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A Victory for the Fogeys: Bernie Sanders Drops Out

Champagne corks will be popping in the Trump Empire, for good reason. Whatever happens come November, the exit of Senator Bernie Sanders from the US presidential race will be a relief. The fractured republic can be reassured that the Democrats have not moved on, stuck, as it were, in the glades of vengeful melancholia and supposedly safe bets. Divisions will not be healed; suspicions will continue to foster. A bitter society, ravished by pandemic, will cast an eye to incumbency.

On Wednesday, Sanders delivered the news to his supporters. “If I believed we had a feasible path to the nomination, I would certainly continue.” The decision to end his campaign had been “very difficult and painful” but it had “transformed American consciousness as to what kind of nation we can become and have taken this country a major step in the never-ending struggle for economic justice, social justice, racial justice and environmental justice.” It was the appeal to ideas that mattered, and the continuation of the movement he had inspired.

With each Democratic candidate being culled from the initial smorgasbord, and the machinery of the Democratic National Committee doing its usual bit of mischief, the chances for Sanders netting the nomination were always slim. He started well in New Hampshire; roared to victory in Nevada. Then came defeat in South Carolina, where the black vote eluded him. Joe Biden’s victories on Super Tuesday in 10 of 14 states was crushing. A week after, and failing to convince Michigan Democrats, he had a sobering admission to make. While he consistently did well in claiming the votes of the young and making inroads among Latinos, he was “losing the debate over electability.” The restrictions placed on the campaign by COVID-19 sealed matters.

The honours for the Democratic presidential nomination, however that will be finalised, fall to Joe Biden, who has distinguished himself in crisis by largely absenting himself. The enfeebled Biden is already weighed down by a resume thickened by allegations of wandering hands (dismissed by Biden supporters as “politically motivated” or “pro-Putin”), patchy choices on matters touching on race and foreign policy, and an evident slide into cognitive decline. The campaign strategy, one seriously chewed over since mid-last year, is simple: manufactured silence and minimised presence. Doing so minimises room for imbecilic error and any needless expenditure of energy. So far, and with stunning effect, it has worked, aided by that trusty steed, circumstance.

As the likely opponent to Donald Trump, a certain degree of presidential air, faux or otherwise, might have been conveyed. But that would have made him more vulnerable than he already is. Exposure for Biden could be electoral death. Even with his barely visible electoral footprint, he did not disappoint. He held a delayed press conference on March 12, when COVID-19 had started to bite as a crisis. A virtual town hall was staged the next day, one plagued by technical difficulties and a rather loose reading of history. Towards the end of the muddle, a caller asked Biden where he stood on the Endangered Species Act of 1973 and whether he would support legislation prohibiting hunting sports. Affirmative to both, responded Biden.

But that was not all. Brandishing pinched green credentials, he claimed sponsorship for the Endangered Species Act, one of his first acts as US Senator. Unfortunately for him, the Congressional record shows that Senator Harrison Williams (D-NJ) was the sponsor, with the Delaware co-sponsor being Republican Senator William Roth. It was yet another Hillary Clinton “I misspoke” moment, though in all fairness, Biden has outdone her in those stakes.

As the health crisis began to escalate – lockdowns, death tolls, social distancing directives all featuring – Biden’s campaign, through such advisers as Symone D. Sanders, encouraged voters to vote in person, pouring water on any health concerns. Such instances of congregation provided rich wells of infection. The former Vice-President then disappeared, though always claiming a degree of desperation to be in “daily or at least, you know, significant contact with the American people and communicate what I should be doing.” Which has been, for campaign directors, mercifully little.

Invitations have been made to Sanders supporters from across the political spectrum. Green Party presidential candidate Howie Hawkins wasted little time. “I invite his supporters to join my campaign to continue to fight for socialist solutions through the Nov election & beyond.” This will bring the usual uproar from jaded Democrats that a vote for the Greens or any third party candidate is a vote for Trump.

Trump did not waste much time either in the courtship ritual, thanking Senator Elizabeth Warren for her putative sabotage of Sanders on Super Tuesday. “This ended just like the Democrats and the DNC wanted” somewhat similar, he argued, to “the Crooked Hillary Fiasco. The Bernie people should come to the Republican Party.”

Biden, just as with Hillary Clinton in 2016, is doing his own bit to woo the Sanders voters. As with Clinton, the effort seems much of an afterthought, a meek attempt to consolidate a fractured group. On Thursday, he put out a plan “to ease the economic burden on working people” by lowering the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 60 and implement student debt forgiveness schemes for low-income and middle class families. Such mild overtures actually convinced a few, such as Economic Policy Institute director of research Josh Bivens, that the Sanders effect was authentic enough.

Progressive groups, notionally aligned with the youth bloc that backed Sanders are also attempting to make their voices felt in the Biden universe. A letter to the presidential hopeful signed by an array of such organisations as the Alliance for Youth Action, Student Action and the Sunrise Movement, to name but a few, is filled with progressive hope. One was wishing Biden to promise “to appoint zero current or former Wall Street executives or corporate lobbyists, or people affiliated with the fossil fuel, health insurance or private prison corporations, to your transition team, advisor roles, or cabinet.” A quaintly naïve sentiment.

In another 2016-redux moment, the departure of Sanders leaves his followers talking about a movement beyond the man. Feel the Bern was more than just an emotional binge, cresting on a body of ideas packed with social justice and equality. “It’s common now to say the Sanders campaign failed,” observed Noam Chomsky on Democracy Now Radio. “I think that’s a mistake. I think it was an extraordinary success, completely shifting the arena of debate and discussion.” True, to a point. But as with 2016, that discussion is something that has passed the Establishment fogeys by. “In the end,” as Andrew Marantz penned in the New Yorker, “he did change the culture of America, but not quickly enough.”

