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Why Bernie? What Should the Left Do? Views from Two Veteran Progressive Activists

It would be very healthy for a democratic socialist to press the flesh, meet ordinary folks, let them see what a socialist looks like, what socialism stands for. Now we have a socialist doing that. Bernie Sanders is off and running, to huge and enthusiastic crowds. The campaign is sharpening the differences, functioning as a pole of attraction to bring together a mass popular alliance that is a key aspect of a strategy for taking power away from the corporate rulers...

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EdgeLeft: Why Bernie?  

By David McReynolds

July 6, 2015
Edge Left column - distributed by email

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 [the]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% 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 supporting 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 ]

Bernie and the Green Party

By Ted Glick

July 9, 2015
Future Hope

A few weeks after Bernie Sanders announced for President, I was pleased to see an email from someone who has been a leader in the US Green Party for about as long as it has existed, going back to the 80's. In that email he referred positively to the development of the Bernie for President campaign. What he wrote was that by Sanders speaking out strongly on the issues and stirring things up, that would open people up to Green Party candidates and organizers saying similar things.

Since then, however, I've seen statements from a few other Greens critical of Bernie for his decision to run within the Democratic primaries, or for positions he has taken on some issues.

What should the Green Party be saying about the very hopeful and amazingly fast-rising Sanders for President campaign?

One option, the one I hope it doesn't take, is to stand on the sidelines of the campaign, being either silent or critical, saying, in effect, that Bernie shouldn't be supported because, for the first time in his life, he is running for office as a Democrat, or because on a relative handful of issues, he doesn't have a strong enough progressive position.

There are definitely Green Party members who believe that it is a contradiction to be a serious progressive and run for office as a Democrat, or to support someone doing so. In my view, they make the mistake of making the question of what party line you run on into a principle, which it is not-it is a tactical decision. This may not be true elsewhere in the world but it sure is in the United States where we have one of the most undemocratic and hostile-to-third-parties electoral systems in the world. An approach that narrows down who is progressive and trustworthy to whether or not they run as a Green or an independent is going to lead to a very narrowly-based party or movement. Maybe that will change somewhere down the road, years into the future, but it sure isn't the case now.

The option on the other side of the possible options is for the national Green Party to decide to come out in support of Bernie. That would be a big deal.

If the Green Party did this, would it mean that it wouldn't run its own Presidential candidate? Not necessarily. It could decide to give critical support to the Sanders campaign for as long as he is in the race while proceeding ahead with its internal processes to decide on a GP Presidential candidate and to petition to get ballot lines in states where it doesn't have one. If Sanders doesn't win the nomination, it can then move forward with its Presidential campaign.

What if Sanders does win the nomination, however? It's a long shot for sure but not so long as things were looking just one month ago. If this happens, it would be an incredibly historic development. A proud "democratic socialist" capturing the nomination of the Democratic Party? It seems as impossible to believe as it was in 2007/2008 that a black man whose name was Barack Hussein Obama could win the Presidency.

In such a case, I would say, the Green Party and everyone else on the Left should throw themselves into trying to elect Bernie Sanders President, no doubt about it.

I have been a member of organizations working to build a political alternative to the Democrats and Republicans since 1975, 40 years ago. For just about all of that time I have believed that one key aspect of a strategy for a truly mass third party, a mass political alternative, a mass people's alliance, is the necessity of a significant chunk of the left wing of the Democratic Party breaking from the corporatist/ corporate-influenced wing. My 40 years of experience has taught me how essential that is. And now the Sanders campaign is playing that role, sharpening the differences within the DP and functioning as a pole of attraction to bring together the mass popular alliance that is, indeed, a key aspect of a winning strategy for taking power away from the corporate rulers and building a government of the people, by the people and for the people.

Some in the Green Party don't agree with that approach. Their approach, their strategy, seems to be to "build the Green Party." I don't see it happening, and I know it's not going to happen in the next year or so if it sets itself apart from or in opposition to the Sanders for President mass movement. Indeed, as someone who has been an active member of the Green Party since 2000, who ran as the Green Party of NJ's candidate for US Senate in 2002, who has been the co-chair of a local branch of the Green Party in northern NJ for over five years, and who has been supportive of a number of Green Party candidates, from local office up to the President, for all of that time, I think what the national party decides about the Sanders campaign is a very big deal.

Let the debate be joined.

[Ted Glick has been a progressive activist and organizer since 1968 and a climate activist and organizer since 2004. Past writings and other information can be found at http://tedglick.com, and he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jtglick ]

How and When to Vote for Bernie Sanders - State by State

Did you know?

If your state has closed primaries, you will not be able to vote for candidates outside of your affiliated party. This means that if you are registered as a republican or an independent or anything other than democrat, you will be unable to vote for Bernie Sanders, who is caucusing with the Democratic Party.

Find your state below to ensure you're all set to cast your vote when primaries roll around.

The following dates may change at any time. Register as early as you can, and don't wait until the deadline!

Click on your state in the map here.