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Is Bernie Sanders Really A ‘Bold Alternative’ In The US Presidential Race 2016?

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By Devika Kohli:

Bernie Sanders, the Senator of Vermont has emerged as one of the most prominent contenders in the 2016 American Presidential election. Other popular candidates are Hillary Clinton from the Democratic Party, and real estate magnate Jeb Bush (younger brother of former President George W. Bush) from the GOP. Many believe that the decision of Vermont independent Senator Bernie Sanders to challenge Clinton for the Democratic nomination offers a ‘bold’ alternative.

Image Credit: AFGE
Image Credit: AFGE

Is Bernie the alternative?

The founding statement of People for Bernie movement launched by more than 50 activists is “[W]e support Bernie Sanders in his bid to become the presidential nominee of the Democratic Party. We stand firmly behind Senator Sanders as the strongest progressive possibility in the race right now. [..]Sanders is the bold alternative” .

However, no matter how critical Bernie may be of Hillary, who steered liberal and left supporters towards the Democratic Party whose policies and politics he claims to disagree with, he is nowhere near acting as the “bold alternative.” If he was truly keen on mobilizing millions to resist the status quo in U.S. politics, he would have employed other options rather than plunging himself into the circus of a Democratic presidential campaign. But he rejected them.

Bernie could have opted for an independent presidential campaign, thus opposing both the capitalist parties, Democrats and Republicans. But he refused to consider it, not because he had little chance of winning, but because (to the great relief of the Democrats) he didn’t want to compete for vote with the Democrats’ eventual nominee. In doing so he has failed to provide a political “alternative” and the necessary challenge his party could have provided to a two-party system that offers nothing to the workers.

However, Moumita Ahmed, the grassroots coordinator for the People for Bernie campaign who I got in touch with recently, defended Bernie’s stance to run as a democrat by saying that, “majority of democrats care about the issues he’s talked about for ages and there’s a lot of them. By not running as an independent Bernie is opening up his platform to a larger audience. It’s also a very strategic move on his part because in places like New York, we hold closed primaries meaning only democrats and republicans vote. Bernie really cares about making sure the things he’s talking about reach everybody and running as a democrat helps him do that.”

Will Bernie pave the way to success for Hillary?

Mainstream liberals want Hillary to win. Nationally, she’s the most popular Democratic figure in the race who can sustain the party’s popularity among women. Also, a big victory in 2016 could lead to a Democratic Congress. Bernie, on the other hand, is taken seriously by the voters. He has the credibility that comes from being a sitting senator and is a forceful voice for wealth redistribution.

Hillary however doesn’t consider Sanders as a threat but rather as an asset to her campaign. She is well aware that the golden rule for election business is that: whoever has more gold wins. He will bring the requisite attention to the Democratic primaries and help her frame the election on populist terms that have widespread support.

A brief insight into Bernie’s politics

Bernie seems to be spreading the message of hope for working class by promising to fight for them, create new jobs and take on the corporate control of the political quagmire. However, it is important to remember that he will do this as a ‘Democrat’ and the democratic actions in the past have gone against interests of the worker. For instance, it is their neoliberal policies, from Bill Clinton onwards, that exacerbated the sell-out of the American workforce. Thus, some believe that the Democrats must be abandoned altogether.

Bernie will certainly criticize the failed policies, fast tracked free-trade agreements and corporate plutocracy, but his embracing of the Democrats somewhere undermines his own criticisms. Sanders has over time become less and less radical on a host of issues, such as class inequality. For example, Bernie denounces the minimum wage as a “starvation wage,” but he doesn’t support the low-wage workers’ movement demand for $15 now. Instead, he proposes a more “realistic” increase to $15 “over a period of years, not tomorrow”.

While Bernie may come across as sincere about class politics, he is a militarist who shares belief in the U.S. supremacy. He supported the ugly war on Kosovo, the invasion of Afghanistan, and funding for the Iraq disaster. He voted in favor of Clinton’s 1996 Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, which expanded the federal death penalty and acted as the precursor to the PATRIOT Act. As for Israel, Bernie has been a hawkish advocate that would never halt the $3 billion the U.S. government sends to the country every year. Last summer he backed Israel’s murderous bombing of Gaza. He’s even made negative comments about Palestine’s right to resist. Thus it is important to weigh the pros and cons before choosing Bernie.

His supporters view this differently though, and Moumita speaks for most of them when she says that, “he has one of the strongest environmental records. He rallied against the KXL pipeline and wants to make republicans take a stand on climate change. He is the only elected official that is fighting for students and recently put out legislation to employ 1 million youths in America and make 4 years of public education free and is a huge supporter of a 15/minimum wage for fast food worker and other low wage workers. But most importantly he would overturn citizens united. He’s also not taking any money from PAC’s or corporations which proves that he is working for the people and our interests.”

Why should Americans vote for Bernie?

Sanders doesn’t offer a principled anti-imperialist politics but his defense of the welfare state stands in marked contrast to Hillary Clinton’s business-friendly policies. Sanders is the only candidate who can move the discussion leftward — forcing Clinton to make the kind of bold commitments to appease a disgruntled progressive base.

Sanders describes his potential run as an attempt to build pressure from the left: “If I run, my job is to help bring together the kind of coalition that can win, that can transform politics.” His candidacy is an opportunity for movement building and can strengthen the Left in the long run.

Also, according to his past record, he usually sticks to his positions on issues relating to labor, veterans, children, corporate cheats, and certain social issues (for example, marriage equality).

Choosing the lesser evil

One wonders how Bernie expects to create radical change in the U.S. if the radical grassroots activism he seems to advocate is hijacked by the Democratic Party – a political entity that is owned by the very same banks and corporations he claims to oppose.

The reality of US politics in the current age is that any progressive who wishes to retain his power must temper his left-leaning politics. The more powerful their position, the more compromise is required. Bernie Sanders understands this all too well and acts accordingly. The nature of the U.S. economic and political system thus ensures that the Americans will be forced to choose the lesser evil in the upcoming 2016 elections. After all, politicians who do not agree with the US insistence on military superiority and economic hegemony rarely get to Washington, much less to the White House.

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  1. Ann

    The American working class people ARE the grassroots activists who will essentially be the democratic party if Bernie is elected. We have been starving for someone like him to surface. Power of the people behind someone like him can resist being “hijacked” by special interest because we know he is truly working for us. We will rally in the likes that hasn’t been seen in a long time. He is demonstrating that he has the ability to bring people together from all parties. Americans working together; who would have thought.

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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

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