Senator Bernie Sanders claims the mantle of revolutionary in self-righteous speeches that echo through large venues of huge audiences. He piously attacks Hillary Clinton as if his own political hands are clean; yet, his political history is filled with his own hypocrisy.
The irony of a Socialist working so damn hard to get elected is difficult to miss. As Garrison Nelson, a longtime political observer at the University of Vermont, commented “‘. . . socialists don’t want to win. Most socialists want to lose, because they can blame it on the system and justify their decision to remain outside it. But Bernie wants to win.’” And he wants to win badly. Sanders may rail against what he labels the establishment, but as professional politician for much of his life, he is a member of that very establishment and has the shenanigans to prove it.
The fact is that the $30,000 or so salary Sanders earned as mayor of Burlington, VT was the most money he ever made in a year, and it took 4 failed election bids and 20 years to earn it. Certainly Sanders continued to espouse his belief that government was corrupt and capitalism was evil, but from 1968-1985 nothing exists in his biography or accounts of family or friends that indicate he really did much about it. Sanders has remained in his mostly-white liberal cocoon for nearly 50 years waiting for the “beautiful revolution” he wrote about in 1969.
Undoubtedly, Bernie Sanders is a man of conviction except when strict adherence to his beliefs might possibly cost him an election. For example, in 1990, a bill to ban assault weapons was making its way through Congress. Incumbent Rep. Peter Smith VT, a staunch opponent of gun control, switched his position on the bill and announced he would support banning assault weapons. Sanders realized Smith was now vulnerable in a state filled with gun owners. Rather than attacking Smith’s position, the same position Sanders held, he, along with the NRA, made the campaign issue about Smith’s lack of honesty with the voters. Sanders’ pitch to voters was they could count on him to be truthful. Sanders, who knew LaPierre and the NRA were waiting in the wings, told an aide to let others “‘do our dirty work for us.’” The “us,” Wayne LaPierre and the NRA, subsequently spent about $20,000 on ads and a mailing to VT NRA members in support of Sanders, ensuring his victory. (Currently in a similar move Sanders isn’t denouncing the anti-Hillary Clinton ads that aired in primary states paid for by Karl Rove’s Crossroads organization.)
On another piece of gun protection legislation Senator Sanders again voted with the NRA on the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act hailed as “the most significant piece of pro-gun legislation in twenty years” by the NRA. Senate Bill 397 Firearms Manufacturers Protection Bill provided liability protection for manufacturers, dealers or importers as well as their trade associations, and it put a stop to an important lawsuit by gun victims and victims’ families. Sanders’ NRA grade went from D+ to C-.
Sanders claimed he voted for the bill because it might harm mom and pop dealers in rural states, but a “little known feature of the bill is the protection provisions extended to government weapons manufacturers, such as Lockheed.” This was not the first time Sanders protected Lockheed, a giant corporation whose Vermont plant builds the most expensive jets:
In the same ‘Governing Under the Influence” article mentioned above, Sen. Sanders sounds like any other politician at a town hall defending a huge corporation and an outrageous defense contract. When Sanders was asked why, when he denounces wasteful government spending and the influence of money in campaigns, he would support Lockheed Martin, the senator’s answer: “‘What part of the F-35? What are my options as a Senator? …if I said no to the F-35 coming to Burlington, for Vermont National Guard where would it go? South Carolina?’” In his 2012 campaign, Sanders again ran on the slogan that the F-35 fighter had to be built somewhere so that somewhere might as well be in Vermont. I’m sure his supporters can argue like they did with gun control that he has an obligation to take care of his constituents and that might effective for anyone but a revolutionary.
