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The quadrennial political game of least worst, or how to scare the public to vote for presidential candidates who serve corporate power, comes this season with a new twist. Donald Trump, if he faces Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden, Amy Klobuchar or Michael Bloomberg, will continue to be an amalgamation of Adolf Hitler, Al Capone and the Antichrist. But should Bernie Sanders manage to evade the snares, traps and minefields laid for him by the Democratic Party elites, should he miraculously become the party's nominee, the game of least worst will radically change. All the terrifying demons that inhabit Trump will be instantly exorcised. But unlike in the biblical story of Jesus driving the demons into a herd of swine, they will be driven into the senator from Vermont. Trump will become the establishment's reluctant least worse option. Sanders will become a leper. The Democratic and Republican party elites, joining forces as they did in the 1972 presidential election, will do to Sanders what they did to George McGovern, who lost in 49 of the 50 states.
"If Dems go on to nominate Sanders, the Russians will have to reconsider who to work for to best screw up the US. Sanders is just as polarizing as Trump AND he'll ruin our economy and doesn't care about our military," former Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein (net worth $1.1 billion) tweeted. "If I'm Russian, I go with Sanders this time around."
Blankfein, who calls for cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and who headed Goldman Sachs when it paid Hillary Clinton $675,000 for three speaking engagements in 2013, laid out the stance of the billionaire class that controls the Democratic Party. The New York Times reported that Mike Novogratz, "a Goldman Sachs alumnus who runs the merchant bank Galaxy Digital, said Mr. Sanders's oppositional nature had prompted 'too many friends' to say they would vote against him in November. 'And they hate Trump,' he said."
"Nobody likes him, nobody wants to work with him, he got nothing done. He was a career politician. It's all just baloney, and I feel so bad that people got sucked into it," Hillary Clinton says of Sanders in a forthcoming television documentary.
The courtiers in the press, pathetically attempting to spin Sanders' New Hampshire win into a victory for the corporate-endorsed alternatives, are part of the firing squad. "Running Sanders Against Trump Would Be an Act of Insanity" read the headline in a piece by Jonathan Chait in New York magazine. "No party nomination, with the possible exception of Barry Goldwater in 1964, has put forth a presidential nominee with the level of downside risk exposure as a Sanders-led ticket would bring. To nominate Sanders would be insane," he wrote. David Frum now a darling of the Democratic elites, like many other Republicans who morphed from George W. Bush supporters into critics of Trump announced in The Atlantic that Bernie can't win. "Sanders is a Marxist of the old school of dialectical materialism, from the land that time forgot," Frum wrote. "Class relations are foundational; everything else is epiphenomenal."
Jennifer Rubin declared in The Washington Post that a Sanders nomination would be a "disaster for the Democrats." "Sanders's campaign, like all primary campaigns, is a preview of the general-election race and, if elected, the administration he would lead," Rubin wrote. "A nominee who insists on personally attacking all doubters and the media might be a model for the Republican Party, but Democrats are not going to win with their own Donald Trump, especially one who has burned bridges and stirred resentment in his own party."
Thomas Friedman, in a column supporting Bloomberg, the newest savior in the protean Democratic firmament, wrote of Sanders: "On which planet in the Milky Way galaxy is an avowed 'socialist' who wants to take away the private health care coverage of some 150 million Americans and replace it with a gigantic, untested Medicare-for-All program, which he'd also extend to illegal immigrants going to defeat the Trump machine this year? It will cast Sanders as Che Guevara and it won't even be that hard."
MSNBC commentator Chris Matthews, descending to the Red baiting employed by Blankfein, said that "if Castro and the Reds had won the Cold War there would have been executions in Central Park and I might have been one of the ones getting executed. And certain other people would be there cheering, okay?"
Despite the hyperventilating by corporate shills such as Matthews and Friedman, Sanders' democratic socialism is essentially that of a New Deal Democrat. His political views would be part of the mainstream in France or Germany, where democratic socialism is an accepted part of the political landscape and is routinely challenged as too accommodationist by communists and radical socialists. Sanders calls for an end to our foreign wars, a reduction of the military budget, for "Medicare for All," abolishing the death penalty, eliminating mandatory minimum sentences and private prisons, a return of Glass-Steagall, raising taxes on the wealthy, increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour, canceling student debt, eliminating the Electoral College, banning fracking and breaking up agribusinesses. This does not qualify as a revolutionary agenda.
