Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Swiftboating of Bernie Sanders

The criticism of presidential candidate Bernie Sanders comes in three distinct flavors, depending largely upon the source.

1. Criticism from the center.  These are mostly cheap swiftboating attacks and straw man arguments coming from the mainstream media and Democratic Party insiders. The attacks are usually passive-aggressive, as in the New York Times ignoring him for long stretches and then coming up with the occasional dismissive "he can't possibly win, because we say so" tripe. They often reek of cheerful condescension. See this and this.

Centrist critics are overly fond of casting Sanders as a convenient prop for Hillary Clinton, a supporting actor who exists only for the cosmetic purpose of "pushing her to the left." This trope is becoming so over-used that people are beginning to notice that it is a trope.

 Or, centrists can even be openly hostile, like former Congressman Barney Frank. He's penned a vicious little hit piece ("Why Progressives Shouldn't Support Bernie") in Politico, suggesting that it would be better for the Democratic Party to be undemocratic and skip the actual debates and primaries against Hillary the Inevitable. Because otherwise, Republicans! (I forget if he remembered the standard Supreme Court fear-mongering. Truth be told, I couldn't even stand to read the whole thing.)

  Or, they can simply be brazenly co-optive, as in that other stuffy establishment organ, the Washington Post chiding Sanders for not co-opting the BlackLivesMatter protesters at Netroots Nation as skillfully as other Dems once co-opted Occupy. (actually, Occupy was co-opted by police crackdowns and Homeland Security fusion centers, but facts are messy things) As if the Washington Post gave a rat's ass about a group of ragtag protesters at a ragtag progressive event that Hillary Clinton found it beneath her dignity to attend. Joan Walsh of Salon is also emerging in the role of official Sanders Scold. But so far, I have to say that Vox is beating her in the shallow corporate Dem propaganda game, which entails pitting liberals against progressives, blacks against whites. And they say the GOP is a hot mess?

A subset of critics from the center are also chiding the young black protesters themselves for being crude and rude. This smarmy allegiance to political correctness  is a racial dog-whistle in and of itself. Young black kids, understandably upset about their peers being frisked and stopped, maimed, stalked and killed by police, are just too naive for their own good. Even worse, they refuse to be corralled into the vaunted Democratic veal pen. What a slap in the face to the established American order!

2. Criticism from the left. This is relatively rare, because the Left itself is rare, but for the most part, the beefs are entirely legitimate. I'm not ready to go quite so far (yet) as Black Agenda Report does in claiming that Sanders is nothing but a fraudulent Democratic plant, whose assigned sheep-dogging role is to herd the free-range disenchanted masses into the corporate Democratic pen to make the world safe for Hillary. I think that Bernie is entirely sincere in his run for national office. His domestic policy agenda, which runs more toward classic FDR-style liberalism than to "socialism," would be considered mainstream if the two corporate parties hadn't been veering off the neocon/neolib cliff over the past three decades or so. Polls have shown, for example, that a majority of Americans favor single payer health care.

But I think we should look at Sanders' political history with our eyes wide open. Read, for example, Paul Street's excellent biographical piece in Counterpunch about how Bernie came to join the Democrats in everything but name.

I've been troubled, too, by Sanders' sometimes bellicose foreign policy record and his radio silence on the security/spy/eternal war state in his stump speeches. He does not handle hecklers well. Last summer, he ordered people protesting his vote for foreign aid to Israel in the wake of the Gaza massacres to "sit down and shut up." And I am also troubled by his frequent statements that he is not a spoiler, that he likes and respects Hillary Clinton, and that he would endorse her wholeheartedly should she win the nomination. It smacks of pre-emptive capitulation.

And, I am troubled by the rise of something resembling an Obama cult around Bernie Sanders. The "Berniebots" will brook no criticism of him, not even legitimate criticism. To these people, who are easily found in media comment sections, you're either totally in the bag for Bernie, or you're a traitor to the cause. Some progressives are describing the young black activists who interrupted Bernie as naive and rude. Some people are even accusing them of being agents provocateurs from the Clinton camp. Some of this "controversy" is also probably being totally made up by corporate sock and meat puppets and bored political horse-race reporters.

