As we start to consider prospects for the 2016 presidential race, progressive Democrats who are unsettled at the prospect of Hillary Clinton sweeping to the Democratic nomination should start looking for alternatives. And in our view the most promising alternative choice for progressive Democrats is Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, has run as an independent in Vermont, where he served eight terms as the state’s at-large congressman from 1991 to 2007. He co-founded the Congressional Progressive Caucus in 1991 and he was elected to the Senate in 2006 by a 2-to-1 margin. He has remained popular, winning a second term in 2012 with 71% of the vote. Caucusing with Democrats, he became chairman of the Senate’s Veterans Affairs Committee in 2013. Working with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Sanders steered to passage the Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act of 2014, a bill intended to reform the US Department of Veterans Affairs in response to the VA scandal of 2014.
Even as an independent, Bernie Sanders is a better Democrat than most in the Senate caucus, as the agenda he puts forth on our cover shows. He is not afraid to talk like a New Deal Democrat. Sanders supports expansion of Medicare to cover all Americans; and he would ensure the financial stability of the Social Security Trust Fund by eliminating the cap on taxable incomes so that millionaires pay their share. He has worked to protect the US Postal Service from Republican efforts to privatize the mail service. He supports a $1 trillion program to put millions of Americans back to work rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure. He has been active on climate change, sponsoring a bill that would have set up a cap-and-trade system to limit carbon emissions. He supports public disclosure, transparency of campaign finances and a constitutional amendment to reverse the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision that overturned state and federal restrictions on corporations getting involved in politics.
Sanders has been traveling around the country, including the strategically important states of Iowa and New Hampshire, as well as South Carolina, Mississippi, Minnesota, Wisconsin, California and other states, talking to people and testing possible support for a grassroots campaign. He recently told John Nichols of The Nation that he has found “a real hunger in grassroots America for a fight against the greed of the billionaire class, which is wreaking havoc on our economic and political system.” He expects to “make a decision within the first few months of 2015” on whether to make a bid for the presidency. If he does run, he said, “I will not play the role of a spoiler,” who might tip the 2016 race to a right-wing Republican.
We think it would be best if Sanders ran in the Democratic primaries, where he can engage Hillary Clinton in debates and give Democrats a serious progressive populist choice. A CNN/ORC poll in November showed him in fourth place among potential Democratic candidates in 2016, supported by 5% of respondents. He trails Clinton’s 65%, Elizabeth Warren’s 10% and Joe Biden’s 9%. (We think Warren is seriously not challenging Hillary, after signing a letter in 2013 urging Clinton to run, repeatedly saying she is not running for president, and recently rejecting MoveOn.org’s offer to raise $1 million to draft her; but Warren admirers won’t give up hope.) Andrew Cuomo, Deval Patrick and Jim Webb each got 1% in the poll.
Meteor Blades noted at DailyKos.com (Dec. 7) that progressives need to build a movement and an infrastructure to create a political environment where a candidate like Sanders can actually be elected president. “If we are ever going to rise above being mere ankle biters, we need to build both,” Blades wrote. “Nonetheless, having Sanders in the 2016 race, seriously in it, repeating his populist message, encouraging the party to move left, would be very good for Democrats, for progressives in and out of the party and for the nation.”
We agree. And Hillary could use the competition. Progressive Democrats of America have a petition at pdamerica.org to encourage Sanders to run as a Democrat. You can contact Sanders via Bernie.org or phone 802-862-1505.
Ugly Truth: Torture Shames UsThe 499-page executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on “enhanced interrogation techniques,” a.k.a torture, made for depressing reading as it documented that suspected terrorists and potential informants were treated even more brutally by the CIA than we had previously known. The report also documented that the torture — which is a violation of US and international law — failed to produce actionable intelligence on terrorist threats and didn’t lead to Osama bin Laden or any other high-level terrorists, and that the CIA repeatedly lied to policymakers and the public about the program.
Republican fearmongers attacked Democrats who pushed for the release of the committee summary, claiming that the interrogation procedures did not rise to the level of torture and, even if they did, publication of the report would endanger US embassies and Americans overseas. But America-hating terrorists already are trying to attack US embassies, as they are keen to kill or kidnap Americans overseas. The argument that it was a partisan report was undermined by the support of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who suffered torture in a Vietnamese prison and knows it when he sees it. “This question isn’t about our enemies. It’s about us,” he said. “It’s about who we were, who we are and who we aspire to be. It’s about how we represent ourselves to the world.”
Although it might gall liberals who would like to see the authors of the torture techniques prosecuted, Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, suggested that President Obama should issue pardons to the officials who planned and authorized the torture program.
In a column in the New York Times (Dec. 9), Romero noted that the ACLU has spent 13 years arguing for accountability for the crimes committed by Americans in secret prisons overseas, but the ACLU’s calls for appointment of a special prosecutor and/or establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission have gone unheeded. “And now, many of those responsible for torture can’t be prosecuted because the statute of limitations has run out,” he wrote.
Some could still be prosecuted, he said, “But let’s face it: Mr. Obama is not inclined to pursue prosecutions — no matter how great the outrage, at home or abroad, over the disclosures — because of the political fallout.” By issuing pardons, the president makes the point that crimes were committed and signals to those who might consider torture in the future that they could be prosecuted.
We think President Obama should fire John Brennan, the head of the CIA, who acknowledged errors in the interrogation techniques, but he maintains that those techniques had benefits.
Attorney General Eric Holder should appoint a special prosecutor to examine the charges that could be brought, with an eye toward prosecuting the architects of the torture program as well as any CIA agents who were responsible for deaths or permanent impairment of detainees.
Ironically, the only person connected to the “enhanced interrogation” program who has been imprisoned is former CIA officer John Kiriakou, who was prosecuted for leaking information about the program to journalists.
Kiriakou revealed the CIA interrogation program in an interview with ABC News in 2007. He was convicted in 2013 of violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act when he revealed the name of a covert CIA operative and Kiriakou is now serving a 30-month prison sentence. He is due to be released this spring.
No other person was charged with a crime because the Justice Department said their actions had been approved legally. The Senate Intelligence report didn’t provide new information that would cause DOJ to reopen any of the cases, Justice officials said, but President Obama at least should pardon Kiriakou. — JMC
From The Progressive Populist, January 1-15, 2015
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