategy that inspires. It’s understandable that someone with Bernie’s integrity would focus instead on his ideals and proposals, which to anyone not in a coma or a special interest pocket make more sense with each passing day.

As Naomi Klein has observed, “…during times of crisis, people also are risk-averse. I think the timing of this was such, with the inability to continue campaigning in person, with people just reaching for something that looked and felt safe, I don’t think it was possible to translate that shift in openness to these kinds of policies with a huge electoral swing from Biden towards Bernie, although I was certainly hoping for it up until Bernie’s announcement last night. But while hoping for it, I was keenly aware that the polls were not reflecting it, that it wasn’t happening and that people are not up for that kind of political seesaw in this moment of tumult.”

There’ve been logical, solid analyses, as by the anchors of the online political show Rising, Krystal Ball and Saagar Enjeti, that the Democratic establishment will eventually blow off anyone not brandishing a ball bat with nails in it, that whatever promises Bernie might elicit from making nice, they’ll be written in sand washed away by the high tide of big donors. And no matter what Bernie says or does, he will be blamed again if Trump wins, as CNN is already about the business of. As in 2016, how dare Bernie practice democracy and provide the country with a choice and an awareness of issues best left concealed from view.

Some might despair that with Bernie stepping back, the progressive movement has lost its lynchpin. Bernie countered that nicely with accomplishments noted in his statement that he was suspending his campaign, (not cremating it, as many in the media have implied), while staying on the ballot to hold and earn delegates to influence the party. Progressive candidates inspired by Bernie certainly aren’t fading away. Charles Booker, running against Mitch McConnell, stated “…make no mistake: our fight for Medicare for All, racial justice, a Green New Deal, and an economy that works for all of us is nowhere close to over.” Mark Gamba, the mayor Milwaukee, Oregon, running against incumbent Blue Dog, Kuirt Schrader, reaffirmed his goals of changing the healthcare system, boldly addressing climate change and holding corporate interests accountable for damage they cause. The grassroots movements supporting such candidates aren’t fading away either.

Here’s Biden’s statement on Bernie stepping out of the race. Pre-canned by strategists for sure, but I’d have to say it’s not a bad statement from the point of view of conning people to fill in the blanks with whatever they hope Joe is saying about health care, etc…. Trump was masterful at letting people hear what they wanted. If he’s not too addled, he may be again. But maybe Joe can limp along for awhile on a lack of specificity and a media tossing him softballs, until Biden figures out the peril of not making solid, substantive commitments and standing by them.

Maybe Biden can ride to victory atop a platform of low expectations other than not being Trump. But if Biden wins with wishy-washy, he’ll have nothing resembling a mandate, only a load of disappointed people when he turns out to be Mr. Cellophane, moved about with puppet strings by big donors to whom Bernie, with his small donor cornucopia, must have looked like one of Eliot Ness’s Untouchables. Spurning the money of big donors and owing them nothing made Bernie a dangerous man.

Howie of Down with Tyranny has repeatedly contrasted Biden’s weaknesses and Bernie’s strengths, so I’ll just offer a couple glimpses that glare out.

Recently the Biden camp conferred with Eric Holder about Biden’s campaign and his vice-presidential pick. Holder who ushered, covertly from colleagues who’d have been aghast, the pardon of finance criminal fugitive Marc Rich for Bill Clinton’s signature on Clinton’s last day in office, after which Rich’s ex-wife donated huge sums to the Clinton library. Does anyone doubt that had that happened a year earlier Clinton would have been impeached, and properly so? Holder, who prosecuted whistleblowers like John Kiriakou, a top counterintelligence agent who exposed CIA torture, just to ruin him and to send a message to others, putting this hero in prison, initially with an effort to throw away the key. Holder, who let bankers off the legal hook laying the groundwork for his law firm, and therefore Holder, to reap fortunes servicing those banks. Read what Holder did to bank whistleblower Brad Birkenfeld on behalf of foreign banks hiding Americans’ money. That’s the short list.