Sanders, unlike many more radical socialists, does not propose nationalizing the banks and the fossil fuel and arms industries. He does not call for the criminal prosecution of the financial elites who trashed the global economy or the politicians and generals who lied to launch preemptive wars, defined under international law as criminal wars of aggression, which have devastated much of the Middle East, resulted in hundreds of thousands of dead and millions of refugees and displaced people, and cost the nation between $5 trillion and $7 trillion. He does not call for worker ownership of factories and businesses. He does not promise to halt the government's wholesale surveillance of the public. He does not intend to punish corporations that have moved manufacturing overseas. Most importantly, he believes, as I do not, that the political system, including the Democratic Party, can be reformed from within. He does not support sustained mass civil disobedience to bring the system down, the only hope we have of halting the climate emergency that threatens to doom the human race. On the political spectrum, he is, at best, an enlightened moderate. The vicious attacks against him by the elites are an indication of how anemic and withered our politics have become.
The Democrats have, once again, offered us their pre-selected corporate candidates. We can vote for a candidate who serves oligarchic power, albeit with more decorum than Trump, or we can see Trump shoved down our throats. That is the choice. It exposes the least worst option as a con, a mechanism used repeatedly to buttress corporate power. The elites know they would be safe in the hands of a Hillary Clinton, a Barack Obama or a John Kerry, but not a Bernie Sanders, which is a credit to Sanders.
The surrender to the "least worst" mantra in presidential election after presidential election has neutered the demands of labor, along with those organizations and groups fighting poverty, mass incarceration and police violence. The civil rights, women's rights, environment justice and consumer rights movements, forced to back Democrats whose rhetoric is palatable but whose actions are inimical to their causes, get tossed overboard. Political leverage, in election after election, is surrendered without a fight. We are all made to kneel before the altar of the least worst. We get nothing in return. The least worst option has proved to be a recipe for steady decay.
The Democrats, especially after Ralph Nader's 2000 presidential run, have erected numerous obstacles to block progressives inside and outside the party. They make ballot access difficult or impossible for people of color. They lock third-party candidates and often progressives in the Democratic Party, such as Dennis Kucinich, out of the presidential campaign debates. They turn campaigns into two-year-long spectacles that cost billions of dollars. They use superdelegates to fix the nominating process. They employ scare tactics to co-op those who should be the natural allies of third parties and progressive political movements.
The repeated cowardice of the liberal class, which backs a Democratic Party that in Europe would be considered a far-right party, saw it squander its credibility. Its rhetoric proved empty. Its moral posturing was a farce. It fought for nothing. In assault after assault on the working class it was complicit. If liberals supposedly backers of parties and institutions that defend the interests of the working class had abandoned the Democratic Party after President Bill Clinton pushed through the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, Trump would not be in the White House. Why didn't liberals walk out of the Democratic Party when Clinton and the Democratic Party leadership, including Biden, passed NAFTA? Why didn't they walk out when the Clinton administration gutted welfare? Why didn't they walk out when Clinton pushed through the 1999 Financial Services Modernization Act, which abolished the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act, designed to prevent the kind of banking crisis that trashed the global economy in 2008? Why didn't they walk out when year after year the Democratic Party funded and expanded our endless wars? Why didn't they walk out when the Democrats agreed to undercut due process and habeas corpus? Why didn't they walk out when the Democrats helped approve the warrant-less wiretapping and monitoring of American citizens? Why didn't the liberals walk out when the party leadership refused to impose sanctions on Israel for its war crimes, enact serious environmental and health care reform or regulate Wall Street? At what point will liberals say "Enough"? At what point will they fight back?
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Chris Hedges spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. He has reported from more than 50 countries and has worked for The Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, The Dallas Morning News and The New York Times, for which he was a foreign correspondent for 15 years.
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