By Andrew Levine. This article was first published on Counterpunch.
Bernie Sanders has gone over to the enemy side; it is now written in stone. Everyone who felt the Bern will have to deal with that as best they can. The dream is over.
Was it ever more than a dream? It is hard to say – not just because we don’t have all the facts, but also because there is probably no straightforward answer.
Perhaps at some future time we will know what Sanders’ intentions were when he entered the race; and how, if at all, they changed as the campaign wore on.
Or perhaps not: decades later, we still don’t really know what other left-leaning Democrats – Howard Dean, for example — or genuine progressives — like Dennis Kucinich and Jesse Jackson — thought they were doing when they went after the nomination.
One of their concerns probably was to move the “agenda” leftward or at least to keep it from edging even farther towards the right. But what they mainly did was keep Democrats on board for the likes of Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis and, worst of all, Bill Clinton.
For his troubles, Kucinich got redistricted away. Dean and Jackson had larger followings. When they lost, as everybody knew they would, the pillars of the Party let them be “players” – strictly small time, though, and confined to their own niches.
Is that what Sanders was going for?
While the race for the nomination was on, leading Democrats and their media flacks found it more expedient to ignore his campaign than to criticize it. If they mentioned Sanders at all, it would be only to praise him condescendingly for getting “young people” involved in politics again.
Therefore, Sanders’ critics came mainly from his left. Complaints from that quarter were, for the most part, obvious, but compelling only to committed left-wingers: that he wasn’t really a socialist, for example; or that his views on foreign and military policy were of a piece with the Democratic Party’s mainstream.
And there was the concern that, like other insurgent candidates before him, he was actually working for the status quo – “objectively,” and maybe subjectively as well.
The jury is still out on that, but it is now a lot harder than it used to be to gainsay the idea that Bernie and Hillary have always been on the same page.
Unless Sanders supporters flock into the Green Party in larger numbers than anyone now expects, or unless large numbers of them resist calls to jump onto the Hillary bandwagon in other ways, it does look like the point of the Sanders campaign was indeed to use peoples’ longing for a better world as a ploy for easing Hillary’s way back into the White House.
What Sanders says is that, by endorsing Clinton, he is saving the world from Donald Trump. Maybe he believes that. Whether he does or not, there is a technical term for that kind of excuse: “bullshit.”
We don’t need Bernie to save the world from Trump; Trump is doing a good enough job of that on his own, aided and abetted by bona fide Republicans even more vile than he. What Bernie does is irrelevant.
And is there any doubt that if a more “respectable” Republican were the presumptive nominee, Sanders would still be saying much the same thing, allowing for appropriate substitutions? We might now be hearing, for example, that Bernie needed to capitulate to help keep the Supreme Court from moving even farther to the right.
Respectable Republican? Would that be, say, the feckless brother of the worst President ever? Or maybe the pipsqueak gusano from Florida that Trump and Chris Christie shot down at one of the last Republican debates? Or the even more heinous libertarian theocrat and anti-Cuban Cuban from Texas?
Or Ben Carson, perhaps? Before he came along, people thought that brain surgeons had to be smart. Thank the Donald for saving us from him and others of his ilk.
Republican boogeymen are always at the ready with one or another assault on “truth, justice and the American way” that Democrats can use to their advantage, and that Sanders could use to justify surrender.
The difference with Trump is that he is scarier than most – not for his views, which, in key areas, seem less retrograde than Hillary’s, but because he brings out the inner fascist in people. That is serious; he must indeed be stopped.
But there is no need to cross over to the Dark Side to do it. American voters are capable of very dumb things – even reelecting George W. Bush. There are limits, however; they will never elect the Donald.
The thought that they might is a godsend, though, for Hillary and for Bernie too. This is why the anti-Trump story is the one they are all going with. It allows Bernie to save face — especially now that Hillary has thrown in a few meaningless and soon-to-be forgotten platform concessions to sweeten the pie.
Does any politically savvy person really believe that an over-the-top billionaire buffoon and reality TV star, with a propensity to say whatever pops into his mind and with as much gravitas as a turnip, could actually win? Maybe Bernie does: now that he and Hillary are joined at the hip, he has a lot of cognitive dissidence to work through.
I could be wrong of course — I have no “insider” information — but I would venture that Bernie started out wanting only to make inequality and austerity issues for a while; that he entertained no greater ambitions. Like everybody else, he probably thought that Hillary, though widely and justifiably despised, was, for all practical purposes, invincible.
We “critical critics” who also want to diminish inequality and end austerity can hardly fault him for entering the race to advance the cause. Even if his campaign was destined to go nowhere, it was sure to buy him entry into televised debates with Hillary, which would provide him with greater opportunities for raising public awareness of the evils of neoliberalism than any of us could possibly muster just by posting words on websites.
But, instead of going nowhere, his campaign, to everybody’s surprise, maybe Bernie’s most of all, it took off.
