From Athens to Burlington: The Line Not Crossed
I started writing this as we awaited the joint Bernie-Shillary 'rally' in NH on 7/12….torn between posting it this very evening before, or waiting until just after the ...Event.
Odd to begin a piece with a Digression, but in this circumstance it seemed warranted. So, I wish to remind us of something which happened (ironically) almost exactly one year ago: the rise of the Greek Socialist Syriza Party, and their challenge to the EU.
Very FEW Americans had a very accurate picture of what was going in in Greece in the Spring of 2015. Most MSM spin was simplistic and absurdly off-base (sorta like the American MSM spin on Brexit).
Basically, on this side of the Atlantic we were fed this storyline: "Those darn Greeks, trying to get out of paying back their loans !"
Kudos to Thom Hartmann for providing almost the sole American Media analysis of those events. For realizing that this was a struggle for Democracy's soul. It's worth it to look up his stuff from this period.
For the sake of this piece, I will provide an as-quick-as-possible synopsis:
Greece, under the newly elected rule of the right-wing Karamanlis (aka the Greek Reagan) pushed hard for full admission into the Eurozone in the early 2000's; and is granted it. This opens up the country to vast amounts of EU funding, which the government uses quite adeptly at creating an incredibly comfortable but completely unsustainable economic bubble. That bubble and apparent salad days keep the conservatives in power for over a decade. Much like the Economic crash post-Reagan/Bush1 years, this all comes toppling down a few years later during the subsequent PASOK/center-left government of George Papandreo; when the newly-elected PM discovers much to his dismay that the treasury cupboards are quite bare (and the Karamanlis book$ having been cooked with the help of invited American financial institutions, no less).
Making a long story short, Papandreo is forced to resign (classically, the center-left party takes the blame while the conservative party and Karamanlis himself escapes most public and media scrutiny & punishment) but as a final act manages to secure a bailout from the EU; this being an Austerity plan. Sold to Greece as a way to get their economy back on its feet and somehow pay off its debt, Austerity turns out to be little more than a way for Northern European countries to raid and privatize what had been Greek public sector entities and infrastructure; converting state socialized services and businesses to privatized ones. All while doing nothing to restart the economy; as whatever remaining citizen social/economic safety nets and programs are cut to barebones level. It was, as the public slowly would come to discover, incredibly Punitive.
(Now bear with me just a tad longer...this essay is actually about Bernie Sanders and the 2016 Primaries).
As Austerity continued and it became obvious to the populace that there was Zero economic recovery to be had, eventually the conservative coalition governments which still managed to cling to power (yet trying to siphon off funds to the small percentage of very wealthy Greeks; while doing nothing to correct the graft and corruption within their ranks) eventually had no place to hide.
In the winter of 2015, the Socialist Syriza government is elected into power; on an anti-Eurozone, anti-Austerity platform.
Alexis Tsipras and his very progressive and bold Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis (definitely a guy worth following on social media) entered office with a popular mandate; and had a position of great leverage over the Merkel-Tusk lead Eurogroup. Rumblings and grumblings of the cleaving of the EU, then amplified with claims of a subsequent "world market crisis" and the end of Civilization as We Know It, etc (which was coincidentally used to argue against Brexit, a year later)....ensued.
Merkel first tried her usual ham-fisted tactics: "get in line and get real", and offered Greece another absurd Austerity deal. Tsipras and Varoufakis showied some guile and great spine, and did not falter: rather than accept the German pistol to their head, they allowed Greece to go into default on their current loan payments, and put the absurd EU "Proposal" to a Hellenic Plebescite..
Tsipras declared publicly: It is not My choice, it's my Peoples'; saying he would step down if the populace voted in favor of the EU Plan.
It was rejected overwhelmingly. Over 60% of Greeks voted against it. Despite the best efforts of the mainstream European press to obfuscate and misrepresent the meaning of a Yes or No vote, Greek citizens rose to the challenge.
It was a crushing defeat for the neolib EU/Eurozone. A dramatic victory for the Greek Democratic system. For the first time in generations, Greek Pride and Oneness was in Ascendancy (in a culture not necessarily known for Optimism or high self-regard).
