Saturday, September 26, 2015

Editorial: Some Dems Fear Bern

Bernie Sanders has multitudes of progressives, particularly younger voters, “feeling the Bern,” as polls show Sanders not only closing the gap on frontrunner Hillary Clinton but also, in some surveys, leading Clinton in Iowa and New Hampshire. That makes establishment Democrats nervous.

Clinton’s campaign has said it has no plans to attack Sanders, who has pointedly refused to be drawn into attacks on Clinton. But that didn’t stop a super PAC, called Correct the Record, led by Clinton ally David Brock. In an email sent Sept. 14 to, the PAC tried to tie Sanders with Britain’s controversial new Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, as well as the late Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan leader who was an ally of Cuba’s Fidel Castro.

The Correct the Record email was meant to flag Corbyn’s “most extreme comments” and tie them with Sanders, an avowed “democratic socialist.” Corbyn suggested that the assassination of Osama bin Laden was “a tragedy,” since there was no attempt to arrest the former al Qaeda leader and put him on trial. The email also cites Corbyn’s comment that he’d invite his “friends” from Hezbollah to come to the UK to discuss peace in the Middle East and an editorial in which Corbyn said that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s “attempt to encircle Russia is one of the big threats of our time.”

Corbyn has said he is following Sanders’ campaign “with great interest,” and Sanders said he was “delighted” that the Labour Party elected Corbyn as its leader.

The “similarities” between the two, according to the email, include Sanders’ introduction of legislation to terminate the US nuclear weapons program, comments that NATO’s expansion into former Soviet states is dangerous because it could provoke Russia, opposition to more US funds for NATO, and saying he “was concerned” that proposed new NATO members had shipped arms to Iran and North Korea.

Those all sound like reasonable positions to us.

The email also criticized Sanders’ role in negotiating a deal with Citgo, which was controlled by Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez, in 2006 that provided discounted heating oil to low-income Vermonters. Sanders said it was “not a partisan issue” and he was merely trying to provide a way for his constituents to heat their homes at a time when George W. Bush’s administration was cutting the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).

Joseph P. Kennedy II originally negotiated the deal with Citgo, an arm of Venezuela’s national oil company, in 2005 on behalf of his nonprofit Citizens Energy Corp. to help low-income residents of Massachusetts who were struggling with high fuel costs. Maine and New York City also signed up for the discounted heating oil before Vermont made the connection, but Republicans, such as then-Sen. John Sununu of New Hampshire criticized the deal, saying Chavez was “strongly aligned against American interests“ and was showing off.

Sanders, who was then a congressman, said geopolitics was not his concern, nor did he consider heating oil a political issue. ”This is a means by which we can keep people warm, senior citizens, low-income people in the State of Vermont who need that help,” he said.

The program has has survived Chavez, who died in 2013. It’s even touted on Citgo’s website as a sign of corporate responsibility. Citgo operates refineries in Texas, Louisiana and Illinois and retail gas stations across the US and provides the discounted heating oil to a half-million low-income American customers annually.

Sanders can’t expect support from the party establishment or the corporate media. He has caucused with the Democrats since he arrived in Congress in 1991 and he was got bipartisan support when he replaced former Republican Sen. Jim Jeffords in 2001. But even some of his friends in Washington don’t think a self-professed socialist can be elected nationally. ”No matter how well you think of Bernie — and all of us do — … when the politics of it all hits the road, I don’t feel — and I feel most members don’t feel — that he can be elected,” Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) told The Hill (Sept. 19).

Mark Lillis of The Hill noted that the doubts have nothing to do with policy. Indeed, Sanders’ career-long advocacy for economic and social justice — a vision of wider safety nets, higher wages, universal healthcare and corporate policing — overlaps almost directly with the policy priorities of Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and the Democratic Caucus on Capitol Hill.

“I’m proud of what Bernie is saying out there, and it’s a reflection of what we fight for here,” Pelosi said.

Yet there remains a lingering sense among many Democrats that a Sanders’ nomination would spell doom for the party in 2016, Lillis wrote. That sentiment is highlighted by the fact that not a single Democrat in either chamber has endorsed Sanders.

“Bernie Sanders is raising some issues that are important,” Rep. Steny Hoyer (Md.), the Democratic whip and a Clinton supporter, told reporters. “But I don’t think there’s an expectation that’s he’s going to be president of the United States.”

But Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) warned that Democrats, by doubting Sanders’ viability as a candidate, risk undermining the party’s agenda.

“The expectation that he will fade, I think, is not true because the agenda he’s putting forward, instead of tamping down momentum, it’s increasing momentum,” Grijalva, the head of the Progressive Caucus who has not yet endorsed in the primary, told The Hill. “He’s ignited the base in a way that we haven’t been able to do for six years … So I would be very careful to [not] marginalize the man. Because in a sense then you’re marginalizing the message.”

Reasonable Democrats don’t want to risk losing the White House at a time when Supreme Court justices on both sides are at advanced ages, and even if Democrats regain control of the Senate they are unlikely to retake the House and a new Republican president could undo much of the good that Obama has done through executive actions.

Sanders supporters might note that not many on Capitol Hill thought Barack Obama was electable in the summer of 2007. Clinton supporters should note that if their standard bearer can’t beat a socialist in a Democratic Party primary, that indicates that she is not the strongest candidate the party could put forth against whomever survives the GOP clown contest — and maybe there is something in that socialist message that appeals to Democrats.

We think either Sanders or Clinton — and Martin O’Malley, for that matter — are head-and-shoulders better than any of the Republicans who are vying for the nomination. And Republican hysteria over President Obama’s moderate economic policies, which they have characterized as socialist, may have diluted the toxins of that label.

Anyway, solid majorities of the electorate support Sanders’ “socialist” positions, which include debt-free public college education; limits on industrial pollution to protect the environment; government action to reduce income inequality; reducing the influence of money in politics; increasing taxes on people who make more than $1 million a year; expanding Medicare and Social Security; supporting a living wage for workers and the right to organize and bargain for better wages and benefits; supporting fair trade standards that protect workers, the environment and jobs; and breaking up banks that are “too big to fail.”

As we’ve said before, we think Sanders should drop the socialist label and instead run as a progressive populist Democrat who wants to restore the New Deal coalition that put millions of unemployed people back to work building roads, bridges, dams and other infrastructure during the Great Depression of the 1930s, won World War II and set the stage for the greatest economic boom in our nation’s history in the 1950s and ’60s. It won’t stop Republicans from calling Sanders a socialist — or a communist. But it might remind some Boomers and their surviving parents why they used to vote Democratic. — JMC
From The Progressive Populist, October 15, 2015

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