Holder was Wall Street’s early Manchurian candidate for President. He fizzled like a wet fuse, but he’s been waiting in the wings if opportunity knocks, raising his profile with an anti-gerrymandering organization that’s run like a campaign. If Biden hadn’t already committed to a female vice-president, I’d bet Holder would pull a Cheney and recommend himself. He’ll certainly be influential in a Biden administration, again looking out for protecting his client bankers from facing serious consequences for misdeeds and greedy maneuvers that are again setting Americans — and the world — up for another fall.

American Dream Revisted, by Nancy Ohanian
American Dream Revisited, by Nancy Ohanian

My point is that no one had to worry about Bernie consulting with Eric Holder. Instead Bernie would be throwing a wrench in the revolving door to keep Holder’s ilk out of his administration. Bernie would never have floated the idea of Jamie Dimon as a swell potential member of an administration, perhaps Secretary of the Treasury, as Biden’s camp did. Want some intriguing reading? Read a bit on Dimon here, and on JPMorganChase, courtesy of Wall Street on Parade. I’m confident that after the election, when the revolving door starts spinning, Bernie will be shouting the dangers loud and clear, channeling public anger that Biden would be a fool not to pay attention to.

By the way, Wall Street called the shots on many of President Obama’s picks, including Holder for Attorney General and Hillary for Secretary of State. That insight came courtesy of WikiLeaks, so one can sense the establishment fervor to destroy Julian Assange. And Wall Street on Parade reports that in the 2020 presidential primaries one Wall Street firm was an instrumental supporter of five different Democratic candidates. Should that leave us wondering at the impressive orchestration of the Super Tuesday endorsements, that maybe some candidates, beyond shooting for Veep or major posts, were being jockeyed to derail progressives and elevate Biden?

'Establishment vs Bernie,' by Nancy Ohanian
Establishment vs Bernie, by Nancy Ohanian

Both of Bernie’s presidential campaigns laid bare the hapless state of much of mainstream, corporate media. Take the Washington Post. Does anyone think Jeff Bezos bought that paper because, like Citizen Kane, he thought it might be fun to run a newspaper. The man has a Washington agenda. The Bezos Brigaiders on the editorial pages and covering the campaign are well aware of how many newspapers have hit the skids, with major staff layoffs that leave many journalists scrambling to find public relations work. They don’t have to be geniuses to figure out what the world’s richest man doesn’t like. Bezos doesn’t like antitrust enforcement and close scrutiny and regulation of monopolies. He doesn’t care much for paying taxes. He doesn’t like to be embarrassed and pushed by potential legislation that would penalize him if he doesn’t raise wages and improve working conditions for expendable workers toiling in warehouses and grocery stores and delivering his goods. He doesn’t like unions. So none of the Bezos Brigaiders needs to be told he doesn’t like Bernie Sanders, whose major supporters include Amazon workers and who throws a spotlight on that company’s excesses. And so these members of the press decided squashing Bernie is worth shredding their journalistic credibility, continuing a pattern Thomas Frank wonderfully described in 2016 in a Harper’s magazine article, Swat Team.

The New York Times opinion page and campaign coverage has been as relentless whacking Bernie. One can only marvel at how the Gray Lady has become so in the tank for the Wall Street establishment it still won’t acknowledge the folly of Bill Clinton and Robert Rubin eliminating the Glass-Steagall Act, that had separated commercial and investment banking since FDR, becoming a major cause of the 2008 economic debacle. Both Clinton and Rubin were richly rewarded for that, from speaking fees and foundation contributions for Clinton to a job for Rubin with stunning compensation. In Washington, quid pro quo often takes its time, but it gets there.

Did it ever look to you like a contest between those two papers to find the most deranged and angry looking images they could of Bernie? Propaganda 101.

We’ve been treated to the comic spectacle of Comcast media players like Chuck Todd, putting their Orwellian knives into Bernie and his health care proposals between commercials for health care insurance and pharmaceutical companies. And a number of NPR reporters and analysts behaved as if they’re auditioning for Comcast, putting words in interviewee’s mouths and cutting them short if what they said wasn’t supporting the narrative. They all ought get plaques engraved with “But How Will You Pay For It?” Particularly if the big banks start tumbling economic dominoes that most media has routinely ignored.