It appeared that Tsipras now could enter new negotiations with the Eurogroup in a very strong position. He demanded debt forgiveness and a new deal not completely under the yoke of the Troika. BUT, in order to do this, he had to keep dangling the possibility of a Grexit from the Euro (even though polls still indicated Greeks wished to remain IN the EU).
This is where Varoufakis and Tsipras parted ways. The PM refused to cross that Line; being in a position of arguing an option which the public seemed to not favor. His FM argued that he had to negotiate hardball; that using Eurozone membership as at least a bargaining chip could be done w/o arguing for an exit from the whole EU; that these tools would allow Greece greater pushback. And that ,although a risk, the rewards at the other end of negotiations would be great: A complete restructuring of the Eurozone policies, to level the playing field between the Have members and Have-Not members.
But Tsipras would not put that bargaining chip on the table. Varoufakis resigned, under the lame auspices that his personal negotiating style was causing too much friction with other Eurogroup ministers.
When the Merkel-led Northern members realized that Tsipras would never play the Grexit card, they just went for the Greek Jugular. Tsipras and his Socialist Syriza party, not daring to utilize their most serious leverage available, quickly capitulated to almost all of the Eurogroup demands - horrific loan arrangements, an increased privatization schedule, etc...in order to just remain in power. Their public reasoning ? (quickly parroted by European MSM)
"We had no other choice."
(Sound familiar ?)
The result Today being: Greece is under a worse Austerity plan than before, their economy stagnant as before. Their previous state infrastructure raided as never before. Sociopolitical dissatisfaction rising.... as before.
Back across the Pond:
A lot has happened Here these past few weeks. We knew the weeks between the end of the rigged Primaries and the Convention would be difficult; but I think it's fair to say not THIS difficult.
By all indications, the Comey masquerade put a serious nail in the Bernie coffin. Perhaps the Final one.
I thought it wise of Bernie to remain in the race, clearly he and his campaign were awaiting what America had expected to be different news from the FBI investigation.
However, things started getting awfully weird with PlaneGate. After 24 hours of very enjoyable anti-clinton schaudenfreude, a minority of people (myself included) began wondering whether the entire Tarmac Meetup had indeed been staged. Because, honestly, are these people THAT stupid ?
If Willie wanted to meet Lynch in person, in private - they certainly could have done so, That this was an artifice created to get Lynch out of the decision-making chair on Indictment seems likely. The public outcry of conflict of interest immediately - followed by the public announcement by Lynch that she would follow FBI recommendation - had most Berners and Trumpers plain giddy; many less interpreted her announcement as something far more ominous.
Why would she have made the public statement ...at all ?
The latter pessimism proved accurate. I believe this to have been a late play call in the game: Obama and DOJ deciding they could take pressure off of themselves by having Comey make the call. Which he gladly obliged. The fact that DOJ then closed the books on the case with lightning speed so soonafter (when they technically had the option to consider whether what was presented by Comey indeed warranted prosecution) only supports this notion.
So, with the card played, I believe the Bernie camp felt that was the Game. Thus the public pronouncements of the past week, indicating if not a pre-convention endorsement, certainly an eventual capitulation.
Berners, showing our signature Never-Die spirit, continued to argue against this interpretation - circulating copies of DNC rules and interpreting those rules as meaning a candidate in Bernie's position MUST make the sort public pronouncements he has made, or have his candidacy revoked.
This was (and is) a misinterpretation of those rules, IMHO; although I understand why. Of course, we wanted to cling to a thread of hope. The FBI investigation was expected to have changed the entire playing field. (It still may have, although not in the way people thought).
(Oh....Have you ever watched a sports match, one in which your team is the underdog but you have this Good feeling ? Game starts well enough, but at some point in the contest it just starts dawning on you that your team isn't gonna pull it out ? Yet you do not just leave the game and go home. You stay, you watch, you maintain faith and hope. Because, it's true, ONE single great play, one single bobble, one single odd bounce, can change the Trajectory of everything. But as the game goes on, you have a creeping realization that that bounce, that play, isn't going to come).
It is no coincidence that Bernie's public presence and rhetoric had become sparser and indeed more conciliatory since the FBI fiasco. Once again, his supporters claimed this to be MSM spin, and that video editing has in fact made it appear he is ready to endorse. Once again, while I appreciated the thoughts - and the observations were not entirely invalid - IMHO one could simply not ignore the actual words spoken by the candidate, himself. And these words, both in the CNN Blitzer (full) interview and the Charlie Rose Show interview, indicated he was preparing to capitulate. Neither of those interviews really supported much hope that his intentions were otherwise.
