The next in my series of discussing the various postmortems of the Democratic primary will focus on Jeffrey St. Clair’s surprisingly harsh condemnation of Bernie Sanders in the pages of Counterpunch, which I’m sure really endeared him to his readers. St. Clair blames Bernie for believing his own rhetoric about his chances, misleading his supporters, his focus on blaming the Democratic Party “machine” for his losses, relying on consultants ready to throw him under the bus (although really what else was he going to do here), and, most interestingly, his many missed opportunities to stand out.
Sanders chided Clinton for her vote on the Iraq War, saying it disqualified her from being president. Yet, he never satisfactorily explained his own vote for the Clinton Crime Bill, which launched a 20-year long war on America’s blacks and Hispanics. If blacks voting for Clinton seemed irrational, blacks could easily justify a vote against Sanders for his role in backing the racially-motivated incarceration of millions of black Americans and putting 100,000 new cops onto the streets of urban America, with the predicable results ruined lives and dead youths. Payback is a bitch.
Of course, Sanders could have turned his anemic appeal to black Democratic voters to his advantage. It might have liberated him to frontally attack Obama’s dismal record (instead of huddling with him at the White House) as well as Hillary’s, without fear of losing support he never had.
His curious timidity against confronting Obama’s policies, from drone warfare to the president’s bailout of the insurance industry (AKA ObamaCare), hobbled Sanders from the starting gate. Obama and Hillary Clinton are both neoliberals, who have betrayed organized labor and pushed job-killing trade pacts across the world. Both are beholden to the energy cartels, backing widespread oil drilling, fracking and nuclear power. Both are military interventionists, pursuing wars on at least 12 different fronts, from Afghanistan to Yemen. Of course, Hillary and Obama are simply manifestations of the power structure of the Democratic Party itself, which is unapologetically hawkish. The same party Sanders belatedly joined.
But Sanders proved singularly incapable of targeting the imperialist ideology of the Obama/Clinton era. In fact, the senator is visibly uncomfortable when forced to talk about foreign policy. Even after the assassination of Goldman Prize winner Berta Cáceres by thugs associated with the Honduran regime, Sanders inexplicably refused to press Clinton on her backing of the Honduran coup that put Cácere’s killers into power. Similarly, Sanders awkwardly failed to land any punches against Hillary for her catastrophic Libyan debacle.
This is interesting, even if I don’t agree with all the points, nor about Hillary’s supposed responsibility for Honduras, which is far more complicated than her haters say. And saying Obama has “betrayed organized labor” really doesn’t hold water, even if you include the TPP, which is indeed terrible. But Tom Perez, arguably the best Secretary of Labor since Frances Perkins, does complicate this narrative at least a little, no?
But let’s just take this from a strategic perspective. What if Bernie Sanders had even the slightest interest in foreign policy and went after Clinton from the left? No, he wouldn’t have won the primary this way either. But he would have opened up a whole new line of critique at her greatest vulnerability. Yet Bernie was either unwilling or (likely) unable to do so. His ridiculous response when asked about Latin America showed just how utterly incapable he is on foreign issues, which in a globalized world, are deeply connected to his beloved issue of inequality in the United States. Of course, Sanders’ most vocal supporters loathe Clinton for her foreign policy, but they were doing the heavy lifting for him on these issues.
Again, would it have mattered in the end? Probably not, but it would have at least meant that the Democratic nominee was going to feel real pressure from the left on foreign policy as she has on domestic and labor policy. But really, what did Bernie do to make her moderate her foreign policy stances? Not much and that’s a missed opportunity.