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Bernie Sanders’ Phantom Movement
Posted on Feb 14, 2016
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Bernie Sanders, who has attracted numerous young, white, college-educated supporters in his bid for the presidency, says he is creating a movement and promises a political revolution. This rhetoric is an updated version of the “change” promised by the 2008 campaign of Barack Obama and by Jesse Jackson’s earlier National Rainbow Coalition. Such Democratic electoral campaigns, at best, raise political consciousness. But they do not become movements or engender revolutions. They exist as long as election campaigns endure and then they vanish. Sanders’ campaign will be no different.
No movement or political revolution will ever be built within the confines of the Democratic Party. And the repeated failure of the American left to grasp the duplicitous game being played by the political elites has effectively neutered it as a political force. History, after all, should count for something.
The Democrats, like the Republicans, have no interest in genuine reform. They are wedded to corporate power. They are about appearance, not substance. They speak in the language of democracy, even liberal reform and populism, but doggedly block campaign finance reform and promote an array of policies, including new trade agreements, that disempower workers. They rig the elections, not only with money but also with so-called superdelegates—more than 700 delegates who are unbound among a total of more than 4,700 at the Democratic convention. Sanders may have received 60 percent of the vote in New Hampshire, but he came away with fewer of the state’s delegates than Clinton. This is a harbinger of the campaign to come.
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The Democratic Party is a full partner in the corporate state. Yet Sanders, while critical of Hillary Clinton’s exorbitant speaking fees from firms such as Goldman Sachs, refuses to call out the party and—as Robert Scheer pointed out in a column in October—the Clintons for their role as handmaidens of Wall Street. For Sanders, it is a lie of omission, which is still a lie. And it is a lie that makes the Vermont senator complicit in the con game being played on the American electorate by the Democratic Party establishment.
Do Sanders’ supporters believe they can wrest power from the Democratic establishment and transform the party? Do they think the forces where real power lies—the military-industrial complex, Wall Street, corporations, the security and surveillance state—can be toppled by a Sanders campaign? Do they think the Democratic Party will allow itself to be ruled by democratic procedures? Do they not accept that with the destruction of organized labor and anti-war, civil rights and progressive movements—a destruction often orchestrated by security organs such as the FBI—the party has lurched so far to the right that it has remade itself into the old Republican Party?
The elites use money, along with their control of the media, the courts and legislatures, their armies of lobbyists and “think tanks,” to invalidate the vote. We have undergone, as John Ralston Saul has written, a corporate coup d’état. There are no institutions left within civil society that can be accurately described as democratic. We do not live in a capitalist democracy. We live in what the political philosopher Sheldon Wolin calls a system of “inverted totalitarianism.”
In Europe, America’s Democratic Party would be a far-right party. The Republican Party would be extremist. There is no liberal—much less left or progressive—organized political class in the United States. The growth of protofascists will be halted only when a movement on the left embraces an unequivocal militancy to defend the rights of workers and move toward the destruction of corporate power. As long as the left keeps surrendering to a Democratic Party that mouths liberal values while serving corporate interests, it will destroy itself and the values it claims to represent. It will stoke the justifiable rage of the underclass, especially the white underclass, and empower the most racist and retrograde political forces in the country. Fascism thrives not only on despair, betrayal and anger but a bankrupt liberalism.
The political system, as many Sanders supporters are about to discover, is immune to reform. The only effective resistance will be achieved through acts of sustained, mass civil disobedience. The Democrats, like the Republicans, have no intention of halting the assault on our civil liberties, the expansion of imperial wars, the coddling of Wall Street, the destruction of the ecosystem by the fossil fuel industry and the impoverishment of workers. As long as the Democrats and the Republicans remain in power we are doomed.
The Democratic establishment’s response to any internal insurgency is to crush it, co-opt it and rewrite the rules to make a future insurgency impossible. This was true in 1948 with Henry Wallace and in 1972 with George McGovern—two politicians who, unlike Sanders, took on the war industry—and in the 1984 and 1988 insurgencies led by Jackson.
Corey Robin in Salon explained how the Clintons rose to power on this reactionary agenda. The Clintons, and the Democratic establishment, he wrote, repudiated the progressive agenda of the Jackson campaign and used coded language, especially regarding law and order, to appeal to the racism of white voters. The Clintons and the party mandarins ruthlessly disenfranchised those Jackson had mobilized.
Sanders’ supporters can expect a similar reception. That Hillary Clinton can run a campaign that defies her long and sordid political record is one of the miracles of modern mass propaganda and a testament to the effectiveness of our political theater.
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