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© Reuters / Mike Segar
Bernie Sanders has warned his delegates against speaking ill of Joe Biden, the embodiment of the Democratic party’s corporate core. Beneath the progressive exterior, herding the voters to the establishment is his real function.
In the spring of 2015, when the “independent” Bernie Sanders announced that he was running for United States presidency as a Democrat, the late left Green Party activist Bruce Dixon aptly described Sanders as a “sheepdog” working in service to the corporate and imperial Democratic Party. The role of “democratic socialist” Sanders, Dixon said, would be to shepherd left-leaning voters into the fold, helping give the Wall Street Democrats a progressive, populist, and working-class veneer in the 2016 election. A related function was to help the Democrats seem to have selected a Big Business candidate – Hillary Clinton, as everyone already knew even in early 2015 – not by corporate coronation but through an open debate in which the progressive, social-democratic policies ostensibly advocated by Sanders were fairly and democratically defeated.
Faithful despite the abuse
Sanders did his best to carry out his ‘sheepdog’ (or “Judas Goat”) task in 2016, consistent with his advance promise to support the eventual Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, in that general election. So what if the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) worked hand-in-glove with each other and the corporate media to demean and smear Sanders and his supporters and to rig the primary race and nomination process against the not-so-independent Senator from Vermont? So what if Clinton ran a shockingly vapid campaign, remarkably devoid of serious policy proposals, and based on little more than the awful character of Donald Trump? And so what if the Clintons and their allies and surrogates treated Sanders with open contempt?
Bernie played his ‘sheepdog’ role like a good company/party man. Even after all the abuse he received from the Clintons and the DNC during the primary race, he hit the general election campaign trail for “the lying neoliberal warmonger” Hillary. Claiming to have won the “most progressive Democratic Party [policy] platform in history,” he beseeched his backers to join him in lining up behind the party’s deeply flawed establishment candidate.
Sanders’ call for unity behind the hopelessly corporatist Clinton was denounced by hundreds of his own delegates on the floor of the 2016 Democratic National Convention. These activists knew that American major party platforms are for show. They knew also that Sanders had squandered any chance of making the Democratic Party more genuinely progressive and social-democratic by promising to back the ultimate Democratic nominee from the start.
Teeth bared this time
Sanders has been ‘sheep-dogging’ for the corporate Democrats again in 2020. As in 2015-16, he promised in advance to support the eventual 2020 Democratic nominee. Again, as before, Sanders has used the technically irrelevant Democratic Party platform to provide cover both for his surrender and for the corporate Democratic Party.
But there are some differences this time. The capitulation to the corporate candidate – Joe Biden this election cycle – came earlier this year. It has been accompanied by repeated expressions of heartfelt fondness for the corporate party nominee and by regular communication and ongoing collaboration between his staff and that of the presumptive nominee’s staff – things far less evident in 2016. And this time, the sheepdog is baring his teeth to keep his followers and representatives in line behind the neoliberal nominee like never before.
Bernie Sanders’ delegates to the 2020 Democratic National Convention (which may be virtual thanks to Covid-19) have been warned. They must refrain from making any disparaging or even mildly critical comments about Biden on social media -Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. They must not speak to the media without permission. They are not to write books, academic studies, and/or articles or create videos or other recordings about the presidential campaign without official authorization.
Publicly expressed dissatisfaction with Biden is strictly prohibited. Failure to abide by these rules could cause Sanders’ convention delegates to be stripped of their delegate status and thus of their right to vote on the Democratic Party’s nominees and platform. So much for freedom of speech, enshrined in the First Amendment of the US Constitution!
So what if the cognitively crippled and corrupt corporate-imperialist Biden represents the Wall Street and military-industrial wings of the “Democratic” Party with a vengeance in a time when the top tenth of the upper US one percent possesses nearly as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent of the nation – this in a moment when the Covid-19 crisis is laying bare the grotesque inadequacies of America’s savagely unequal corporate state? And so what if Biden is a highly unpopular, deeply problematic candidate, far less popular than Sanders, who ran in accord with the nation’s officially marginalized, majority-progressive opinion?
Why the fidelity?
Who has set these repressive rules for Sanders delegates? At first blush, the obvious guess would be the DNC, the central party committee that has long opposed progressive tendencies.
That reasonable guess would be wrong. The commands have come from the Sanders “campaign” itself. It is Bernie himself, not his erstwhile enemies on the DNC, who is telling progressive convention delegates to muzzle their anger at the corporate candidate.
An approving Washington Post report on this is titled “Bernie Sanders, Seeking Peace With Joe Biden, Asks His Own Delegates to Turn Down the Volume.”
“Asks”? Try “orders.”
“Turn down the volume?” It’s more like “muzzle yourself or else.”
Why is Sanders baring his sheepdog teeth so sharply at his own backers this time around? It’s likely about six factors:
- Fear of being blamed for a second Trump term (he has been absurdly blamed for the first one by establishment Democrats).
- Fear that any sign of intra-party dissent will be easily exploited by the Trump campaign.
- Biden’s remarkable unpopularity with Sanders’ primary campaign supporters, 51 percent of whom are considering voting for an independent or third party candidate.
- The end of 78-year-old Sanders’ nominal bid for the US presidency: it no longer matters for his fading political career if he alienates many in his support base by being fully exposed as a full-on Democratic Party company man.
- Strong Biden campaign outreach to Sanders and his staff, coming with a warmer tone of collaboration than the Clinton team’s cold coordination with Sanders in 2016.
- The widely reported affection that Sanders feels for his “good friend” and fellow US Senator Biden. Sanders appears to genuinely like Biden despite “Sleepy Joe’s” presence on the right-wing of the Democratic Party.
“The senator – who associates say is closer with Biden than he ever was with [Hillary] Clinton – is seeking to forge a unified front with the former vice president heading into the general election. The two have formed policy working groups and frequently compliment each other. The agreements distributed by the Sanders campaign represent some of the most aggressive attempts yet to achieve harmony,” reports the Post.
Years ago, the independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader rightly denounced progressives’ friendships with corporate politicos like Joe Biden, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama as dysfunctional and “maudlin.” Nader was right. Who cares if “Bernie likes Joe” as Wall Street and corporate America plunder the nation in the middle of a public health crisis that has thrown a fifth or more of the workforce out of their jobs and many of them off of health insurance – desperately in need of the Medicare for All that Sanders campaigned for and that Biden says he would veto if it came to his desk as president? Personal affection, or the lack thereof, between presidential candidates, is a matter of no importance compared to the fate of millions.
Paul Street, the author of numerous books, including They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Routledge, 2014) and The Empire’s New Clothes: Barack Obama in the Real World of Power (Routledge, 2011).