Bernie Sanders through rose-colored glasses

Berni SandersBY ED FELIEN

Do we dare to hope again?
Haven’t we been lied to and abused long enough?
Shouldn’t we just give up on the Democratic Party?  Aren’t they just the same as the Republican Party, except the Republicans are more honest about supporting big business, big oil and bigger wars?
Is Bernie Sanders just a sheep dog keeping leftists inside the Democratic Party?  Is this going to be a replay of the Dennis Kucinich challenge?
These are the questions serious leftists or progressives have to ask themselves before committing to the Bernie Sanders campaign.
Setting aside for the moment the question of whether Bernie can win the Democratic endorsement—it would be a mistake (as he says) to underestimate him.  He raised more than a million and a half dollars in the 24 hours after he announced his candidacy.  His standing in the polls has gone from 5 or 6%  to 12 or 15%.  But, assuming Hillary maintains her dominance and gets the nomination, what do we gain by supporting a Bernie candidacy?
There’s only one rule in politics.  You have to know how to count.  And you don’t count if you’re not in the room.
We have an opportunity to put socialism on the agenda for the Democratic Party.  Bernie is talking about busting up the big banks, single payer health care for everybody, stopping trade agreements that steal American jobs, and he’s not afraid to take on the Koch brothers and the 1%.  How much of a populist or socialist platform can we get Hillary to accept?  Would we have a chance to make Hillary govern from the center-left, as opposed to the center-right?  Would we get enough legitimacy and support for socialist principles and programs to make it palatable to vote for Hillary Clinton?
It’s useful to look at what happened to Dennis Kucinich at the 2004 Democratic Convention.  Kucinich came into the Convention with 65 delegates.  The Party bosses had determined that it would take 125 delegates to place a name in nomination.  The bosses told Kucinich he could have a prime time spot if he would concede and throw his support to Kerry.  The Kucinich delegation was not about to roll over and play dead, so Kucinich couldn’t deliver his delegation.  The bosses were furious.  They badgered, bullied and threatened.  In the end, they thoroughly alienated the Kucinich group.  But they didn’t need those votes for the nomination, so they felt smug in their arrogance.
There’s been a lot written about how Kerry lost Ohio and, thereby, the presidency.  There were allegations of fraud.  There were long lines at Democratic precincts.  Certainly Karl Rove’s clever use of the traditional marriage amendment to the Ohio Constitution to drive evangelical Christians to the polls helped Republican turnout beyond Democratic projections, but analysts haven’t really looked at how the alienation of Kucinich and his supporters might have contributed to low voter turnout for Kerry. A lot of people in Ohio knew and liked Kucinich. He was a popular congressman, the Boy Mayor of Cleveland.
When Democrats spurn their left wing, they lose.  Kerry should have invited Kucinich to speak and campaigned with him.  Gore should have debated Nader.  And Humphrey should have forgotten his blood feud with McCarthy.  They all lost because the left was alienated and sat on their hands or voted for Eldridge Cleaver and the Peace and Freedom Party in 1968 or Ralph Nader and the Green Party in 2000.
There’s more than a year to go before the Democratic Convention.  Bernie says he wants debates on the issues.  So do we.  And if we don’t get respect in the Democratic Party, then maybe we should walk away and listen to what the Green Party has to say.

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