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         Much as I respect, admire, & even revere Chris Hedges, I cannot agree with his rejection of Bernie Sanders’ Presidential campaign. I think he is passing up a remarkable opportunity to build the kind of opposition movement he supports. Bernie Sanders is the 1st self-declared socialist to make a significant run for the presidency since Henry Wallace in 1948, & Hedges’ advice to the left is…to ignore him???

          Look at what Bernie has already accomplished. He is soaring in the polls, presenting a challenge to Hillary’s planned anointment as the Dem candidate so strong that even her MSNBC sycophants have been unable to ignore it. More ideas from the left have forced their way into the corporate media because of Bernie than they have permitted in decades. Hillary’s fellow corporate shills, like Claire McCaskill, are already shrieking that Bernie is “too liberal” for the American people even as the polls show his candidacy continuously increasing in support among them. At the same time, others in Hillary’s camp leak smears to their media friends, like the 43 year old essay Bernie wrote for a Vermont alternative newspaper that was printed by Mother Jones, or the anti-Semitic lie that circulated that Bernie has dual Israeli-American citizenship.

          These are the actions of a scared Clinton campaign, one that knows it offers nothing to the American public but more war, increased deprivation for the working class & absolute immiseration for the poor, combined with mass surveillance & detention. You can see it too in the rush to enter the campaign by corporate-Dem pols like Nixon’s ex-Navy Secretary James Webb & ex- Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley. Their entry in itself means that Bernie has already exposed the weaknesses in Hillary’s campaign. These sharks smell the blood Bernie has already drawn from Hillary’s campaign, & they now begin circling….

          So why then would we ignore Bernie’s candidacy? To Hedges, it is precisely because he is campaigning within the Dem Party against Hillary, rather than in a 3rd Party against the Corporate-Duopoly system. Since the Dems are a corporate-bought party, merely one of the two wings of that Corporate Duopoly, it is a given that Bernie cannot win the nomination. Therefore, & given Bernie’s assurances that he will not run as a 3rd Party candidate after Hillary’s inevitable anointment at the 2016 Dem Convention, Bernie will inevitably assume the ‘sheepdog’ role of herding his supporters into voting in the general election for a candidate they would never vote for otherwise – to beat Jeb Bush, or stop the appointment of the next Scalia to SCOTUS, or whatever.

          But – what if Bernie wins? Can anyone say at this point that this is an impossibility? Even in the U.S. electoral system, FDR won by landslides 4 times. Bernie Sanders is the 1st significant candidate for President since FDR who fully shares FDR’s social democratic vision of society, & in spite of the corporate media’s blackout until now of even his existence as a member of the Senate, his campaign is building great momentum just weeks after it began. I think anyone on the left must ask himself: can I ignore the single campaign in my lifetime most in tune with my beliefs, just because I think he cannot win? Can I be that certain Bernie cannot win? What if my participation in that campaign, & the participation of people like me, could have put Bernie over the top?

          Moreover, just because previous anti-corporate candidates for the Democratic Presidential nomination have functioned as sheepdogs for the eventual corporate-backed candidate does not necessarily mean that Bernie Sanders will. Those candidates (like Dennis Kucinich) were lifelong Dems, deeply enmeshed in the Party. Bernie Sanders never joined the Democratic Party. He is & always has been an outsider viewed by the corporate Dems who dominate the Party with suspicion, if not contempt. You can see that in the comments they are making about him (like Claire McCaskill’s comment that I cited above, or Martin O’Malley calling Bernie a “fringe candidate” at a time Bernie is way ahead of him in the polls).  Bernie thankfully lacks both the institutional & personal connections within the Democratic Party that made it inevitable that previous progressive Dem Presidential candidates would function as sheepdogs.    

          So even if Hillary’s advantages in corporate cash & power do win her the nomination, does that mean Bernie cannot at that point rethink his promise not to run in the general election? It would have been foolish, when Bernie was preparing to announce his candidacy, for him to relinquish the perks he has been granted by the Dems (caucusing with them, committee chairmanships, funding for staff), by running as a 3rd party candidate. But if Bernie’s primary campaign continues to build serious momentum, & creates a platform on which a long-term, serious left opposition movement can be built – one component of which would be electoral, for example, a reconstitution of Eugene V. Debs Socialist Party of America – I think (& hope) that Bernie might well reconsider, after the Dem nomination is decided.