These are dangerous times in the Age of Political Correctness and corporate neoliberal propaganda. If we become too afraid to question and challenge our leaders and politicians, then we have failed in our jobs as engaged citizens. I think it is perfectly reasonable to support and praise and even donate to Bernie Sanders without putting all your eggs in one Bernie Basket. Call the guy out when he's wrong, applaud him when he's right, and live to tell the democratic tale. Our activism outside the realm of electoral politics is what counts in the long run.

To Bernie's credit, meanwhile, his team is reportedly taking the criticism of his gruffness at Netroots to heart. And unlike Hillary, he is not backing away from the crowds.

3. Criticism from the right. So far, this has largely consisted of right-wing outlets simply letting the New York Times do their job for them -- they simply steal the centrist swiftboating and run with it.  But Kevin Williamson of the conservative National Review has just written a zany column calling Sanders a "national socialist" --  as in Nazi. Bernie couldn't possibly be a real socialist, a L'Internationale, you see, because he is an America-firster. Williamson also disgracefully co-opted the already stale centrist false-equivalency talking point of comparing Sanders to Donald Trump. The Times' Nate Cohn should sue him for plagiarism.

 But, would I be a Bernie-hater if I said that I, too, am a little concerned about Sanders restricting his criticism of the corporate coup trade deals as being harmful only to American workers? I wish he would talk more about what they're doing to 40 cents-an-hour child laborers in Vietnam, or the suicidal wage slaves in Chinese FoxConn factories, or the imprisoned Walmart textile workers of  Bangladesh. (Go ahead, call me an idealist internationalist commie hippie purist from the Professional Left if you want to. I can take the criticism. And so, I suspect, can Bernie.)

But it's early days yet. Bernie is putting stuff in his stump speeches to gin up the enthusiasm. And the evils of globalization are being addressed more than adequately by Pope Francis. Bernie is a huge fan of the pope. And where there is pope, there is life.


Meredith NYC said...

Karen, thank you for this excellent analysis of Sanders coverage from various standpoints.

There’s something about Barney Frank’s personality that annoys the hell out of me, so I change channels.

I was dismayed at critics of Sanders re black issues. He's be the candidate best for civil/economic rights of minorities.

Sanders was just on Tavis Smiley show....stated the US has closed 60,000 factories since 2001, and sent millions of jobs off shore. This 1 statement should be the center of the 2016 campaign—it’s the main problem of our society, from which comes so many problems—including the racial disparities. I think our rw politics has over time, influenced police officers to be insulting and abusive to minorities.

Re the Times---it’s the most prejudiced coverage I’ve ever seen, purposely avoiding policy analysis. Recall Patrick Healy, once theater critic, now political reporter, or something. His op ed said if a long shot play about gays could end up winning the Tony award, even Sanders might have a chance at winning the nomination, who knows? Very cute put down. But I guess the worst was the Sara Lyall Page 1 piece you link to. Collins was just silly as usual.

The Times, with its string of negative Sanders pieces, is consciously sending a message to the public: we are resolutely centrist and will separate ourselves from whatever has a whiff of too left wing.

Of course our left wing is defined in such a distorted way, that to be centrist now is to be against reform in living standards and big money rule of our politics and policy.

Sanders specific proposals are in reality mainstream—normal here in past decades, centrist now in advanced countries, and favored now in polls by US voters.

But, wait--- at last, the Times ran an op ed that mentioned Sanders positively on actual policy, to benefit the majority! Unfortunately, the title hid that Sanders was in it, so it got fewer readers. But did get comments which I haven’t read yet.

The Case for a Tax on Financial Transactions
From op ed:
“..... average federal tax rates are already low in historical terms, our tax code remains tilted in favor of the wealthy, and our children, neighborhoods and infrastructure desperately need public investment.

What would really be interesting is if a candidate proposed the opposite: a new way to raise more revenues.
Senator Bernie Sanders ... has done just that, by proposing a financial transaction tax: a small excise tax, typically a few hundredths of a percent, on trades of stocks, bonds, derivatives and other securities. would be enough to finance an ambitious expansion of prekindergarten programs for 3- and 4-year-olds and restore funding of college assistance for low-income students.

How, then, does such a tiny tax raise so many billions? Because the base to which it’s applied — the mass of securities traded in US financial markets — is in the hundreds of trillions of dollars.

A financial transaction tax is a smart, fair way to raise urgently needed revenues while reducing unnecessary trading that makes our markets more volatile. Let’s give it a shot.”

