Saturday, 4 March 2017

Bernie Sanders: "Don't Do as I Do -- Do as I Say!"

Donald Trump was not the only surprising political story of 2016. But given the total media focus on the new US President, we have almost forgotten the amazing political campaign of Bernie Sanders for the nomination of the Democratic Party for president.  I still remember the massive turnouts for his rallies and the long lines of  people waiting to get in to the events to hear him speak.

Out of nowhere we saw an America we had not seen since FDR and the Great Depression. Thousands cheered the attacks on Wall Street, the rule of the 1%, his criticism of the gross inequalities of income and wealth, and the corporate media. Sanders called for a political revolution, one which would give first priority to the most vulnerable, create a universal public health care system, end tuition at state universities, and shut down the “prison industrial complex.” Public opinion polls found that one half of American youth  preferred the Scandinavian version of “socialism” to capitalism. There seemed to be the beginning of a “political revolution.” It was astonishing.

Sanders’ Political Strategy  
Bernie's New Boo

Sanders was born and raised in Brooklyn. He went to the University of Chicago, where he joined the Young Peoples Socialist League (YPSL) and the Congress for Racial Equality (CORE). He supported Martin Luther King and opposed the war in Vietnam. In 1968 he moved to Vermont where he joined the Liberty Union Party. In 1972 they needed a candidate for the U.S. Senate, and Sanders stepped up. He got only 2% of the vote but did not give up. In 1974 he ran for governor for the Liberty Union Party and got 6% of the vote.

In 1980 a group of progressive friends decided to back Sanders as an independent candidate for mayor of Burlington. The strategy was to build a coalition that started with local trade unions, tenants, neighbourhood organizations, and environmentalists. They began in the poor and working class neighbourhoods, knocking on doors and pushing a very progressive platform. He was opposed by a Democrat and a Republican.. He finished first in a three way split.

Sanders had two allies on the city council with eight Democrats and two Republicans in opposition. They formed a new political party, known first as the Independent Coalition and then the Progressive Coalition. It became the model for the Vermont Progressive Party.

The Progressive Coalition administration of Sanders carried out many radical reforms in Burlington. Sanders took 70% of the vote in low income and working class wards. In 1987 the Democratic Party and the Republican Party worked together and chose only to run one candidate against him, a Democrat from city council.  But Sanders and the Progressive Alliance won 54% of the vote.

Going to Washington

In 1990 Sanders ran for the single seat that Vermont had in the U .S. House of Representatives. He defeated the candidate for the Democratic Party by 16 points. Elected as a member of the Progressive Alliance, he was the first person in Congress from a third party in 40 years. But to get a position on a Congressional Committee, he joined the caucus of the Democratic Party.

While in the House, Sanders opposed President Bill Clinton’s deregulation of Wall Street, the changes to the tax system which benefited the rich and the corporations, and stood against the new free trade agreements.

In 2006 one of Vermont’s seats in the US Senate came open, and Sanders declared that he would run. He got the support of Harry Reid, the leader of the Democrats in the U. S. Senate. With the Democratic Party not fielding a candidate, he won 65% of the vote, a landslide victory against the Republican candidate.

Rally in Oregon

Running for President

In 2015 Sanders made the decision to challenge Hillary Clinton for the nomination of the Democratic Party for president. He did not like Clinton’s politics; she seemed even more tied to Wall Street and the corporate elite than her husband. Furthermore, it seemed like there was never a war that she did not enthusiastically support.

The campaign showed just how the political process in the USA is rigged. The media largely ignored the Sanders campaign. The Democratic Party structured the whole primary process in order to support Hillary Clinton, the candidate supported by Wall Street. The neo-conservative elite, who had backed George W. Bush, supported Clinton as well. 

Numerous public opinion polls showed that Sanders would easily beat Donald Trump. In contrast,  the public distrusted Clinton almost as much as Trump. The Democrat Members of Congress who were backing Sanders could be counted on one hand. That was no surprise as they were all dependent on corporate funding for their own election campaigns and had moved to support the neoliberal program associated with the Democratic Leadership Council and the “New Democrats.”

When it became evident that Sanders could not win the Democratic Party nomination, Jill Stein, the candidate  of the Green Party, offered to step aside and let Sanders run as their candidate.  Together, they would “continue the political revolution.” Sanders said no. When Clinton was nominated, Sanders appealed to his supporters to back her and the Democrats. The political revolution, he argued, would continue, but inside the Democratic Party. There would be no attempt to create a third party to challenge the Duopoly.

 Where is Our Revolution?

The election of Donald Trump as President has come as a major shock to a majority of Americans. The Democrats are trying to blame it all on the Russians. Bernie Sanders insists that the future of his movement should be in the Democratic Party. A test case came when the Democrats chose the new chair of the Democratic National Committee. Sanders pushed for Keith Ellison, who had supported him through the primary campaign. The opposition was led by Barrack Obama and the conservatives in the party, including Bill and Hillary Clinton. They chose Tom Perez. There was no way that they would tolerate a swing to the left.

It is not enough to join anti-Trump protest demonstrations. The USA and the world face major problems at this time. The public wants an to end continuous wars. It should be evident that the Democratic Party remains the Party of Wall Street. The best alternative, the road to real change, is to follow the path used by Bernie Sanders in his political career in Vermont. There is the need for a revival of a national Progressive Party. The alternative is growing despair and withdrawal from political activity.