What’s his plan? A revolution? He’s too smart for that. Does he care more about beating Republicans or beating the Democratic establishment? Here’s the information you need to grasp the epic nature of this struggle.
Bernie won for Mayor of Burlington in 1980 and so began the Vermont “political revolution.” During his tenure, the Coalition was formed that became the Vermont Progressive Party. They now control 3.3% of the Vermont Senate and 4% of the House. That’s 1/7 as many as the Republicans control.
After 25 years of political revolution in the country’s third most liberal state, this is somewhat disappointing.
|Sanders would take from the rich, insure the poor and give everyone good jobs. This would be just and fair. But that’s beyond him, so what’s his plan now?|
Bernie is a phenomenon—a remarkably good populist orator and an authentic socialist. His socialism explains much: authentic concerns, unrealistic proposals, and some of his tactics. In short, it explains his consistency. But his socialism is not what you’ve heard it is. First, here’s a slice of what you’ve heard. It’s a puzzle with a telling answer.
- “I am not now, nor have I ever been, a liberal Democrat.” 1985
- “The Democratic Party is ideologically bankrupt. Their ideology is opportunism.” 1986
- “I am not a Democrat, period.” 1988
- “the old Democrat-Republican, tweedle-dee tweedle-dum, two-party system” 1989
- “greed and vulgarity perpetuated by the Democrats and Republicans” 1989
- “You don’t change the system from within the Democratic Party.”
- “My own feeling is that the Democratic Party is ideologically bankrupt.”
- “Why should we work within the Democratic Party if we don’t agree with anything the Democratic Party says?” 1990
- “It would be hypocritical of me to run as a Democrat because of the things I have said about the Party.” 1990
- “I am running as a Democrat. Obviously, I am a Democrat now.” Nov. 5, 2015
Step 10 seems radically inconsistent. After being a socialist for 54 years, and despising Democrats (as any good socialist does), he suddenly becomes a super Democrat—just in the nick of time to enter the primaries. Could the chance to use the Democratic party be the reason for his last-minute conversion? Well, yes. So don’t think he’s given up the idea that Democrats are “greedy and vulgar” (1989).
The Tweedledee-Tweedledum Meme
Our first socialist puzzle to solve is Sanders’ belief in the Tweedledee-Tweedledum theory (Democrats = Republicans), which is hard to fathom considering he was politically active when:
- Goldwater (R, 1964) ran on this platform: The elimination of Social Security, federal aid to schools, federal welfare, and the union shop. He claimed also that the Supreme Court’s decision against segregated schools was unconstitutional, said he would defund the UN, and would improve tactical nuclear weapons for frequent use.
- LBJ (a totally establishment D), after defeating Goldwater, passed the Civil Rights Act, Medicare, Medicaid, etc., and the Voting Rights Bill.
- Reagan (R, 1980) cut taxes on the rich in half and broke the unions.
Knowing Sander’s background explains how he could continue to believe the Tweedledee-Tweedledum nonsense in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. In 1961, while in college, Sanders joined the Young People’s Socialist League and was a member until 1964 as it moved toward Trotskyism. In 1980 he was an “elector” in the Socialist Workers Party (founded by communists expelled from Russia for supporting Leon Trotsky). Tweedledee and Tweedledum is a popular Trotskyite slur from the 1930s, and was used against Franklin Roosevelt, who was seen by them as equivalent to a Republican (See www.marxists.org for an example).
The reason communists and socialists love the Tweedledee-Tweedledum meme is that they are always far too weak to bump off Republicans, and this meme justifies (as explained just below) bumping off Democrats — since they’re just the same as Republicans. And that’s what Bernie has spent his whole life doing.
Bumping off Democrats
It’s easier to bump off Democrats because you can just take their policies and tweak them up a bit (from $12 to $15 minimum wage) and sound more left (i.e., holier) than the Democrat. It doesn’t matter if you can implement the tweaked policy, it just “proves” you’re the “authentic” radical. And then you can smear the Democrat (Roosevelt or whoever) as a sell-out to capitalism.
Those of us on the left tend to be trusting and extremely sympathetic to anyone who clearly has the interest of the poor and working class at heart. So we frequently fall for this. I’ve fallen for it several times over the years, and I was rather taken with Bernie until I looked into his past in Vermont. This is where the term “communist dupes” (used for decades to smear the left) came from.
