Why I support Bernie Sanders

I figured I better get this written before the election is over! There has been debate and discussion about the Bernie Sanders candidacy – I’m backing him, here are my reasons why, and the probable limits of his campaign.

Back in the 1960’s when Michael Harrington was pushing the argument that we should all go into the Democratic Party, I thought he should have entered the New Hampshire primary, as a socialist, running for the Democratic nomination. I didn’t urge this in a mocking way — I thought it would be very healthy for a democratic socialist to press the flesh, meet ordinary folks, let them see what a socialist looked like, and what socialism stood for. He wouldn’t have won the nomination, but he would have introduced a discussion of socialism into the public dialogue. He was a charming guy, a good speaker, and might actually have helped shift the Democrats away from the their support of the Vietnam War (alas, as followers of socialist history know, Mike’s approach to the Democratic Party was to support the war, until in 1972 he shifted).

Now we have another socialist doing what I thought then, and still think, is a good idea. Bernie Sanders, whom I met in 1980, and who kindly came down to New York City to speak to a Socialist Party convention (I have lost track of the year), and who put together real coalitions of real people and got elected as Mayor of Burlington, then as the Congressman from Vermont (they only have one member of the House) and then as Senator, is off and running, to huge and enthusiastic crowds.

I have heard some on the Left criticize Bernie’s determination not to take part in personal attacks on Hillary. I think that is a refreshing stand on his part — I salute him for it.

Others on the Left feel that Bernie is leading voters into the trap of supporting Hillary when he doesn’t, himself, get the nomination. They feel he should run as an independent if he loses the race for the nomination. Let’s have a little sense of history here — independent candidates for President might help throw the election to one or the other major party candidate but they have absolutely no chance of winning election. Go back to the Henry Wallace campaign in 1948, to the later efforts by Barry Commoner, John Anderson, Ralph Nader. (I leave aside the campaigns of the truly minor party candidates, of which I was one, and of which Norman Thomas was the most distinguished example, because such campaigns were not aimed at winning the office but at providing a platform for dissenting views). These were good men but the enthusiasm of their supporters did not reflect the reality of American politics. 

In 1948 I was a student at UCLA, the Cold War had just begun, Henry Wallace has been a Vice President under Roosevelt, and his supporters (at least those on campus) were convinced he might win — in the end he didn’t carry a single state (though I think he helped push Truman to the left on domestic issues).

Bernie is not running as a spoiler, but as a serious candidate, reflecting that part of the Left which is, in my view, most important: it is not locked into any of the small “officially Left groups” but it is there, a sometimes almost invisible left in the labor movement, among the elderly, the youth, the people who know our politics is rotten and really want a change.

Bernie has been properly criticized for not being perfect on all issues. I agree with that, he is not perfect. He has a record of supporting some of the worst aspects of the Military/Industrial complex, and, while not nearly as uncritical a supporter of Israel as some think, he has been silent when he should have spoken out. I urge my friends in the Jewish peace movement to reach out to Bernie and try a serious dialogue (not shouting) about why the US links to Israel should be ended (or at least weakened).

The peace movement should also dialogue with Bernie. He should not get a free pass from any of us. And it is urgent that the “Black Lives Matter” movement meet with Bernie. But let’s be real — the candidate who can prove right on every one of the issues which concerns us is not going to have a very wide base of support.

Bernie is dealing with what I think are the real issues: the control the 1 percent has over the country, the obscene power of money in our elections, the massive disparity between the handful of the ultra-rich and the millions who live in genuine poverty.

I’m delighted Bernie is doing so well — much better than I had thought he would. 

There are a couple of practical questions. If he doesn’t get the nomination, what will he have accomplished? He will have done something very important, and God help the left sectarians who don’t understand this: he will have made it possible to discuss socialism. He will have made it respectable to use the term. He will have shown there is a mass of people willing to hear a genuinely radical attack on the current corporate structure.

And what happens if Bernie doesn’t get the nomination and Hillary does? I do not personally dislike Hillary — I’ve never met her. But she has no principles other than power. I think it will be profoundly outrageous if, in November, the choice is between a Bush and a Clinton. Those of us in the “lucky states,” where the electoral votes are already sure to go one way or the other, can vote our conscience (as I voted Green in New York when Obama ran, and as I will vote Green in 2016). Whoever the Democratic candidate is, they will be as sure to carry New York as the Republican candidate will carry Texas.

But, in swing states, conscience is not so easy to satisfy — because the next President will have Supreme Court nominations to make, and in this country, those nominations are deeply important.

So yes, in this imperfect world I happily support the man who is not perfect on every issue, but very good on some key ones – and that is Bernie Sanders, a decent, smart, and very serious fellow. So serious that he has even taken to using something on his hair to keep it from flying off in all directions.

(There is a final note I must make. Twice before I have supported Democrats for high office. In 1964 I supported LBJ because I feared Goldwater would take us into war, and because the far right – including the John Birch Society and the KKK – was backing Goldwater, and Civil Rights was the key domestic issue. Boy, was I wrong! My political record has been wrong more than once – I helped bring Max Shachtman into the Socialist Party in 1958 — a monumental error. In 1972 I supported — and still have no regrets — Senator George McGovern because I felt he was serious about the Vietnam War, and because I thought he represented a healthy shift to the Left in the Democratic Party, a shift which Bill Clinton later sharply reversed. So my record is imperfect, like real life and serious politics!).

David McReynolds was on the staff of War Resisters League for many years, was twice the Socialist Party candidate for President. He is retired and lives with his two cats on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. He can be reached at davidmcreynolds7@gmail.com

Photo: Bernie Sanders Facebook. “10,000 came out to support our progressive agenda in Madison, Wisconsin.” July 1.