March 2003


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"Aaron S. Hawley" <[log in to unmask]>
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Science for the People Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Mon, 31 Mar 2003 15:37:17 -0500
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March 31, 2003
Hedging His Bets
Bernie Sanders Votes Maybe on the War
By Ron Jacobs

The US House of Representatives recently voted to endorse Bush and
Rumsfeld's war on Iraq. They did this under the guise of a bill nominally
supporting the troops that, in reality, endorses Bush's decision to invade
and occupy Iraq. Only 11 congresspeople voted against the bill and 22
stood aside. The rest of the so-called representatives of the people
outdid many of their constituencies in their unabashed support for
America's latest imperial war. Indeed, many of those congressmembers who
voted for the this resolution and the war represent districts where the
sentiment continues to be against the current violence in the Gulf region.
Perhaps nowhere was this more apparent than in Vermont, which is
represented by its lone "independent" representative, Bernard Sanders .

Upon receiving notice of Sanders vote, I immediately called his office and
registered my dismay. Within days, I received a letter from the office
wherein Sanders reminded me that he voted against the October 2002
resolution granting GW Bush authority to use whatever force it required to
take over Iraq. He wrote that he believes history will prove this to have
been the correct vote. Further to his credit, before Sanders cast a yes
vote for the most recent resolution, he entered a short speech into the
Congressional Record decrying the partisan nature of the resolution. He
went on to state further that he did not support the Bush administration's
policies that "led us to where we are today." After stating his support
for the UN inspections regime and reminding the House of the "phenomenon
of blow-back," Sanders attacked the GOP leadership for cutting veteran's
benefits in the same session they voted to create more veterans.

There seems to be some kind of contradiction here. Sanders may have voted
against the budget that cut these veteran's benefits, but by voting to
support Bush's war (no matter how much he protested it), history will most
likely judge him to have sided with that leadership. Like a baseball line
score, when one looks back at a legislator's voting record, s/he only sees
the "yay" or the "nay." There is no play-by-play account--your team either
has the winning score or the losing score. No details are provided about
runners on third who got thrown out at the plate or an incredible pitching
performance. Likewise, when history looks back on Bernie's vote for this
resolution, they will see that he cast his lot with the GOP hawks, and not
the Democrats and others who voted against the bill, despite their support
for the human beings wearing America's uniform in Iraq.

At one time, Sanders claimed to be a socialist. When he was elected mayor
of Vermont's biggest city, Burlington, in 1980, his victory was almost
universally cheered by left and progressive folks in the US. Since he
moved to Washington six terms ago, however, those cheers have diminished,
especially amongst those who know him bes--his fellow Vermonters. It is
time the rest of the country wakes up to this truth: Sanders Sanders is
not a socialist and is not that progressive, especially when it comes to
matters of war and peace. Instead, Bernie's politics are reminiscent of
the Social Democrats of Germany during and after World War I. Despite a
popular groundswell against that war, the Social Democratic leadership
supported the war against the wishes of many in their own party. Then,
during the failed revolution of 1919 against the German government, it was
some of that same leadership that diverted the revolution from the masses
and had Rosa Luxembourg and Karl Liebknecht killed, precisely because
these two revolutionaries exposed the duplicity and anti-worker policies
of the Social Democrats.

This is not the first time Sanders has supported America's wars. For those
of us with a memory longer than the average US news reporter, we can
remember Bernie's staunch support for Clinton's 100-day bombing of
Yugoslavia and Kosovo in 1999. I served as a support person for a dozen or
so Vermonters who sat-in in his Burlington office a couple weeks into that
war. Not only did Sanders refuse to talk with us via telephone (unlike his
Vermont counterparts in the Senate-Leahy and Jeffords), he had his staff
call the local police to arrest those who refused to leave until Sanders
spoke with them. The following week Sanders held a "town meeting" in
Montpelier, VT., where he surrounded himself with sympathetic war
supporters and one university professor who opposed the war and Bernie's
support for it. During the question and answer part of the meeting,
Sanders yelled at two of the audience's most vocal opponents to his
position and told them to leave if they didn't like what he had to say.
They chose to remain and point out that Bernie's style of democracy seemed
awfully authoritarian.

After the bombing of Yugoslavia had ended and the US plan to Balkanize the
Balkans neared its completion, I received many emails and calls regarding
our sit-in at Bernie's office and opposition to his politics of war. Most
of these messages came from outside of Vermont and considered what we did
to be counterproductive. After all, the messages stated, Sanders went to
Chiapas to support the Zapatistas and he's against the various free trade
agreements and the WTO. He's more of an ally than a foe, isn't he?

My answer to these challenges is that I'm not sure. So called progressive
politicians who do not draw the link between corporate America's wars and
its attack on social security, health care, the minimum wage, forty- hour
work week, and other issues working people consider important are doing us
a disservice. The wars fought by the US military are ultimately fought for
one reason only--to maintain and expand the power of corporate America at
the expense of workers and the poor around the world. Didn't neoliberal
writer Thomas Friedman write, "McDonald's cannot flourish without
McDonnell Douglas, the builder of the F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps
the world safe for Silicon Valley's technologies is called the United
States Army, Air Force Navy and Marine Corps."

As the reader can tell, Friedman thinks this is a good thing. Judging from
Bernie's support for the current war on Iraq, the sanctions against that
country, and his support for previous US adventures in Afghanistan and
Yugoslavia, one wonders if Sanders thinks so, too. Is this what
progressives want to support? If not, I urge you to send Sanders a letter
opposing his war support (no matter how lukewarm it might be) instead of a
donation the next time you get a mailing in his name. Perhaps he will
listen and mount a movement in Congress to end funding for the folly in
Iraq. After all, in his letter to me, he wrote: "Please be assured that I
will remain a strong voice for peace during these difficult times."
Leading a congressional movement that calls for an immediate ceasefire and
refuses to fund Bush and Rumsfeld's folly in Iraq is a good place to use
that voice.

Ron Jacobs is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather