The left-identifying critics of Sanders’ candidacy

Published online 1 August 2015.

I don’t know how much you all know about the left-identifying critics of Sanders’ candidacy, or of the sort of argument made by such people.  But since the vogue around here is to spread recs among pro-Sanders diaries (or to rec Kos’s response to them), I thought it might be worth an effort to discuss the most prominent arguments as they have been posted onto the Web.  This is essentially going to be a very brief literature review — I’m going to try to offer meaningful analysis of these pieces without telling you how to vote or anything of that sort.  I’m sure that I will have missed a lot of sources that the readership may think worthy of note — if you think this way, however, please notify me in the comments section.

I wish to start this literature review with Bruce A. Dixon, who writes a column for the Black Agenda Report, and whose argument about Bernie Sanders, as of May 6 of this year, is:

Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders: Sheepdogging for Hillary and the Democrats in 2016

So what is “sheepdogging,” you ask?  Dixon explains his thesis as follows:

Spoiler alert: we have seen the Bernie Sanders show before, and we know exactly how it ends. Bernie has zero likelihood of winning the Democratic nomination for president over Hillary Clinton. Bernie will lose, Hillary will win. When Bernie folds his tent in the summer of 2016, the money, the hopes and prayers, the year of activist zeal that folks put behind Bernie Sanders’ either vanishes into thin air, or directly benefits the Hillary Clinton campaign.

So is Bernie Sanders kind of like John Edwards or Howard Dean or Jesse Jackson or Jerry Brown?  Is the Democratic Party nomination essentially a bait-and-switch operation?  “You can have your Sanders fun for a few months, but then you must gear up for the real work — electing Hillary Clinton as your next President.”  The truth of the matter is that, even though the history does not look good, it’s too early to tell.  At any rate, I can think of a similar argument, from Markos’s recently Reclisted diary:

You’re excited about Sanders. That is genuinely awesome! Me, I’m too much of a realist to get too excited about a guy that will get blown out once the votes are counted, nor one who—10 years later—didn’t learn from the mistakes of the Howard Dean campaign and work for a more inclusive campaign.

So neither Bruce A. Dixon nor Markos Moulitsas thinks much of the Bernie Sanders campaign.  The big difference between Bruce A. Dixon and Markos Moulitsas, however, is that Dixon thinks that:

The sheepdog’s job is to divert the energy and enthusiasm of activists a year, a year and a half out from a November election away from building an alternative to the Democratic party, and into his doomed effort.

Dixon wants to build an alternative to the Democratic Party, and imagines Sanders as detracting from his efforts, whereas Markos Moulitsas thinks of the Sanders campaign that:

But no, this feels more like a cult of personality, or a I-hate-Clinton thing, than a true movement to make ours a better, more liberal party.

I’m having a hard time identifying either of these two things.  Perhaps Dixon thinks that an “alternative to the Democratic Party” is the Green Party, but the Green Party doesn’t provide financial support to its candidates and seems bent on being a party of principles for those who want to be part of a small, principled party, rather than a party which will “make it so” on key actions (are there perhaps ten of them?) which need to be taken if the world-system is to make it out of this century.And is there really some sort of “true movement to make ours a better, more liberal party” out there which Sanders and his followers obstinately refuse to join?  (I suppose we could all give $3 to Donna Edwards’ campaign, but beyond that?)  The last time I remember hearing about any sort of approximation to such a thing was in 2004 with Howard Dean’s “50-state strategy.”  Of course, I’m not a liberal, so I don’t really have a stake in this, but if you want to “change the Democratic Party,” you’re going to have to have the Democratic Party reach out to people it currently dismisses as not providing some sort of margin of victory in races its elites regard as essential.

Another piece I’m interested in, here, is Jeffrey St. Clair’s recent post on his blog Counterpunch, titled:

Bernie and the Sandernistas

St. Clair is posing a similar argument to Dixon, as follows:

The sole purpose of these insurgencies is to keep the Left locked inside of a party that no longer actively represents any of their interests.

To be fair, St. Clair has some criticisms of Sanders (his “ongoing backing of a bloated military budget,” his Zionist leanings, his not taking on Hillary) as well as some misgivings about his own position (“Every time Hillary is forced to pop some political Prozac, a part of me cheers. Thank you, Bernie.”).  But if there’s some vast party out there that serves as an alternative to Democratic Party Left “insurgencies,” St. Clair doesn’t mention it.Paul Street is another writer who criticizes Sanders from a left-identifying perspective.  Street identifies as an ecosocialist — here is one of his pieces on that topic, published at the online journal Climate & Capitalism.

Street recently put out a piece in Counterpunch about Bernie Sanders.  Street’s particular objection to Sanders appears to be that Sanders “sold out” to the two-party system in order to get elected.

In the election for Vermont’s seat in the House of Representatives, the independent Sanders and Democrat Paul Poirer divided the majority vote and the contest went to a Republican. Sanders responded by drifting right and cutting a deal with the Vermont Democrats: the party would permit no serious candidate to run against him while he blocked serious third party formation in Vermont and adopted positions in line with the national corporate war Democrats.

So Sanders isn’t really an alternative to the Democratic Party, and this is what has Street annoyed.  (Assuming, of course, a Lance Selfa analysis of the Democratic Party as a party of co-optation.)  But what would Street’s criticism look like as constructive criticism?  How should Sanders have behaved otherwise?  And once again, is someone, in Vermont or elsewhere, building an alternative to the Democratic Party?

ConclusionFrom al-Jazeera we read:

Bernie Sanders has often said that it will require a “political revolution” to make a success out of his presidential campaign.

Would the point of a “political revolution,” though, be a Sanders campaign?  More specifically, Sanders himself, from a government website:

Our job is to make a political revolution.  Our job is to educate and organize so that working people fight for their rights and for their dignity – and are actively participating in the political process.

Absent such a revolution, I suppose we can expect more business-as-usual politics in America.  Is it any wonder that Bernie Sanders’ left-identifying critics don’t see much else?


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