Looking back, the Theme had already begun with his Sunday Post-Primaries Burlington speech, after the Brain-Trust meeting. Although at that time there was certainly enough fire in his words and flexobility to his semantics to keep a flame of hope burning reasonably brightly (I for one, told fellow supporters not to take that press conference as anything negative; the wording there contained many a potential Wink-and-Nod). But admittedly, this was also the point where he introduced the idea that the results of THIS election weren't of necessity to the Revolution; rather, this was the START of a Movement; and from 2016 the seeds could be planted to 'take back' the Democratic Party.
(I have already addressed in my previous piece how this Rx is a pallative consolation prize - misguided and ultimately doomed to quick failure).
The theme appeared again in his web address to supporters a few days later. His NY address a week afterward was more fiery, and raised hopes again; but all subsequent commentary coming out of his campaign since the Comey fiasco indicated that he would not be challenging the Democrats on their most reprehensible and egregious acts of 2016: Vote Rigging, the AP Secret Win, the Guccifer2 DNC email leaks.
Nor, apparently, should we really have expected Bernie Sanders to take up the damning FBI findings of gross negligence and Obama/Clinton manipulation.
There are, I sadly feel, a number of reasons to support this.
From the beginning, I think most Bernie supporters would (grudgingly) agree that he never hit very HARD on the most damning Clinton weaknesses: the vote tampering, the pathological lying, the flip-flops, the manipulation of the media, the stacking of the DNC against any other candidates While his "tired about the damn e-mails" rant initially won him many advantages, within it was a subtext that he would NOT actually attack his opponent on that subject.
The day of the Secret Win, Bernie was to give his final CA rally in SF. One would have expected he would go ballistic on the AP-Clinton manipulation (after all- there was plenty of populist fodder there). Yet, although he did allow surrogate Nina Turner to go at it on the podium (a little bit), his SF speech was really his same basic Stump speech.
This was very telling.
We can all probably recall other instances where opportunity for a crushing counterattack against the alleged 'frontrunner' was passed up. But to make it short - Bernie, throughout the campaign, never attacked Shillary on her numerous shortcomings- and rarely (if ever) actually aimed for her most glaringly vulnerable spots.
I think it is fair to conclude that we already know Why. He had been saying it throughout his campaign: He would not be responsible for a Trump win.
It didn't matter that polls consistently showed a Bernie candidacy as a front-running one, as opposed to a spoiler one (ironically, in 3-way polls it was CrookedHillary who occupied the Spoiler position).
Perhaps his actions always presupposed that Clinton would get the nomination; and Bernie decided he was never going to provide Gen'l Election fodder against her. When seen through this lens (and granted, it's a tragically sad lens) his inactions and pronouncements make sense. THIS was the LINE he would NEVER cross.
And like Greece's Alexis Tsipras and his Syriza Party, failure to cross that Line ultimately disempowered the potential Revolution; a Movement which in all likelihood would have succeeded…. had the Big Step been taken.
When the DNC-Obama-Clinton Plutocracy determined that the Bernie Sanders campaign would NOT make that challenge; take that Big Step ~ they could then freely go for the Progressive Jugular - attacking, marginalizing, demeaning, and belittling Bernie's Progressive base with Impunity. Which is what we have been subjected to, with the willing collusion of the MSM.
So, this is my reading of it all. Bernie Sanders, for whatever reasons, and after gaining great support among Americans with his very unapologetic call of Rise Up for this Revolution, would just never cross that Line which a Leader of a true Revolution must cross.
I am certain this essay will anger many, and perhaps make others despair. I will close by saying (being a Greek American, and thus having a propensity for pessimism :0.)...I TRULY hope I am wrong. I truly hope Bernie Sanders has a few more cards to play. If he indeed does, he must then be considered the best Bluffer in the history of Humankind. At this point, however, the seemingly contradictory messages coming out what remains of his diminishing campaign just seems silly or downright disrespectful of those who followed him.
If indeed he does have one more move, and this turns out differently, I will also welcome (and relish) becoming a punching bag for my fellow Berners and Bernistas.
Thanks for reading. Comments always welcome.