In 1986, Bernie decided to run for governor against Madeleine Kunin, a Democrat and Vermont’s first woman governor. Kunin recalls that his “daily diet consisted of vitriol.” Senator Peter Welch (D-Vt.) recalls that Democrats were “extremely upset.” As Sanders knew, his votes would likely prevent Kunin from getting the required 50%, so the decision would go to the General Assembly where the House was Republican.
Bernie responded to this concern by saying “It is absolutely fair to say you are dealing with Tweedledum and Tweedledee.” In other words, it was fair for him to try to bump off Kunin because she was essentially a Republican. Fortunately, Sanders got only 15% of the vote and Kunin got enough that the General Assembly granted her a win.
Kunin was a progressive Democrat and an important feminist: “my maiden speech on the floor of the Vermont House was in favor of ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. My first priority as governor was universal access to kindergarten.”
Sander’s Vermont strategy was always to run as a spoiler, knowing that even if he couldn’t win, he might throw the race to the Republicans. This eventually forced the Democrats to back off and stop running against him. May as well let him go to Congress and caucus with the Democrats. But three Vermont mayors endorsed Clinton and none endorsed Sanders. Among the three is Howard Dean with his 50-state strategy — certainly not a Republican.
Because Sanders is so consistent, we can be sure he will continue his fight with Clinton until the last dog is hung whether this might give us a Republican president or not. After all, to Sanders, there is almost no difference.
Currently polls say Sanders could beat Trump (but not Cruz or Rubio) by more than Clinton could. But this far out, polls are essentially worthless. And in Sanders’ case, they are just plain deceptive. Why is that?
As of January 31, Republican super PACs had spent $4.4 million on behalf of Sanders. But should he get the nomination, they will spend somewhere between $500 and $1,000 million against him. They are good at dirty tricks, and according to Bernie-sympathizer Michelle Goldberg at Slate: “In a general election, the attack ads would write themselves.”
The problem is, Bernie really is a socialist and that does not mean what he tells his followers it means. For example, as soon as Bernie said Denmark was socialist, its president said he was wrong. Of course Bernie has known that all his life. He was just trying to put one over on his followers. He is currently an (unpublicized) member of Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), which says first thing in their constitution that they “reject an economic order based on private profit.” That is socialist.
Now here are some of his past positions that the Republicans will delight in. And remember that Bernie’s famed consistency will make it nearly impossible for him to back away from them.
- Called for (1970s): Abolishment of the CIA.
- Said (1970s): A return to the system of local citizen militias and Coast Guard would provide our nation with ample protection and also protect us from the imperialist impulses of our leaders. (No military.)
- Socialist Workers Party called for (1980): Abolishing the military budget and for “solidarity” with the revolutionary regimes in Iran, Nicaragua, Grenada, and Cuba; this was in the middle of the Iranian hostage crisis.
- Called for (1991): In Congress: “Mr. Chairman, it is my view that the United States can maintain its position as the strongest military presence on Earth, and still cut our military spending by 50 percent over five years.”
These views may be sound, but they are also music to Republican ears. The GOP will also delight in pointing out that DSA has recently flirted with the Communist Party USA.
All this is not to say Bernie is wrong in his critique of power and money. It doesn’t corrupt everyone, but it does corrupt our political system. And Bernie is good at explaining this. Popular radical movements were and are important, but they did not work by installing finger-wagging presidents. And they did not work like the political revolution in Vermont.
Such things have been tried many times — Teddy Roosevelt’s Bull Moose Party, dozens of socialist revolutionary parties, McCarthy in 1964, McGovern in 1968. These have all been set-backs. Will this time be different? Will millions and millions stand up and hand Bernie his revolution?
Unfortunately, Democratic turnout is down 30% – 40% compared to 2008. In Iowa even Democratic voters under age 30 dropped by roughly 40 percent from 2008. Meanwhile, Republican turnout is up. Badmouthing almost all Democrats is not the path to political revolution. The debacles of past revolutions may pale in comparison to Sanders’ attempt to take over the Democratic Party.
Atlantic: Bernie Sanders’s Problem with Democrats
Politico: Can Bernie Sanders win the love of a party he scorns?
Slate: Bernie Sanders Radical Past
Daily Beast: Bernie’s Past with the Far Far Left
Vox: Give a little thought to what a GOP campaign against Bernie Sanders might look like.
New (May 21): Bernie’s Lies about the Nevada Convention