So we can thank Bernie for making the media fix so apparent that many of us now seek out alternative media voices, voices that often represent a much better use of one’s time.

Freedom of the Press, Money and the Media, by Nancy Ohanian
Freedom of the Press, Money and the Media, by Nancy Ohanian

Consider corporate media’s willingness to avert its gaze from a foreign power meddling in American elections. I’m not speaking of Russia, the influence of which on the 2016 election I think greatly over-played, to the detriment of focus on critical issues and on what the Trump grifter class is up to. Whatever Russia did I doubt it had much impact next to the tabloids in the grocery store checkout line, let alone our home-grown dark money networks of the Kochs, Mercers and others from the oligarch rogues gallery. More attention should have been paid to the influence of foreign companies’ American subsidiaries, including banks.

No, I’m speaking of Israel, whose confederates and advocates in the US spent fortunes running ads attacking Bernie in the primaries, supporting the narrative of Bernie being unelectable. Just imagine if it had been Russia, how quickly those covertly undermining our democracy on a behalf of a foreign power would earn the accusation of betraying our country. Just because Bernie called for decency and morality in the treatment of Palestinians systematically oppressed in every way imaginable. That oppression was often done with American indifference or complicity, which Bernie was perceived as a threat to.

Predictably, media was then complicit with ludicrous and flimsy intelligence claims — intelligence loosely defined — that Bernie topped Russia’s wish list.

Ironically, Bernie went along a bit with the Russia narrative, something for which he’s been criticized. I’ve no idea how much he really bought into that party orthodoxy. Some purists won’t like what I’m about to say. Things are relative, and running a presidential campaign isn’t the same as seeking sainthood. Look how fast media stood Bernie before a firing squad for giving a harmless nod to educational and medical accomplishments in Cuba, painting him as a fellow traveler to discredit him, particularly in Florida.

On balance, Bernie has given it to us straight more than any other candidate. Pardon what’s almost become a cliché, but his consistent drumbeat really has changed the conversation. On healthcare, 55% of voters now support single payer health care, only 35% oppose it. Major programs to counter climate change and develop related jobs are now a top priority of many, particularly younger voters. Bernie provided an articulation of the growing wealth gap that helped people better understand what they already sensed going on around them, and the campaign finance fix behind much of it. He provided hope that there was a way to do something about it. Where would the conversation be were it not for Bernie?

While I like and respect some of those who’ve been critical of Bernie over dis and dat, no offense to them but I think Noam Chomsky is better than most in assessing the immediacy of the big picture. (Here’s some of his comments on Bernie ending his presidential run.)

Chomsky on Democracy Now:

If Trump is reelected, it’s a indescribable disaster. It means that the policies of the past four years, which have been extremely destructive to the American population, to the world, will be continued and probably accelerated. What this is going to mean for health is bad enough… It will get worse. What this means for the environment or the threat of nuclear war, which no one is talking about but is extremely serious, is indescribable.

Suppose Biden is elected. I would anticipate it would be essentially a continuation of Obama — nothing very great, but at least not totally destructive, and opportunities for an organized public to change what is being done, to impose pressures.

It’s common to say now that the Sanders campaign failed. I think that’s a mistake. I think it was an extraordinary success, completely shifted the arena of debate and discussion. Issues that were unthinkable a couple years ago are now right in the middle of attention.

The worst crime he committed, in the eyes of the establishment, is not the policy he’s proposing; it’s the fact that he was able to inspire popular movements, which had already been developing — Occupy, Black Lives Matter, many others — and turn them into an activist movement, which doesn’t just show up every couple years to push a leader and then go home, but applies constant pressure, constant activism and so on. That could affect a Biden administration.

'Collusion 3: The System,' by Nancy Ohanian
Collusion 3: The System, by Nancy Ohanian

In the end, we should appreciate Bernie for the enemies he’s chosen, domestic and foreign. And we should appreciate him for the voice he’ll provide as interesting times compound.

 

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