          The movement building issue is the other aspect I believe Hedges is missing. The series of repressions against the left in the 2oth century – the 1917 Espionage Act, the Palmer Raids, & McCarthyism – destroyed the left institutionally. There is simply no organizational voice of & for a broadly-constituted left today.  No party with offices in every major city, no newspapers, no magazines, no electronic media, no educational institutions, nothing. Without any kind of ongoing left institutions, any movements that do arise are easily crushed & ephemeral – as in Occupy Wall Street. Under ‘normal’ circumstances, rebuilding such organizations, & the movements associated with them, require decades at least.

          But the Sanders’ campaign offers at least the possibility of jump-starting the process of creating a broad left-movement with its own institutions. The experience & continuing connections among people working for Bernie – many of whom were previously involved in both the 2008 Obama campaign & Occupy – can only advance that process. And now, they will be working with $10’s of millions in contributions from unions & individuals, as well as the momentum of the campaign. If Bernie does continue in the general election, & focuses the campaign on both the election & on building that desperately needed broad movement of the 99%, we could be able to build it far faster than we could have otherwise.

          Is there any possibility that Bernie will use his campaign for that purpose, rather than fulfilling the role of Hillary’s sheepdog to which Hedges consigns him? There is of course no way to know his inner thoughts. But I do know that he is saying things no significant candidate in my 60 years has said, & that his campaign offers possibilities – no guarantees, just possibilities – that no other campaign has offered since FDR – or even Debs. I think we would be fools to ignore those possibilities.

          And even if Bernie, as sheepdog, does ultimately decide to try to herd his supporters into Hillary’s slaughter pens, that does not mean we have to go there. We have now the experience of what it meant when Obama shut down his volunteer organization immediately after his 2008 election. If Bernie seeks to do the same to his followers when & if he loses the nomination, we do not have to obey. I would urge everyone who works or volunteers for Bernie, at all levels, top to bottom, to already begin the discussion of how to continue building a movement of the 99% even if Bernie tries to shut it down. But we can only get to that point if we start from this point, by throwing in our lot with this once in a lifetime opportunity.



Six ideas to save American democracy

Apr 08, 2012 |

Dear Editor:

Most of us realize, if we’re reasonably awake, that our democracy is in deep trouble. Since I hear very few actual ideas (from either politicians or the media) for how to fix the problems that plague us, let me offer up a few suggestions here.

1. Get big money out of politics. Politicians of both major parties have become corporate shills, selling their souls to the highest bidder. Following the Citizens United ruling of 2010 (which allows corporations unlimited spending on political campaigns) we now live in the United States of Corporations. Did you know more money was funneled into the 2010 congressional elections by outside groups ($300 million) than every midterm election since 1990 – combined! To get elected these days, you need to be rich…..or have a wealthy godfather, like Newt Gingrich. For example, my own candidacy for president went nowhere in 2008, due to simple lack of funds—despite my persuasive letter in the Hoboken Reporter! Imagine that.

2. Make corporations ethical, by law. That’s what ESRA (the Environmental & Social Responsibility amendment) to the U.S. Constitution would do. An idea created by Michael Lerner and the Network of Spiritual Progressives (the most viable spiritual Left movement to emerge as a challenge to the Religious Right) ESRA would force big corporations to prove a track record of ethical behavior – to a jury of citizens – every 5 years, or have their charters revoked. Introduced into the congress by Dennis Kucinich, under ESRA the corrupt finance companies which ruined our economy in 2008 could’ve been sent packing before inflicting the damage they did.

3. Establish a 25-hour workweek. Despite the legal 40-hour week, most employers abuse their workers with punishing, soul-crushing work loads of 70 hours a week or more. This leaves people little quality time to spend with family, friends or community. Let alone to read, study, learn about art, take a siesta, feel like a human being, or engage in the vital activism and critical thinking which strengthen democracy.

4. Get rid of our mis-education system and replace it with actual learning. Whether you consider the reduction of arts and humanities in the curriculum, the rise of the anti-intellectual “business major,” or the creativity-killing regime of high stakes testing, far from producing citizens who can think critically, these days schools (and colleges) mostly churn out passive, non-thinking consumers. Not a healthy situation for the survival of democracy.