Contributions poured in, rallies overflowed with supporters, and, before long, primaries and caucuses were producing truckloads of “pledged” delegates. Corporate media personalities – it would demean the profession to call them “journalists” — could no longer ignore him or his issues entirely. The word trickled out, and the campaign flourished.
For a few months, it actually looked like maybe, just maybe, Bernie really could stop Hillary in her tracks. If he had, he would then have an easier time than she will have defeating Trump; on this, all the polls agree. But this was never much of a selling point because she will have an easy enough time too.
However, Hillary comes with a whole lot of baggage, and she generates very little enthusiasm. And so it was that, at some point last Spring, it became clear that getting the Democrats to nominate Bernie instead of Hillary was not out of the question, after all.
But for that to happen, Sanders would have had to connect better with black and brown victims of neoliberal politics, the system would have had to be less blatantly rigged (“super delegates” were only part of the problem), Democratic Party honchos would have had to lay off a little from backing Hillary to the hilt, and corporate media would have had to be a little less unfair and unbalanced.
As it turned out, the Clintons’ political machines held their ground, the rigged system worked as planned, the Wasserman Schultzes, Schumers, and Pelosis of the (supposedly) Lesser Evil Party gave their all for Hillary, and their media mouthpieces were as abject and servile as usual. Therefore, Bernie didn’t quite make it.
Perhaps this was a blessing in disguise. Because he had no organized support behind him, apart from the campaign structure he built up running against Clinton in the primaries, getting the country off its neoliberal course by governing as a “democratic socialist” – actually, a twenty-first century version of a New Deal-Great Society liberal – would be a task beyond his or anyone else’s ken.
He would have to overcome the opposition of the entire ruling class and its flunkies; and he would be struggling against, not with, the Democratic Party.
It is hardly likely that much good would come from anything he might try to do in such circumstances. It is more likely that progress would be set back.
But because he did get close, he could have gone on to do something that would be even more consequential than superintending a presidency that Democrats and Republicans would block at every turn. He could have helped reconstruct American politics by leading his supporters out of the Democratic Party.
That wouldn’t stop Hillary from becoming the next President; with Trump for an opponent, nothing could.
But it would pave the way for building a genuinely progressive mass-based political party – of, by, and for the people – outside the constraints of America’s disabling duopoly party system. Until that happens, the “political revolution” that Sanders talks about can be nothing more than a snare and a delusion – no matter who the President is.
Had Bernie not capitulated, had he bolted instead, he could have become an American hero. This was never likely; now it is impossible. Sanders accomplished wonders, and threw it all away. History will judge him accordingly.
It is too soon to get a decent perspective on the turn of events that led him to capitulate. . But it is not too soon to see when, intentionally or not, he lost the race for the nomination.
That happened almost at the get go, when, during the first Democratic debate, Sanders famously declared that, along with “the American people,” he was “sick of hearing about Hillary Clinton’s damn emails.”
Nobody knew it at the time, but his candidacy was a goner from that moment on. How ironic that, by taking the high road, Bernie did himself in.
Going after Hillary for her emails is like going after Al Capone for taxes. The disproportion between the charge against her and her misdeeds is similarly extreme.
However, the feds did get Capone for taxes, while Hillary will be getting off scot-free. And, at least in principle, Capone could have been prosecuted for scores of other crimes more heinous than tax evasion, while there are no laws against exacerbating inequality, diminishing democracy, reviving Cold War animosities, encouraging war and preparations for war, and wrecking world order.
Hillary did more than her fair share of all that through sheer cluelessness, ineptitude, and bad judgment. But, with the possible exception of her emails, her misdeeds all seem to have been above board and legal.
Also, while Capone was a gangster, reviled by high-minded people the world over, Hillary is something of a hero among the high-minded. Throughout her public life, she has even been praised for her ability to get things done; worthwhile, “progressive,” things.
No one can come up with examples, of course, but in American politics these days, details like that are unimportant.
Where the Clintons are concerned, the conventional wisdom is, and long has been, topsy-turvy.
The willingness of liberals and others to deceive themselves is what makes it possible for the public perception of the Clintons to be the very inverse of the reality.
Even so, the Clintons could not have pulled it off without extensive media cooperation and without the hard work of their public relations staffs. They are that good.
But even were Hillary’s far too obvious shortcomings more widely appreciated, no prosecutor could convict her for the harm she has done and will go on doing by being a world-class dunce with neoconservative leanings and a fondness for “humanitarian” interventions and other bloody excuses for regime change.
Getting her for keeping emails on a private server was the best, perhaps the only, chance for justice to be served. A more profound justice would require a “political revolution” more radical than the one that Sanders pointlessly blabbered on about before his surrender.
Why, then, when he still could have knocked Hillary off her throne, did he decide instead to pull his punches?
Maybe someday we will learn the full story behind Sanders’ unwillingness to join Republicans in making an issue of those damn emails.
