31 Jan '16     home | previous

Sanders, Slander and Relevance

In the 60s, Bernie Sanders was a member of the Young People's Socialist League, an arm of the Socialist Party of America. The Socialist Party of America from 1982 to 1989 was Michael Harrington, well-known author of The Other America, the book that has been credited with stimulating President Kennedy, leading to President Johnson's War on Poverty. The Social Party of America differentiated itself from two lesser known Marxist parties in the United States: the Socialist Workers Party and the Socialist Labor Party. Sanders, Harrington and others who called them Social Democrats were hostile to the Marxist-Leninist parties – the Communist parties –  who also described themselves as socialists.

In 1988, while Sanders was mayor of Burlington, Vermont, he married, and, soon after, he went to the Soviet Union with his wife and a 12-person delegation from Burlington to establish a sister city program with the Russian city of Yaroslavi.” The Republican presidential candidate Lindsey Graham spoke of the trip as a honeymoon and said "and I don't think he ever came back," followed by vigorous applause from his audience. Sanders described Graham as "a little silly [and] absurd.”  Fox News commentator and Washington Post columnist George Will also wrote of Sanders's "honeymoon" in the Soviet Union, and he lectured his readers about how terrible Joseph Stalin and the Soviet Union were. The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. The Burlington-Yaroslavi sister cities program is still in operation.

We can expect from Republicans hostile comments about socialism in association with Sanders. Marxist-Leninists described socialism as the public or state ownership of the means of production. Wikipedia describes Social Democrats (like Sanders) as holding to a political ideology that,

supports economic and social interventions to promote social justice within the framework of a capitalist economy and a policy regime involving welfare state provisions, collective bargaining arrangements, regulation of the economy in the general interest, measures for income redistribution. 

If Sander's is nominated, maybe few who are hostile will link Sanders to the welfare state and claim that the welfare state should be abolished – but this is an absurd proposition. All industialized countries are today welfare states.

Yesterday, the Washington Post columnist Ruth Markus (labeled a liberal) argued against Sanders from another angle. She wrote that Sanders supporters "seem willing to entrust their hopes of retaining the presidency to a candidate envisioning change far more radical than anything Obama ever dangled before them." And she asked, "Why would voters, after watching Obama’s excruciating experience with congressional Republicans, believe that Sanders could deliver his promised "political revolution?" She added that

For all the fevered Obama-is-a-socialist rhetoric of Republican imaginings, the fact remains that he ran – and has governed – largely as a rather centrist, pragmatist Democrat.

Marcus describes Sanders as complaining that Obama suffered because he was not revolutionary enough. She writes of Sanders recently dismissing Clinton’s earnest incrementalism and saying that meaningful political change will take a revolution. She wrote that as angry and frustrated as the public is these days, "it is far from clear that they are prepared to embark on one."

However well Sanders does tomorrow in the voting in Iowa, we will have no measure how well his use of the words "socialist" or "revolution" helped or hindered him. As I see it, these two words are an unnecessary distraction. If Sanders wins the presidency, the United States will move on with private enterprise, big corporations and billionaires. Lands that Teddy Roosevelt gave to the federal government to manage will also be around. Whatever else we get we don't have to describe as a revolution: tax reform, an end to corporate tax evasions, better health care, immigration reform. There will still be the Middle East, and with Sanders that too would require patience. Commiting to an an all-out war effort, as we did in 1941 and not since, would be something else.

Speaking of clarity, I wonder what Sanders means by "last resort" in his statement that war should be only a "last resort." Perhaps his difference with Britain's Prime Minister Thatcher regarding Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait in 1990, Sanders choosing to let it stand, has no relevance today.

Copyright © 2016 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.