In a scathing piece in The Daily Beast Sanders is taken to task for supporting the DoD’s boondoggle, the F-35 stealth fighter, a budget buster by billions of dollars, is already obsolete according to DoD officials. According to those same officials “is plagued with embarrassing problems with . . . its software, its sensors, and its gun (which won’t be able to fire until 2019).” A few months ago a military spokesman said that the fighter jet “‘wasn’t optimized for dogfighting.’” One Air Force official observed that the jet was already 10 years out of date and couldn’t even defeat a 40-year-old F-16 in a mock dogfight. A CIA employee personally confirmed to me that the F-35 was indeed a colossal waste of money. He also said the GAO reported that the project would end up costing a trillion dollars and a half of trillion dollars to maintain over the lifetime of the planes.
However, in what may be the most egregious betrayal of his own moral code and again involving Lockheed, Sanders had participants in a civil disobedience protest arrested at the Lockheed plant. They chained themselves to the fence surrounding the plant to protest the manufacturing of “Gatling guns to fight socialists in Central America.” His lack of empathy for the protesters and the victims of oppression is in stark contrast to his support of the Sandinistas, the denunciation of US foreign policy in Central America, and his own history of activism. One might even draw the conclusion that Bernie Sanders is no different than any other politician who puts his values on the top most shelf and maybe even in the attic on election day.
As is with politics, so many actions influence other actions, dovetail with actions that seem at odds, or comingle in disturbing ways. So it is with many of Sanders’ decisions. Although Sanders, a full-fledged member of the counter culture, lived mostly off the grid in sparse conditions, he still was filled with political ambitions. To satisfy his political ambitions, Sanders had no qualms about abandoning his convictions or even poor folks he claims to champion. Early in his political career Sanders, in spite of being a vocal critic of US Latin American foreign policy, certainly made some questionable decisions concerning Latinos as was evident in his decision to protect Lockheed from protesters. For example, in 1998 Sanders lobbied for a bill that would allow the dumping of low grade nuclear waste in Sierra Blanca, TX or an act of environmental racism. Additionally, Sanders also rejected any compromise to that bill, including the right of the mostly Latino residents in Sierra Blanca to reject the proposal. He even refused to meet with representatives of the community who drove from their homes in Texas to Vermont. Dismissing their request for a meeting with “’Absolutely not [I’m not meeting with you],’” Sanders said. “’I’m gonna (sic) be running for reelection in the state of Vermont.’” Sanders had his priorities, which was to win at all costs.
Sanders’ no vote against the Immigration Reform Act of 2007, introduced by Harry Reid and co-sponsored by Senators Patrick Leahy and Ted Kennedy, is another position the senator struggles to justify to the Latino community. He claims now that the bill would have created a class of “semi-slaves,” but he didn’t express any concern about the welfare of immigrants after his nay vote. In fact this was his position in 2007:
Sanders even appeared as a guest of Lou Dobbs, well-known bigot and xenophobe, to lobby against the bill and how its passage would hurt American workers, which echoed union claims that were not even relevant to this bill.
Contrary to his position then, now he claims “that guest workers are coming in, they’re working under terrible conditions, but if they stand up for their rights, they’re thrown out of the country. I was not the only progressive to vote against that legislation for that reason.” Let’s breakdown his reasoning in 2007.
As any student of politics knows, few bills are ever perfect, but the bill addressed many concerns progressives had about immigration reform. Contrary to Sen. Sanders’ statement in 2007, the bill was not about American workers but relevant to undocumented workers who were already considered “semi-slaves.” The reform bill would have brought the workers out of the shadows and given them the rights enjoyed by American workers at least with regard to wages and working conditions. Additionally, the bill contained all the provisions of the long sought after Dream Act as well as a path to citizenship for 12 million undocumented immigrants. Provisions would also have allowed certain family members of immigrants killed during the Katrina and Rita disasters and the 9/11 attack to claim a special immigration status and benefits. Make no mistake about this. Sanders’ vote against this bill only hurt undocumented workers, while its passage would not have harmed American workers. It is safe to say that those 12 million people are worse off today than when Sanders helped to defeat the Immigration Reform Act, so his concern now rings not only false but hollow. The fact is, since much of Sanders’ financial support comes from unions, the senator voted the union line on the bill.