So, this is not as sexy as titillating readers with Sanders as a wild haired, counter culture hippie anti vietnam demonstrator, but this is what deserves Page 1. It’s about the 2016 campaign, the economically abused majority, instead of Lyall’s hit piece, masquerading as ‘human interest’.

If the Times discussed Sanders proposals seriously pro/con it would be fulfilling the purpose of the press in a democracy. Too much to ask.

Karen Garcia said...

Thanks, Meredith. Jared Bernstein was Biden's economic adviser, so wonder if there is anything to the rumor that the veep will be entering the race. Hillary Clinton has pointedly NOT called for a financial transactions tax.

Barney Frank likes to pride himself on the "reform" legislation that bears his name, and went ballistic a couple of years ago when Times finance reporter Gretchen Morgenson went on Bill Moyers to call for restoration of Glass-Steagall and to point out that D-F has only made the big banks stronger. Clip, along with Barney's hissy fit of a response, is here if you missed it:

Pearl said...

America is ready for socialism! Massive majorities back Bernie Sanders on the issues — and disdain Donald Trump
ck_bernie_sanders_on_the_issues_and_disdain_donald_trump/ via @Salon

Some more views.

Meredith NYC said...

Sanders and progressives should call for ‘regulated capitalism’.
We now have unregulated, or regulated only to benefit the top few. Regulated capitalism, or similar, sounds more sensible than the dirty word socialism to US voters, which to many means govt ownership of the means of production, or of all mfg and services. Does Bernie Sanders realize this?

Sorry to have missed Morgenson on Moyers. Watching Barney Frank have a hissy fit would be even more unpalatable than usual. But maybe there's a transcript to read. Let's see what he thinks up to oppose Glass Steagall.

Valerie said...

I agree that the Left needs to avoid labels like Socialism. Regulated Capitalism sounds much more palatable to the masses. I refer to myself as a Socialist when I am trying to rile up a narrow minded Conservative. Unfortunately, in the U.S., the label Socialism brings up too many other associations that really have little to do with true Socialism.

I reserve judgement on Bernie. I imagine both Elizabeth Warren and Bernie need to be a little careful in their attacks on Hillary in order to be accepted, albeit on the fringe, of the Democratic Party. Whether we like it or not, Bernie would be getting much less press if he were running as an Independent and he will get his chance to debate Hillary as a result of running as a Democrat. I won't send the guy any money but I will vote for him when it comes down to choosing between Hillary and Bernie.

I think Barney Frank is a windbag. Dodd Frank is like ObamaCare - It doesn't cut to the heart of the matter. From what I see, the big banks are still doing the same things that they did to crash the economy in 2007. It is nothing like Glass-Steagal and Barney Frank knows it.

Excellent analysis, Karen.

Pearl said...

Some thoughts:re: divisions of opinion on Bernie.
Black Lives Count are creating an attitude of suspicion about Bernie among blacks which can make a difference in whether or not there is a chance for him to become President. This is counter productive to both sides when every supporter counts and the hatred for whites, even those who are fighting for black rights, trivializes Bernie's record on these issues. Demonstrating and disrupting his speech is a mistake although the reasons for their anger is justified it plays into the hands of a Hillary agenda.The should carry their agenda to the streets in marches and protests.

The other left wing attack via Paul Street is also counter productive. His website is full of writers of Marxist articles many of whom do not trust anyone who has a toe in a Democratic party. Getting rid of capitalism has to start from within and the people who Bernie is attracting will have a huge impact on the direction of the party in the future.
FDR came into office with many personal prejudices and followed military orders regarding the interning of innocent Japanese into internment camps and disallowing the Jewish refugees from Europe to enter the U.S. They also made mistakes in financial experiments, BUT he revolutionized the Supreme Court, surrounded himself with capable truly liberal people and instituted important new experiment some 0f which stand to this day and others which need revival. Contentious issues remain to be looked into more seriously and despite Paul Street's strong accusations in his article in CounterPunch, I believe Bernie is capable of changing given the right circumstances and support. Ironically if his record reflected our own attitudes he would really come across as a dangerous socialist (communist?) and not attract the huge numbers of people supporting him. The domestic issues he fights for are the key for larger change if they work out.
We cannot afford to give power to the right wing to use these differences to destroy Bernie's reputation as well as be a warning to anyone else who has the gall to speak out.
And yes, I think we should send him a few dollars here and there to keep him in the limelight.
Thanks Karen, for posting this important column.

