The postmortems on the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign are coming in, especially after his ridiculous performance in the last Democratic debate, and people are wondering how the Great Helmsman lost to a demonstrably-demented ape. He’s a few thoughts:
He squandered 4 years by doing nothing
Let’s be clear about where Bernie comes from. The Socialist Party of America and its Young People’s Socialist League (YPSL or “Yip-Sills”) that he belonged to as a young New Yorker, led by Norman Thomas, were a kind of bridge between mainstream Cold War liberals and civil rights activists (indeed, they were one of the few groups opposed to the internment of Japanese during World War II). Longtime member A. Phillip Randolph nurtured the March on Washington movement for 20+ years, eventually seeing it come to fruition in 1964.
Martin Luther King, Jr. said “A little Negro boy listened at the Washington Monument to an eloquent orator. Turning to his father, he asked: ‘Who is that man?’ Came the inevitable answer: ‘That’s Norman Thomas. He was for us before any other white folks were.’” Bernie comes from a background that knows how to organize and mobilize in ways that frighten the powerful.
And in the past 4 years, he did little more than set up an absurd think tank called Our Revolution, gave a few endorsements to members of the Democratic Socialists of America, and speechified to his diehard fans. Hell, he even poo-pooed anti-ICE protesters, telling them to instead focus on getting elected to office! That’s not building a movement that would have elected him to office, it’s building a Northern white Liberal Democratic Party campaign that melts like candle wax before the blowtorch of the institutional booby-traps created to stymie his efforts. Let me be clear: This isn’t about Leftist critiques of Sanders, it is about whether his ground strategy had a chance to win, which it did not. This leads to my second reason.
He didn’t want to take down the Democratic Party (again)
In 2015-16, Sanders ran a campaign that seemed to hint at what could have been either career suicide or political revolution, burning down the house in the same way Donald Trump obliterated the Republican Party. But unlike Ralph Nader, he balked and decided to campaign for Hillary Clinton, a thankless task. In ’16, owing to so-called “sore loser laws” in multiple states, he would have been unable to run a third party ticket after the convention.
But afterwards, there were multiple efforts to get him to form a third party. Even Jill Stein of the Green Party was willing to offer him a spot on the ’16 ticket, showing there were folks in that ramshackle mess that were willing to let him and his followers take it over (quite an easy feat).
But instead he became the hype master for Charles Schumer and Nancy Pelosi! Such is a “damned if you do-damned if you don’t” situation, obviously, but those are the real stakes of trying to get elected to the presidency with a project looking to upend the foundations of our political economy.
Neoliberal policy has controlled the national purse since Gerald Ford told New York City to “Drop Dead” in 1975. This union of the financial industry with the duopoly has the most powerful, deadly war machine in human history at its disposal and has zero qualms about bombing to smithereens those who step out of line, as we have seen in Yugoslavia, Libya, Syria, and elsewhere since the end of the Cold War. The reason why is point three.
He is so frightened by Trump he is helping Joe Biden roll out the red carpet for another four years of misery
Nobody in their right mind can deny that there’s been some real harm done by this administration. But Sanders, like a deer in headlights, is so desensitized by the headlines that he doesn’t realize his failure on the campaign trail is helping Trump get reelected. Rather than fight to actualize his rhetoric, he surrenders to a political party that drags us further from the dreams on his horizon. It is political cowardice unseen in generations. His apostles who refuse to hold him accountable for this are failing on a basic principle of socialism, solidarity, by prioritizing the comfort of a old white dude over that of those in the cross-hairs of the police state.
In 2016, Sanders atom-bombed one of the third rails of postwar Democratic politics with a sympathetic speech about the plight of the Palestinians. It was a stellar act of bravery because, as a self-described atheist Jewish Red, he literally embodies every single racist slur anti-Semites have been publishing since The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion. And that only happened because Palestine solidarity activists protested his campaign stops for months, pushing him to do something that will go down in history as probably his finest moment.
Ergo his base needed to stop kissing his ass and instead light a fire underneath it. Regrettably it is far too late now for that.