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Issue #1733      June 1, 2016

Taking Issue – Rob Gowland

The Bernie Sanders effect

Speaking to thousands at a rally in Eugene, Oregon, US presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders said, “The Democratic Party has to reach a fundamental conclusion: Are we on the side of working people or big money interests? Do we stand with the elderly, the children, and the sick and the poor, or do we stand with Wall Street speculators and the drug companies and the insurance companies?”

US presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders.

Former Massachusetts State Representative Tom Gallagher, writing as part of the Sanders campaign to win the Democratic Party nomination for President of the USA, noted at the end of April that, unlike his main rival Hilary Clinton, Sanders was also campaigning “to change the nation by ending the corporate stranglehold on Washington”. Marxist-Leninists can say with certainty (and without being at all cynical) good luck with attempting to achieve that while retaining capitalism!

Sanders’ supporters are well aware that what they are advocating would require a revolution. Their weakness is that they think they can achieve that revolution through bourgeois democracy, within the capitalist system. Oh, they would make a lot of changes to capitalism as it operates in the US, but essentially they would retain the system itself.

Of course, “ending the corporate stranglehold on Washington” is a goal devoutly to be wished, one all sensible people can presumably get behind. It is just illogical, however, to expect corporate control to be diminished (let alone done away with) under a social system dominated by corporations!

Historically, social democracy has always sought to reform the system, by removing the harsher parts of capitalism, to render it softer, gentler, more humane. That the system is based on exploitation, on unfairness, on profiting from the misery of others and that the labour of the many invariably goes to enrich a ruling minority is a fundamental flaw in this approach. But it retains its appeal, especially for those who don’t examine class society too closely, for social democracy appears to promise a better life without necessitating violent upheaval. By knocking off capitalism’s rough edges and taking a more humane approach it is thought that we could somehow slip into a form of capitalism that everybody could be happy with.

Unfortunately, however, not only is exploitation fundamental to capitalism, so is its most extreme expression, war. Regime change, to replace governments capitalist powers are not happy with, is as likely to be effected today through an actual war as through a military coup or a bogus “colour revolution”. Capitalism thrives on war. Its corporations can (and do) make huge profits from war. And profit is what they seek above all else.

The political system that usually suits capitalism the most is bourgeois democracy. It gives the mass of the people the illusion that they control their political destiny while not disturbing the system. Sometimes, however, it does not work as it is intended.

The leadership of the Democratic Party in the US, and their corporate backers, had anointed Hillary Clinton to be their nominee for President. The Clintons were well known for putting through reactionary policies while professing to be progressive. Bill Clinton, while President, had initiated a “get tough on crime” regime that saw thousands of black youths unjustly incarcerated.

As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton presided over the destruction of Libya, the most productive country in Africa, because NATO wanted to seize its energy resources and silence its pro-independence voice. When NATO’s goons murdered Libyan Leader Muamar Gaddafi, Hillary Clinton quipped “We came, we saw, he died.” Her nomination was expected to be a shoo-in at the nominating convention. But something went wrong.

That something was an obscure, aging, independent senator from Vermont named Bernie Sanders. A social democrat, with all the policy weaknesses that that implies, Sanders nonetheless has become identified with opposition to the role of “big money” in American politics and with support for workers and the poor. His campaign has been strongly endorsed by a range of US trade unions. Sanders realised that the way to galvanise support would be to make a high-profile run for the highest office in the land, but to stand for President of the USA as an independent or even on behalf of the Green party (an option that was urged on him) would have meant a fatal news blackout on his campaign by the capitalist mass media. Instead, Sanders gave up being independent and joined the Democratic Party, in order to seek nomination as its candidate for President of the USA.

His campaign to win the nomination was expected by the party machine to quickly sink without trace. It didn’t. Instead, Clinton found herself in a real fight. In fact, only the existence of a block of delegates (the so-called “super delegates”) who are appointed not elected could guarantee her nomination.

As a Common Dreams reader using the name Emphyrio commented on Sanders’ campaign: “Hillary Clinton [is] surely the biggest, best-funded corporate-backed candidate the Democratic leadership has run since Walter Mondale lost to Ronald Reagan in 1984 over three decades ago, [nevertheless] the once obscure independent Vermont senator has battled Clinton to almost a draw, down by only some 319 delegates with nearly 900 to go (not counting the corrupt “super delegates” chosen for their fealty to party leaders, not by primary or caucus voting.)”

As Tom Gallagher observes, “one point that no one argues is that Sanders has electrified the youth vote: Pennsylvania exit polls, for instance, showed him winning 83 percent of under-30 primary voters. ... Whether he’s advocating the $15 minimum wage; tuition-free public higher education; the need for a single-payer, Medicare-for-all health care system; the legalisation of marijuana; the abolition of the death penalty; or his denunciation of the Iraq War as the country’s greatest foreign policy disaster of the last forty years, when Sanders finishes talking you know clearly where he stands, something that is often not the case with the opposition.

“One of the reasons for this clarity gap is also itself quite clear. By the time most politicians reach the point of seriously contending for the presidency, they likely face an ongoing conflict between what they or their constituents might think is best and what the big money people, whom they rely on for campaign funding, will let them get away with. But when you actually run a campaign against the politics of the big money interests, as Sanders has, and people support it with unprecedented amounts of small campaign contributions, you simply don’t have to go through those contortions.”

Hillary Clinton on the other hand is definitely beholden to corporate America. She and her husband received over $25 million in little more than a year from business interests, deftly camouflaged as speaking fees. Clinton, for example, received $675,000 for giving speeches to investment bankers at Goldman Sachs. When the media asked her why she charged such a huge fee she disingenuously replied, “That’s what they offered.”

Tom Gallagher sees the Democrats having to choose between “a candidate pledged to driving big money out of politics or one who has become wealthy through involvement in politics; a candidate who is a critic of regime change-driven foreign policy, or one who professes admiration for [notorious war monger] Henry Kissinger.” He’s right, but thanks to the “super delegates” weighting the vote at the Democratic Party Convention, Americans hoping for another New Deal presidency are unlikely to get it this time around.

The political arrangement that best serves bourgeois democracy is the so-called “two party system”. Just as, in Australia, Labor and the Libs play “I’m in, you’re out” with one another at election time, so in the USA, the Democrats and the Republicans do the same. One poses as “progressive”, the other as “conservative”.

“Sanders has exposed not just his opponent, Hillary Clinton, but the entire Democratic Party leadership and most of its elected officials as nothing but hired corporate tools posing as progressive advocates of the people,” said Common Dreams.

To combat Sanders’ influence. Hillary Clinton has been obliged to adopt – or appear to have adopted – a range of more progressive positions than she would otherwise be associated with. This has prompted her campaign team to complain that she has been “forced to the left” (!) but there is little evidence of this in her speeches, filled as they are with largely meaningless platitudes. Her speeches are carefully structured to sound “progressive”, but they fail miserably when contrasted to Sanders’ down to earth plain speaking.

Clinton’s negative rating with voters has grown with each opinion poll. A very large majority of voters do not want her. Even registered Democrats don’t like her or trust her. If she does become the Democrats’ candidate, only fear of what Republican front-runner Donald Trump as President might mean for the country (and the world) will bring her victory.

Meanwhile, the long term effect on US voters of Bernie Sanders’ campaign is unclear, but increased dissatisfaction with the policies pursued by the two big bourgeois parties would at least seem likely.

And that would have to be a good thing.

Next article – Dingo

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