Pearl said...

And he spoke out quickly and forcefully on the Sandra Bland tragedy. He is capable of becoming more flexible on issues that need addressing I believe. It depends on the direction his supporters want to follow which is a hopeful one at the moment.

Pearl said...

Bernie Sanders’s ‘100% Brooklyn’ Roots

A pro Bernie article on the front page of the NYTimes.

Ste-vo said...

Here is a link to the Times article. About time TIMES

Meredith NYC said...

Karen and all.....If you have a chance, Ralph Nader gives a good interview on Cspan “Afterwords” on a wide range of topics, including how social/govt change can be pushed by a small number of people, based on his past experience.

Discusses the 2016 candidates---one comment re Hillary is that some women in high govt positions may overcompensate and so try to
out-macho the men on military matters. And Trump is satire himself so SNL can’t top what he’s doing. Many other points.

Tells about his book--“Return to Sender: Unanswered Letters to the President, 2001-2015,”, his letters to Bush and Obama critiquing govt policy--re health care, min wage, Iraq war, etc. Says he got few more from Canadian govt---they actually encourage the public to write, so Canadians don’t need a stamp for their letter to their govt. Interesting.
Repeated Sunday 12pm, 9pm, 12am or on line.

Jay–Ottawa said...

The New York Times isn’t all that bad. The space the Times gives today (25 July) to the op-ed of Oliver Sacks makes up for many columns of anonymously-sourced spin and propaganda.

Whether or not we approve of the m.o. of the Times, it’s necessary to, at very least, scan the headlines and teases of every day’s digital edition. Why? Just to know what the MSM wants to distract us with today. Just to know what they would rather not talk about. Just to know what the enemies of truth and fair play are up to. And, yes, just to know what a great soul like Sacks has to say in his final chapter. Where else could Sacks have gone to reach a wider audience of appreciative readers?

If you have time for a moderately dense discussion of what ails the New York Times when it comes to important policy, check out Glen Greenwald’s last two essays (21 & 23 July) at The Intercept. As one commenter noted afterwards, the best way to improve the Times is to boycott the Times. But people who give a damn about the world cannot do that for the reasons just mentioned above. The NY Times, like a few of the important, but radioactive, minerals in Sacks’s collection, must be handled with care.

Pearl said...

"Sacks has never married, and has lived alone for most of his life.[62] He has declined to share details from his personal life, other than a relationship, since 2008, with the writer and New York Times contributor Bill Hayes,[63] but he acknowledged in a 2001 interview that severe shyness—which he described as "a disease"—had been a lifelong impediment to his personal interactions.[64] He addressed his homosexuality for the first time in his 2015 autobiography On the Move: A Life.[65]"

This comment from a discussion of his life (Wikipedia?) answers my feeling that something seemed lacking in his personal relationships with people which he talks candidly about. An amazing scientist but perhaps emotionally vacant explaining a comment about a sadness in him even before becoming ill. Perhaps all his successes in his work filled that void?

Ste-vo said...

I cannot say that I do not watch TV, I do, occasionally. I don't have TV out here at the lake, so from May - September I am TV-less. Sent to me today by a FB friend,was a link to Meet the Press. Please watch this video. As my thinking goes, Chuck Todd is a cretin, and Bernie Sanders is being being well...Bernie Sanders. Perhaps Chuck will self-destruct, as his other boorish friend Brian Williams. I guess that is asking for a lot, but it would be a wonderful thing. Bernie is priceless. Talk about controlling the message!

Jay–Ottawa said...


So this character in C. S. Lewis’s “The Great Divorce” is a newbie to heaven and is getting his orientation tour of the premises. Then suddenly a great procession passes by:

“First came bright Spirits … who danced and scattered flowers. Then, on the left and right, at each side of the forest avenue, came youthful shapes, boys upon one hand, and girls upon the other. If I could remember their singing and write down the notes, no man who read that score would ever grow sick or old. Between them went musicians: and after these a lady in whose honour all this was being done.

“…[O]nly partly do I remember the unbearable beauty of her face.

“Is it? it?” I whispered to my guide.
“Not at all,” said he. “It's someone ye'll never have heard of. Her name on earth was Sarah Smith and she lived at Golders Green.”
“She seems to be...well, a person of particular importance?”
“Aye. She is one of the great ones. Ye have heard that fame in this country and fame on Earth are two quite different things.”