Bernie Sanders and the 2016 Presidential Elections

There are different explanations as to why Hillary, though still the favorite of the Democratic Party establishment, isn’t generating as much excitement, while her rival, Democrat Bernie Sanders, who claims to be a “socialist”, is surprising everyone by drawing large crowds to his rallies, even in Deep South, including Texas, Arizona and Louisiana, that is traditionally Republican territory. 

Some say it’s because most people don’t find Hillary trustworthy or genuine and can see that all she cares about is to be president. Although that’s true, I think there is another reason. If you remember the 2008 election campaigns, the most widely used word by both parties was “change”. Both Obama and McCain were promising change. Why? Because the strategists and ideologues of both parties knew that people weren’t happy with the way things were going. There was yet another economic crisis, followed by rise in unemployment and banks were being bailed out at taxpayers’ expense, while over a trillion dollars had been spent on two wars that seemed to be going nowhere with no end in sight. One of the reasons why Obama won was that his message and promise of change was more believable. Being from a minority, he represented the new, which McCain, despite promises of change of his own, couldn’t match. Obama also managed to garner the support of enough billionaires and corporate CEO’s with his assurances to them, in no uncertain terms, that despite his lofty speeches promising change to people, he wasn’t going to do anything different from his predecessors or from what would be expected of him by the ruling class of billionaires. What the latter saw in him and quickly grasped was that he was the ideal candidate for them, someone who could bring people to tears with promises of change and the excitement of a new dawn, while faithfully and reliably continuing to implement the policies and plans of the corporate empire. If there was one thing that the last 6.5 years have shown is that they were right and the people were wrong. The house won that bet fair and square and promptly and unapologetically collected their winnings off the table, leaving people asking “what just happened?” The increased income and wealth gap and deteriorating conditions of the middle and lower classes is testament to that.

So, what about now going into the 2016 elections and what about Hillary? Do people still long for change? Well, that’s where Bernie Sanders and the excitement among his supporters come in. That’s why he’s drawing large crowds and has supporters in every state. People are still wanting change, change that was promised so convincingly, but never came. This time, it’s Bernie who represents the new and seems more convincing. And, that’s what Hillary must be worried about right now.

But, what about the 1% who are the real financiers and owners of the elections due to their deep pockets? Who will they pick and support with their big campaign contributions? It’s hard to say at this point, although it seems they’d prefer Hillary, Bush or Walker. But what is clear is that even if Bernie is elected, he too will continue what has long been a tradition in the Western world, which is for such politicians to make promises to the public which they know they won’t make good on and once in office will represent the interests of the capitalist class, including big banks and other large corporations and their shareholders who make their election possible. Bernie won’t be any different, despite calling himself a “socialist”. Not necessarily because he doesn’t want to, but because he can’t, even if he genuinely wanted to.

I had a debate on Facebook with a friend recently who insisted that Obama was “progressive”, despite admitting that he is the leader of the corporate empire, which “commits war crimes”. The contradiction within that one sentence wasn’t really registering in him. As I told him then, even if we accept that the president is some kind of progressive – very hard to argue that about Obama – it really matters not whether the leader of the empire is himself deep down “progressive” or not, if he is faithfully, unwaveringly and diligently performing his duties as the leader of that empire and committing war crimes on its behalf. Bernie can say that we should give people free universal healthcare and free education and retirement and raise the minimum wage, etc., but unless he’s willing and able to take on the corporations, he can’t deliver on those promises, even if we trust that he really wants to. You can’t, for example, keep insurance companies in place and running and provide free universal healthcare. You can’t leave the big pharmaceuticals to do what they want and provide affordable drugs to people. You can’t let banks do as they please and get working people, students, municipalities and governments out of crushing debt that makes them poorer and banks richer. You can’t let companies set up shop in poor countries and collude with local dictators with the help of the CIA and State Department to keep wages low and not find yourself making the poor of the world poorer and corporations richer, while working against principles of democracy and freedom that you claim are your guiding principles. In other words, you can’t be pro capitalism and pro imperialism and “socialist” at the same time, or even for democracy. That’s an oxymoron if there ever was one. Bernie is making promises – even more than others before him – which he knows or should know he can’t deliver. On the foreign policy front, he doesn’t even claim or want to make any changes. He’s an ardent and strong supporter of apartheid Israel and has been a supporter of endless wars in the name of “war on terror”, which is nothing but war for empire. 

Incidentally, calling themselves “socialist” and “labor” by politicians and political parties that are clearly and strongly pro capitalist is nothing new. It’s one of the tricks of capitalists that’s been in use for a long time in Europe. We see how devastating the election of “socialist” President Hollande in 2012 has been for French banks and other corporations!

So, what’s wrong with getting excited and hoping and wishing that Bernie will deliver on those domestic promises, even if we choose to forget about the Palestinians who are suffering and dying everyday under the brutal Zionist occupation or about the people of Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Ukraine, Greece and every nation that’s subjected to either military intervention or neoliberal policies of US imperialism and its allies? What’s wrong is the wrong that we surrender to every four years, hoping each and every time to see different results because we’re voting for a different individual, forgetting or ignoring that it’s not the individual that’s the problem. It’s the ruling class with their enormous power that remains intact and continues to operate and drive policies behind the scenes, no matter which person from which of the two corporate parties gets elected. What we must elect isn’t a new person, but a new way of governing, which means a new economic and social system, complete with new values and priorities. But, unfortunately for us, who prefer the voting booths, new systems aren’t electable. They’re created by the people through organizing from bottom up, rather than putting our hopes in someone who we hope will do things for us at the top when he’s surrounded with the same corporate lobbyists as the one before him. What’s wrong with getting excited about Bernie is that, if he were to win, which isn’t all that likely, we’ll once again end up wasting another 4 or 8 years during which the ruling class will spy on us more, jail us more, give the police more rights while taking rights away from us, take us to more wars and make themselves richer and us poorer. What progressives must do is expose the fraudulent system and its beneficiaries, servants and agents and elevate the political understanding in people not continue to play the billionaires’ game and with their rules and at their terms which guarantees the continuation of the status quo. 

Elections give us an opportunity to raise the public’s political consciousness. This won’t happen by ignoring them and pretending they don’t exist. But, it also won’t happen through business as usual and picking a candidate every four years and promoting him, hoping this time our “lesser evil” will do what we the majority want him or her to do. Even if a candidate wanted to, he or she couldn’t deliver the change he promises, without a people’s movement for fundamental change. That’s why it’s more important to be a part of a movement such as #BlackLivesMatter than be one of the audience in Bernie’s or Hillary’s rallies. We should use the occasion of elections to take to people vital and pressing issues from police brutality and racism to climate change to education and healthcare to endless wars to justice in Palestine and organize around them. It’s only through such raising of consciousness and organizing at grass roots which can have any chance of bringing about real and meaningful change. 

My purpose isn’t to discourage people from voting and into despair and inaction. On the contrary, my point is direct action, to understand and identify the changes we need and how we can get them. Just as it won’t be an elected politician who will put an end to police brutality, it also won’t be an elected politician to change the power structure and governing priorities and values. What’s needed is a more direct approach, not only in dealing with state terror and repression, but also economic oppression. Dr. Martin Luther King succeeded in imposing some limited changes on the system not through elections, but through a people’s movement not too dissimilar to #BlackLivesMatter or #OccupyWallStreet. We had Obama for almost 7 years and yet here we are still hoping someone else will do it for us. 


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