5. Create new social and cultural spaces in the community. Due to the current crisis in Democracy, citizens need to be together more – to discuss ways of moving forward, keep each other hopeful, and not feel so alone. One of the great successes of the 99 percent or “occupy movement” (which is supported by 60 percent of Americans) is making space for such convivial conversations.

6. Finally, and most importantly, we need a viable 3rd party (with ballot status by November if possible) to adopt the previous five ideas in their platform.

John Bredin



By Raanan Geberer of PHC


In a recent, excellent article in Dissent, Mitchell Cohen distinguishes that “the Left that Learns” from the past and “the Left that doesn’t learn.” Specifically, he’s talking about Israel, and distinguishes between those who are critical of Israel but seek to be fair and those for whom anti-Zionist rhetoric strays uncomfortably close to anti-Semitism. Before we go any further, I will say that I, as a member of J Street and a longtime reader of Tikkun, consider myself a member of the former camp.


Cohen says those who “don’t learn” – from historical incidents such as the Russian “Doctors’ Plot,” where anti-Zionism was used as a stand-in for anti-Semitism – subscribe to certain beliefs, attitude and behaviors, such as:

     1)    Zionism is an alien implant into the Middle East, created by imperialism. The age-old Jewish religious attachment to the Land of Israel is either ignored or ridiculed.

     2)  The very existence of Israel is un-democratic and discriminatory.

     3)  Israel’s misdeeds should be criticized ad infinitum, but other injustices, such as Darfur, can be summed up in one perfunctory sentences.

     4)  Any problem between the Arabs and Israel can be blamed on Israel exclusively. Even the existence of Hamas can be blamed on Israel.

As good as the article is, however, there are several points I believe it overlooks. For example, let’s take a look at some of the most prominent groups that I would consider hardline anti-Israel: the International Solidarity Movement, Jews Against the Occupation and International ANSWER. A great part of the membership of these organizations, if not the majority, consists of college students and other “twenty-somethings” and “thirty-somethings.”

          And when these young people read about Israel on web sites or in newspapers, or see newscasts from Israel on TV, what do they see?

          I’ll tell you what they DON’T see. They don’t see hordes of refugees trying to escape the British blockade because they have such a strong desire to live in a land of their own. They don’t see immigrants from almost every nation in Europe and Asia streaming into Haifa harbor and Israeli officials trying heroically to unite these diverse people into one nation. They don’t see muscular, suntanned kibbutzniks redeeming swamps and growing crops in places where nothing has grown for thousands of years.

          They don’t see upbeat young people hitchhiking all over the country. They don’t see an army so egalitarian that the private sits down at lunch with the general. They don’t see plucky scientists thinking up plans to irrigate the desert and create homes for thousands of more people. And they don’t see novelists, poets and playwrights creating a new literature in a language that had been proclaimed dead for thousands of years.

          No, those are the images of Israel that our parents, our grandparents knew. They were already dated when I came of age in the ‘70s, and they are totally remote to these young people now.

          When these young people turn on the TV or the computer and see images of Israel, they see images of arrogant soldiers harassing civilians at checkpoints, bombing and strafing entire communities, demolishing houses, blockading cities into poverty, breaking up peaceful demonstrations, and firing tear gas and rubber bullets into crowds. They see Palestinian prisoners have been in prison for months without having been charged. And these are the ONLY images they see.

          While it’s true that these young people lack a historical perspective, fewer and fewer young people in general have such a perspective. The numbers of history or political science majors is way, way down from what it was 20 or 30 years ago. Survey after survey, news article after news article, show that an alarming percentage of young Americans lack a basic knowledge of American history. And if this is how they react to American history, the chances are that they know even less about Middle Eastern history. No, all they have to go by are those images they see on TV or on the web.

          If Israel negotiates honestly with the Palestinians as an equal rather than from a position of arrogance, puts through a meaningful settlement freeze and stands up to the right-wing settlers, if its soldiers are taught to be courteous when dealing with Palestinian civilians, if Israel stops violating international law when dealing with the Palestinians in the territories, if Israel minimizes the number of checkpoints and lifts the Gaza blockade, if Israel accepts the international consensus of a “two-state solution” using land for peace, then the “hate-Israel” chorus coming from college campuses will be diminished to one or two notes.

This, I guarantee you. There will always be some people who insist that Israel has no right to exist, but if Israel learns to respect human rights and the international consensus, those people will be as irrelevant as the Flat Earth Society.

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