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10 comments

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  1. John OCallaghan

    This is the one of the most informative fact laden articles i have read on US politics and especially the Democratic contest for the nomination, you have obviously done your homework and i find myself agreeing with the vast majority of your points raised…. bloody good stuff this…….

  2. Phil Pryor

    Sanders represented some policy, which can always be debated, refined, polished. He attracted groups which have policy and philosophy. They all had little power or potential to make change by convincing the enormous loads of greedy, set, fearful, unaware and traditional people, but there was hope and it has now gone. The USA voter has a choice between policy absent power blocs, led by an orange orifice or a forgetful cadaverous mumbler. That is no choice at all. But, it suits a nation conceived in fantasy, acquisition, murder, assault, theft, intrusion, oppression, slavery, double crossing, larceny, untruths, persuasion, maggotty media, banking extraction, criminality, supremacist and triumphal egotism.

  3. jon chesterson

    USA will get more of the same with either candidate, Trump or Biden. They are both institutional neoliberal capitalists and dementing morally, socially, behaviourally if not cognitively. What they don’t do Covid-19 will do to wake this semi-conscious giant up. But nothing new will happen that is sustainable. America will continue to rip off the rest of the world including its closest allies and its own people, and they will be one step closer to anarchy or rebellion against what will only emerge as a police state – the only way capitalism and the super wealthy will ever be able to protect themselves from current climate and political extinction. The only issue is how much damage will they cause and how many of the predominantly innocent public there and overseas they will take down with them? How much collateral damage, malice and genocide will they cause in the process of their monumental fall, or will it be a vindictive and pathetic whimper.

    Alas Bernie could have changed all that, for a while there was hope. For a while the rest of the world had chance to take its breath, but I wouldn’t hold it now.

  4. New England Cocky

    A well balanced article Binoy, thank you.

    @Phil Pryor: An accurate description of politics in the USA (United States of Apartheid). You could also say that “COVID-19 conquers capitalism” because the American mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the astounding weakness of the American health system that is designed to allow doctors and health investors to retire early with their over-priced financial gains at the expense of patients personal health. This American ideology of parasitic capitalism works well when carried by the efforts of overworked and underpaid workers mislead into believing that they are responsible for their social position paying taxes while corporates and corporate executives live the life of Riley in almost tax-free accounting systems, legally minimising taxation ….. as also occurs in Australia.

    @jon chesterson: A fair analysis jon.

  5. Andrew Smith

    While both the Republicans and Democrats seem to have moved further to the right and became more neo liberal, there is one factor (amongst many) not discussed. It’s not just the fact of ageing or elderly nominees but how electors have also aged with increasing longevity. While many, via media, politics and social narratives, obsess about ‘immigration’ and ‘population growth’, it’s in fact growth in us middle aged and older, with shorter term horizons, not looking forward to a future for proportionally fewer in the younger generations, e.g. climate science.

    Of course while Democrats can be accused of being an out of touch party of rusted on apparatchiks, the media complex has also changed, including lack of depth and 24/7 media cycles reinforcing simplistic messages. As we observe in Australia, Labor like the Democrats are lucky to get an airing and neutral treatment while hollowed out mainstream media seems to have become a cheer squad for aggressive neo-liberalism hiding behind a facade of social conservatism, appealing to ageing voters and ‘persuadables’.

  6. Peking Warchest

    Unless they have a secret plan B – to draft in someone else at the last minute because Biden’s brain is scrambled – the Democrats have ceded 2020 to 2024 to the Trump Republicans.
    Presumably they think that being senile is okay – Reagan was senile for 2 terms and the Yanks still think he was a great prez’dent.
    Democrats are just Republican-lite anyway. Obama was merely smoke and mirrors.

  7. Phil Pryor

    To the N E Cocky, the USA social scene is a new version of feudalism, economically, socially, politically. The Head Huns are extractive, repressive, regressive. The middle layer of managers know what’s good for them, what to do, and how to give orders in a heirarchical system, The lower ranks still till the soil, make artifacts, haul and load and sell and buy and repair and hate and seethe. Work is so often alienated, repulsive, with drinks, drugs, media, gambling, fornication, fat Food and T V the relief, the artificial real world apart from religion, whatever gets you through and on. People are separated from reality, are bound to debt, orthodox requirements, obliged to obey, conform, shut up, salute and go Yassir all the time. More and more the folk who are needy cannot get heard. A new feudalism is not unusual, as Hitler and Stalin did it well, coupled with modern techniques using electricity, surveillance, controls, monopolies of policing and military, of weight of publicity and press, newsreels and radio, meetings, displays, extravaganzas, Image, just like the Big Orange Orifice, or the Johnno Borisbonk or the P M, our Piltdown Man.

  8. Mick L

    Whoever wins the presidency, my money is on Trump though I’f prefer Biden fespite his many, glaring shortcomings the real winner will be COVID 19. America is a case study in why refusing a modern, universal health infrastructure is a terrible idea.

  9. Henry Johnston

    Bernie Sanders resignation reminds me of the fall out from Ralph Nader’s less than stellar political career. As for Joe Biden — warts and all — the phrase, Cometh the hour, cometh the man, comes to mind.

  10. Michael Taylor

    I’m a 50/50 on this one, Henry. Biden is the diplomat that the USA needs right now, yet Bernie had the vision to take the country forward.

    All the infighting in the Dems is disappointing. They should all just have the same attitude, which is VOTE BLUE NO MATTER WHO 🌊 🌊 🌊

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