Because I see Bernie as more of a tragic figure than a renegade – a good, but not heroic, man caught up in circumstances beyond his control — I’d like to think that he found working with Republicans too unseemly. Or that he could not countenance making so much of such a comparatively minor charge, when, as with Capone and taxes, there is so much more for which the Queen of Chaos ought to be held accountable.
Or maybe his reasons for not going for the jugular were less benign; maybe, in his heart of hearts, he didn’t want Hillary to lose. All we can say now, for sure, is that, unless his idea all along was to throw the election, not making an issue of those emails was a fatal blunder.
By the time of the first debate, Sanders knew, or should have known, that the entire Democratic Party, “progressives” and all, would pull the rug out from under him, the moment it began to look as if his candidacy was posing a threat to Clinton’s nomination.
He must have known too that liberal media would fall in line; that they would pay his candidacy as little heed as they could, and that when they could not help but pay attention, they would mock his efforts and the zeal of his supporters.
He must have known, in short, that if ever there was a time to come down from the high ground, this was it; that his only chance of stopping the Clinton juggernaut was by going after Hillary tooth and nail.
If striking a blow against neoliberalism, liberal imperialism, and war mongering entailed going after Hillary for the least of her offenses, then so be it. A democratic socialist’s gotta do what a democratic socialist’s gotta do.
At his press conference last week, FBI director James Comey did effectively indict Clinton – in every way except legally, the one way that could actually make a difference.
Maybe, from a prosecutor’s point of view, his decision was defensible; this is a question for legal experts with knowledge of the facts to determine.
What is plain, though, is that his decision reeks of what passes for “equal justice under law” in America these days: deference to the authorities and to economic and political elites, alongside disregard of basic principles of justice for the vast majority, persons of color especially.
It is a lot easier, these days, to prosecute big time gangsters than Wall Street high-flyers and outright banksters. Capone was “small potatoes” compared to the too big to jail malefactors that the Clintons have always regarded as their base.
Evidently, Hillary is too important to jail or indict too – especially at a time when she is heading for a landslide victory in November.
But there is a difference. In a neoliberal capitalist world, capitalists automatically get lots of get-out-of-jail-free cards because this side of a social, not just political, revolution, they can take their money and run, leaving ruination in their wake.
Therefore, they usually get what they want without even having to ask for it. The system is set up that way.
On the other hand, politicians, including even dictators in police states, need public opinion on their side, to at least some extent. No matter how politically connected they may be, they are always vulnerable in ways that titans of finance, commerce and industry are not.
If only Sanders had exploited this fact. Republicans were already going after Hillary for her emails. All Sanders would have had to do is cheer them on, and join in from time to time.
Comey was plainly under pressure not to indict — from the Obama administration, and especially from Obama’s, and perhaps someday Hillary’s, Attorney General, Loretta Lynch.
But with both the left and right behind him, he might nevertheless have been able to muster up enough courage to resist the pressure. Unless, as seems unlikely, his decision not to indict really was based just on the facts alone, Bernie might then still be in the picture, and still on the right side of history.
By showing that it is possible for an American President not to depend on “the billionaire class” for money, and that a viable candidate can identify with socialism, defy AIPAC (albeit in a milquetoast way), and tap into public disgust with the Clintonite status quo in constructive, not Trumpian, ways, Bernie did make history – for a while.
He could have gone on to even bigger and better things, but he decided instead to make peace with Hillary and the Democratic Party establishment.
Therefore, bye bye Bernie; you’ve made yourself irrelevant now.
The Clintons won this round. Therefore Clintonism – that peculiarly American take on neoliberalism, liberal imperialism and economic dependence on cold and hot wars — will emerge strengthened for a while. That is the bad news.
There is this consolation, however: Hillary will peak when she shlongs the Donald this November.
After that, in short order, her reckless war-mongering will make even her liberal supporters turn on her in much the way that LBJ’s supporters turned on him because of Vietnam.
The good news, then, is that, with the Empress of Ineptitude in charge, Clintonism’s victory is probably only temporary; and therefore that, Sanders’ capitulation notwithstanding, the end of the old regime may still be at hand. With Hillary calling the shots, the capacity of its victims to turn the system around may actually be enhanced.
The millions of people who felt the Bern could probably never have carried the struggle against Clintonism much farther than they already did, even had Bernie stayed the course, and even if they had caught a few more breaks.
But an enraged citizenry, feeling the sting of the mess that Hillary will make when she makes America’s perpetual war regime her own, may be able to accomplish what they never could.
Nothing can make up for the death and destruction that an empowered Hillary will cause, but how wonderful it will be, and how ironic, when, at long last, Clintonism meets its demise thanks to the clueless machinations of its reigning Queen.
ANDREW LEVINE is a Senior Scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies, the author most recently of THE AMERICAN IDEOLOGY (Routledge) and POLITICAL KEY WORDS (Blackwell) as well as of many other books and articles in political philosophy. His most recent book is In Bad Faith: What’s Wrong With the Opium of the People. He was a Professor (philosophy) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Research Professor (philosophy) at the University of Maryland-College Park. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).