While we’re on the topic of PAC’s and campaign finances, certainly Sanders’ fundraising efforts should be scrutinized. In 2006 Sanders ran in the Democratic Senate primary and defeated his opponents to win the nomination, which he then refused. Instead he chose to run as an independent, handily winning the junior senate seat since he had eliminated any Democratic challenger. Although he frequently criticizes and even demonizes the Democratic Party, he gladly accepts funding from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
In the very same 2006 election where he neutralized the Democratic Party opposition, Sanders received campaign financing of $37,300 directly from the DSCC along with $60,000 in ad buys. Among the donors some money came from Goldman Sachs, Citigroup and other major banks. As a matter of fact Sen. Sanders, known as one of the very productive Democratic fundraisers, on occasion even hosts retreats for the “Majority Trust,” a group of donors who give more than $30,000 a year.
In one of the greater ironies of his fundraising escapades, Sanders attended a fundraiser at the home of a Rockefeller family descendant, the same family whose wealth he thought should be confiscated during the ‘70s and ‘80s by the federal government. One of those families was the Rockefeller family.
Senator Sanders didn’t just sell out to big donors and corporate America to win elections. No, he also sold out to those who opposed gay marriage. Like so many other exaggerated claims by Sanders, he also maintains he’s a pioneer of gay rights, but there is no indication that the LGBT community was even a distant concern for him before he became a politician. In 1972 sounding much like a libertarian he said the US government should abolish laws against many activities including sexual behavior, but there is no indication that he was endorsing gay marriage. Sanders likes to ballyhoo his vote against DOMA as evidence he supported gay marriage, but neither his voting statement nor the explanation given by wife Jane Sanders in July of 1996 support his current revision. Mrs. Sanders stated in an interview that Sanders “’opposed the law because it weakened the section of the Constitution that says states must respect laws that are made in other states.’” In fact, Mrs. Sanders went on to say, “’we’re not legislating values. We have to follow the Constitution. And anything that weakens the Constitution should be (addressed) by a constitutional amendment, not by a law passed by Congress.’”
The late Peter Freyne, Vermont political observer and chronicler, wrote that Sanders deserved the “’Wishy-Washy Award hands down” for his “carefully crafted non-statement statement’” on whether the Vermont legislature should allow civil unions for LGBT citizens of Vermont. An exasperated Freyne also complained that pinning down Sanders’ position on gay marriage “’was like pulling teeth … from a rhinoceros.’” Sound familiar? Not coincidentally this was also an election year and in Freyne’s words, “’The Bern’s gut-level paranoia is acting up.’” When Sanders was asked by a reporter whether Vermont should legalize same-sex marriage, his reply seems odd for a revolutionary, “’Not right now, not after what we went through.’” In the 2006 Senatorial Debate Sanders, when he was put on the spot with a question about whether or not the federal government should make gay marriage legal, he again fell back on his states’ right defense.
I’ve been a political activist and observer all of my adult life, and I’m hardly naïve about the methods and deals politicians employ to win elections. What I have a problem with is the sanctimonious purist who holds everyone else up to his or her own standards and who sells himself or herself as a champion of the disadvantaged or the victimized yet violates those self-imposed standards and moral code time after time. Senator Bernie Sanders may pound the podium and raise his voice to inspire a political and economic revolution across America, but he certainly lacks the courage to bring a revolution to his own political universe. Senator Sanders willingly, if not eagerly, abandons his message for political gain over and over again, the very criticism he self-righteously hurls at other politicians. When his political ambitions repeatedly conflicted with his beliefs and ethics, he chose what was politically advantageous. Bernie Sanders hides behind the guise of a revolutionary while he holds his hand out to high rollers and betrays the very people he purports to champion. His supporters may try to defend his actions, but the rest of us see you, Bernie.