Ten Reasons Why I Will NOT vote for Bernie Sanders
Part IV: The Final Four Reasons – Virtue and Truth
- Independence, Virtue, Authenticity and Commitment
When Bernie Sanders first ran for mayor in Burlington, Vermont, he campaigned on the effective slogan: return power to the people. “The goal must be to take political power away from the handful of millionaires who currently control it through Mayor [Gordon] Paquette and place that power in the hands of the working people of the city who are the vast majority of the Burlington population.” He has not changed a whit in over thirty years just as his stump speech in this campaign has remained the same almost word for word.; only the enemies are richer and more powerful. And Bernie Sanders has boasted with great pride that he has preserved his independence from these special interests.
Donald Trump has run on a similar platform, arguing that he is independent because his campaign is self-financed rather than funded by millions of $27 donations. Trump has also argued that politicians are in the pay of special interests; he should know, he claims, because he paid politicians to do his bidding. The accusations are similar, but Trump wants to take power away from those vested interests and give it to himself as the leader of a populist campaign. Bernie wants to give it to the people. Further, Bernie stands on a platform of virtue; Donald stands on a self-confessed platform of vice.
In addition to a platform of independence, in addition to a platform of virtue, Bernie has communicated to the youth of America an authenticity heretofore lacking in most politicians who come across as opportunists and power hungry. Bernie, in contrast, operates on a solid foundation of personal sincerity. Further, at 75 years, Bernie is probably the most vigorous and unstoppable campaigner in the electoral arena. So he has been running on the basis of character as well as policy and he exudes both conviction and commitment. No bespoke suits for this frumpy, indeed grumpy, politician. No speech coaches to try to hide his heavy Brooklyn accent. He is a politician who listens to and provides a megaphone for a host of grievances. He not only hyperventilates the concerns of others, but he also stretches his points to the absolute breaking point. There is no subtlety. There is no nuance. Israel practices disproportionate warfare. Wall Street practices economic warfare against the ordinary people of America. Period!
At the same time, Bernie does not practice personality politics. He shunted aside charges against Hillary Clinton’s problems with her emails. He focuses almost entirely on policy issues. He also remains immune to personal attacks and, more importantly, to disparaging comments that “he cannot win.” And he does so by winning time after time by repeatedly recognizing and appealing to the disaffected. When you combine character with commitment, faith in oneself and one’s beliefs with faith in the fundamental decency of ordinary Americans, and you do so in a social, economic and political context of gross injustice, of increasing class differences, of increased accumulation of profits by the rich and super-rich, and a political system deliberately manipulated to disenfranchise those most in need through voter suppression, the appeal goes beyond the call to the undocumented, the unemployed and the underpaid to rise up. Bernie talks to the conscience in us all, but particularly the conscience and idealism of young people. He also speaks to the insecure and stresses the source of greatest insecurity of all, particularly for young people, the drastic threats they face in the future as a result of climate change.
The economy is “rigged to make a fortunate few very well off while leaving most Americans struggling to keep up.” However, internationally, his sense of injustice is somewhat askew. While he opposes free trade deals with countries like China, which pays its workers relatively little, he also opposes the NAFTA trade deal with Canada, a trade deal under which job shifts have moved in both directions. Further, Canada is a country with a trade union movement relatively much stronger than the movement in the U.S. But the positions of unskilled workers in both countries have been weakened, not by free trade as much as by a manufacturing economy transitioning into a communications economy.
However, an analysis in terms of appeal is itself suspect. It does not matter whether the appeal comes as a result of populist “fascism” or populist “socialism.” It does not matter whether the appeal comes from the honesty, sincerity and compassion of a simple peanut farmer or the smiling sophisticated charisma of a charmer, whether JFK or Bill Clinton, or from the optimistic smiling Reagan selling the politics of positivism as a cover for negatively affecting the lives of most Americans.
The politics of personality is only a slight improvement on the politics of fear. One reason NOT to vote for Bernie is because the element of appeal ranks so significantly in his campaign.
A man, or a woman, so the cliché goes, is known by the company he keeps. Just as people in ordinary life need friends and companions, politicians need associates. A politician is measured, in part, by the associates he hires and by how he disassociates from them when they prove to be disappointing. Just as friends, influence our character and conduct, so do associates of politicians. My tenth grandchild in Duncan, BC may only be 14 months old, but you can watch daily how much le learns by imitation. In that sense, if we really do remain as learners, we continue to learn by imitation all our lives. And the ones we learn from most are our friends and associates.
Like also attracts like. Affinity is but one version of magnetic attraction. To quote another cliché, birds of the same feather flock together. Anyone who has read Jerzy Kosińsky’s 1965 novel, The Painted Bird, also knows that if one of the birds of that flock is painted with a brush, he or she stands out and is quickly either killed but certainly driven out of the flock. Simone Zimmerman was hired last week by the Bernie campaign as an agent of outreach to the Jewish community, more accurately, as we shall see, as an agent of outreach to the disaffected from the Jewish community, particularly those disaffected and even enraged by the conduct of Israel.
