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Saturday, February 22, 2020

Scandalize his Name: The Red-baiting of Bernie Sanders

Recent weeks have given witness to a decided growth of the Anyone-But-Bernie (ABB) syndrome-- the promotion by top Democrats of any candidate remaining in the Democratic primary race whose first name is not “Bernie.” 

Perhaps the most obvious examples were the outrages of the recent Iowa caucuses. Apart from the $800,000 anti-Bernie ad campaign by an operative of AIPAC and pro-Israel zealots, the brazen attempt to undermine Sanders’s victory and promote a new ABB champion stands out. With Biden faltering, though still polling top numbers in Iowa, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) through its Iowa surrogates, manipulated the results to dump Biden and install a younger, glitzier opponent to the grumpy, stoop-shouldered Sanders. Out of nowhere, the energetic, but hollow small-town mayor, Pete Buttigieg, was boosted into the primary lead by hook and by crook.

The anti-Sanders crowd thought that the media would press the bogus Iowa “victory” into an unstoppable wave for Mayor Pete. But that wave broke on the shoals of the Sanders victory in New Hampshire, sending the ABBers into a panic.

Of course they still have the many-times-a-billionaire Michael (now just “Mike”) Bloomberg as a backstop. While he has shamelessly reached third place in the polls by spending more in nine weeks than all the other Democratic candidates combined and even more than the entire Republican National Committee did for Donald Trump in 2016, he comes with much baggage. 

Even the most cynical voter has to reflect upon the affront to the flimsiest concept of democracy that permits the naked, crass purchase of the US Presidency. But that hasn’t stopped Bloomberg from hiring thousands, creating a shortfall of political operatives for the other candidates, from purchasing high-profile endorsements, from asking wealthy donors to refrain from supporting other candidates, and from generously paying thousands on social media to spread his message. His “meddling” in the US electoral process makes all other accusations of meddling, including foreign meddling, appear ludicrous.

But as my comrade Joe Jamison so perceptively points out, this is only one of many ambushes that the Democratic Party elites have prepared for the Sanders campaign. Apart from DNC dirty tricks (as seen in Iowa, also with the stacking of the Convention Rules Committee, and with changing the debate rules to accommodate Bloomberg), the DNC is attempting to narrow the field to the most promising “moderate” or “centrist” candidate to oppose Sanders.

Should Sanders get by these hurdles and the second-ballot Superdelegates, there is the donor strike and the “cutting” by Party loyalists that handed the 1972 election to Nixon and away from McGovern. Even a loss to Trump is worth keeping Sanders from the White House with his modest social democratic program. 

Perhaps the most insidious tool that the corporate Democrats, their Republican counterparts, their compromised collaborators, the monopoly media, and other ossified institutions wield is the tried-and-true practice of red-baiting. 

In the post-war history of the US, every step, every motion toward even a modicum of social justice, has been met with the cry of “Communism!”. Even many dedicated anti-Communists have felt the sting of red-baiting when they stepped out of line from the capitalist consensus.

So it comes as no surprise that celebratory commentator, Chris Matthews, slung mud at Sanders in a recent public meltdown, suggesting that he and other capitalist apologists would meet their demise should Red-Bernie be elected.

Top-dollar political consultant, James Carville, also recently called Bernie a Communist, as has candidate, Amy Klobuchar, on different occasions.

And a fulminating MSNBC “personality,” Chuck Todd, came up with a different wrinkle, denouncing young Sanders supporters as “brown shirts” (he may have been influenced by the hopefully short-lived, scurrilous alarm of a “red-brown alliance”).

What does a targeted red-baiting campaign, like the one directed at Bernie Sanders, mean?

✱ In the first place, it means desperation. Like its dialectical counterpart, false patriotism, it can be said that “it is the last refuge of scoundrels.” When hard pressed and owning no argument, scream “Communism!”

✱ It is a sign of ideological bankruptcy. Bernie brings class issues into the Democratic Party conversation that might come at a cost to some capitalist interests. Medicare for All, for example, when properly understood, would drive private insurance out of healthcare delivery. This is not consistent with the political program adopted by the Democratic Party since its surrender to the conservative Democratic Leadership Council in the 1980s, a program that stresses private, market solutions that keep profits and concentrated wealth largely intact. This ideological surrender to capital was ably captured by the ludicrous slogan: “a rising tide lifts all boats.” Since such thinking is largely in disrepute, the only recourse is to yell “Red!”

✱ It is a sign of compromised values. While many workers see the Sanders movement as friendly to minorities, the working class, and the poor, all too many of organized labor’s leaders fear the prospects of class confrontation, of class struggle. They see Sanders's campaign as threatening their cozy relations with corporate bosses and Democratic Party elected officials. Red-baiting is the crucial tool in driving a wedge between militant unionists and those more easily alarmed by false threats.

✱ It is a sign of fear of a Democratic Party realignment. Since the loss of the South to the Republican Party in the late 1960s and 1970s, the Democratic Party needed new alliances. Assuming that labor and minorities could be neglected because they could only cash their political capital within the Democratic Party in the existing two-party system, party elites began a long courtship of middle and upper strata urban and suburban liberals. To entice their votes and their dollars, the Democratic Party embraced fiscal conservatism and social liberalism. New Deal-style public programs were replaced with private agencies receiving public funding (so-called public-private partnerships); “efficiency” and budget austerity were the new watch words; and encouragement and tolerance of diversity in civil society replaced compensatory programs directed to raise oppressed minorities. From the 1970s on, the Democrats offered little resistance to the depressed, eroding living standards of working people, the oppressed, and the poor. Red-baiting distracts voters from these disruptive facts. 

For the party bosses who supervised this shift, the prospects of a new, energized, progressive campaign behind Sanders is a nightmare. A campaign that places issues relevant to the vast majority of working people, that promises to regulate corporations, that might shift the existing extremely one-sided balance in power, and that could redistribute some income and wealth is completely out of step with the existing Democratic Party alignment. Painting Sanders’s program red is the hysterical response to that danger.

✱ It is a sign of the crisis of the two-party system. For some time, the two existing, corporate-dominated parties have been stretched to the limits, attempting to contain divergent, rebellious factions. The Republican Party faced a hard-right, uncompromising insurgency dubbed “the Tea Party” that questions the leadership’s commitment to fighting for its vision of conservative values. The rise of Trump has further challenged party unity with its distinctive anti-globalist, national self-interest agenda. 

In recent years, the dominance of corporate Democrats has been challenged by a youth-driven, progressive faction seeking relief from the human devastation left in the wake of declining social services, enforced austerity, and a deep economic collapse. This rising has coalesced around the candidacy of Bernie Sanders, a self-described “democratic socialist.” 

How the Democratic leaders manage this insurgency will determine the future of the Democratic Party. Can the insurgents be contained? At what cost? Or will they lead many workers and minorities somewhere else?

For the short term, red-baiting is seen as a way to cauterize this threat. 

But suppressing the insurgency may well lead to an even greater militancy. Most young people have shed the knee-jerk anti-Communism of the Cold War; the fear of socialism is receding, as many are exposed to the inequalities and injustices of capitalism and search for radical alternatives.  

Democratic Party leaders may well smother the Sanders campaign. They have smothered other insurgent campaigns in the past. But the movement behind this campaign is another matter. While it may dissipate out of frustration with the likely treachery of a thoroughly corporatized Democratic Party, it may, on the other hand, emerge in a new, independent, and even more radical direction.

We should do all we can to see that the latter happens.

Greg Godels