26-year-old Simone was an ideal candidate for that position. She wrote, “No public relations trick can save Israel’s image. The problem isn’t with the hasbara [public relations]. The problem is nearly 50 years of occupation. The problem is rampant racism in Israeli society. The problem is attacks on human rights defenders by extremists and by the state. The problem is a Jewish establishment that ignores or justifies all of this.” And Simone was not just an unaffiliated Jew, but is the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, had attended Jewish day school and been raised in a Conservative practicing Jewish family. She had been active in United Synagogue Youth and had visited Israel numerous times. However, in college, though she began as a committed Zionist college student who, in Berkeley, protested against BDS and attended AIPAC-sponsored meetings for Jewish youth, she became radicalized by observing the way Israel treated both its own Palestinian citizens and Palestinians under occupation.
Initially, in her transition phase to a more radical posture, she joined J-Street, the pro-Israel but critical of Israel camp. As a very bright but now disaffected young Jew, she went to Israel and studied colloquial Arabic at Hebrew University. Though she never became a supporter of BDS, she gradually shifted to defend the right of BDS to advocate its position. In sum, she seemed to be a perfect fit for Bernie’s efforts to attract Jewish disaffected youth – and there are plenty of them. For Simone Zimmerman now belonged to a community of young Jews who saw it as their mission to bring “American Jews to do civil resistance work in solidarity with West Bank Palestinians.”
But two days after she was hired, she was “suspended.” The bird that had just joined the flock had suddenly been painted, not with the radically critical of Israel brush, but of using very colourful negative language in describing the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu. She, like Bernie himself, saw American politicians, including Hillary Clinton, not only just cow towing to the Israeli leader, but as defending everything he did as right. This accusation is a blatant falsehood. But she was not suspended for her strong critique of Netanyahu, but because she had used swear words in her depiction of him. She was dismissed because of how she had painted her own feathers and not because of the substance of what she believed.
I have no objections to the Bernie camp for hiring Simone. She clearly belonged to his flock and helped us understand the flock of geese he was leading. I do object to his firing her for the trivial reason that she used much more colourful language in depicting Bibi that Bernie chose to use. But in today’s world, what is a swear word or two between friends – or associates? The reasons for hiring Simone Zimmerman were valid given Bernie’s beliefs. The reasons for dismissing or, more accurately, suspending her, are far more suspect, not simply in the injustice in the treatment of Simone, but in the totally “disproportionate” – Bernie’s word – and indeed cowardly treatment of this young, ardent and outspoken Jew for vocalizing what Bernie himself said in much more polite language.
- Truth and Judgement
Louis René Beres, a retired political science professor from Princeton University, in an op-ed on Bernie Sanders, quoted Karl Jaspers’ aphorism that, “Our enemy is the unphilosophical spirit which knows nothing, and wants to know nothing, of truth.” This generalization, this acute but terse observation, was applied to Bernie. And I believe correctly applied. Bernie is into hyperbole, not truth. Bernie prefers the sweeping generalization to sharp distinctions. Bernie opts for expansionist rather than succinct language. He is not a man of few words. While he claims to speak truth to power, he actually addresses power with slogans. Instead of a measured approach to whether and to what degree Israel used disproportionate force in Operation Protective Edge, his language was unmeasured. As it is when he attacks the Big Banks, Wall Street and international trade agreements. As it was when he suspended Simone Zimmerman for the lack of measure in terms of manners rather than the content in her language.
Bernie would do well to sit at the feet of Beres to appreciate the subtleties of strategic choices, the nuances of international jurisprudence and the underlying forces propelling conflict on the world stage. And whatever they are, and however much we appreciate and admire treating the Other with dignity and respect, this has only a marginal role in international affairs. Though Bernie is far better than Donald Trump, he suffers from a similar condition of ignorance of international affairs, surprising for a Senator of the United States and shocking for any candidate seeking the most powerful office in the world. I fear he would be an even worse president than Jimmy Carter in this respect.
Donald Trump campaigned long and hard against Barack Obama for being ineligible to be president since Donald doubted that Barack Obama could prove he was born in the United States, even after he produced what every authority said was an authentic birth certificate proving that he was born in Hawaii. Then Diane Rehm of National Public Radio accused Bernie of being a dual citizen of both the U.S. and Israel.
Rehm: “Senator, you have dual citizenship with Israel.”
Sanders: “No, I do not have dual citizenship with Israel, I’m an American. Don’t know where that question came from. I’m an American citizen. I have visited Israel on a couple of occasions. No, I’m an American citizen, period.”
Rehm: “I understand from a list we have gotten that you were on that list. Forgive me if that …”
Sanders: “No, that’s some of the nonsense that goes on in the Internet. But that is absolutely not true.”
Rehm had mistakenly and irresponsibly taken as fact a charge made on a notorious anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist site which shows the Star of David displacing the Stars and Stripes. She later apologized for that. Bernie is not and never has been a citizen of Israel even though he went there to work as a volunteer on a kibbutz as an inspired idealist when he was young.
My tenth reason for not voting for Bernie concerns citizenship, but it is definitely not because I suspect the authenticity of Bernie Sanders’ citizenship. The reason is far simpler. I am the one who is not a citizen of the U.S. Thus, I am not eligible to vote. But I am a Canadian who believes deeply in our entitlement to participate fully and vicariously in the American electoral process. So though I will not, and, more importantly, cannot vote for Bernie, I will not stop commenting.
Besides, my six children, three of whom are Americans, still need my guidance even when they do not recognize their own needs.