Lessons Bernie Sanders has taught us (so far)
Now, I have friends who teach in education departments. Maybe it can be said that people who work in education departments, both the students and the teachers, are the best kind of teachers, given the constraints currently placed in our culture upon who counts as a "teacher." So, for instance, you have my good friend Peter McLaren, whose excellent book Pedagogy of Insurrection offers a wonderful summary of the present-day state of affairs and a number of suggested paths forward. Peter works in an education department, that of Chapman University in Orange, California.
But really, seriously, some of our most important teachers can be found in unusual places, and in this regard we should thank Bernie Sanders for all he has taught us. Now, I was going to write a diary here summarizing Sanders's teachings -- maybe starting with the simple ones he gives in his speeches. I saw Bernie Sanders in Riverside, California, and received his simple message. Find the people who are suffering the most, and do something to help them. Do something about actual problems. Improve life through better government.
However, many of the other lessons Sanders has taught us, the dark ones about elite governance in the era of late capitalism, are already summarized in a piece now up at Counterpunch, Gary Leupp's post titled "Some Sober Lessons for Bernie Sanders Supporters". You should read this piece before going too much further in this diary.
At any rate, I didn't want to duplicate Leupp's efforts, so I wanted to offer some criticisms and emendations to Leupp's text. So:
1) I thought that the tone of this could be a bit better. Leupp says that:
serious Bernie supporters might—I humbly suggest—draw the following hard-truth conclusions.
Let me suggest that Sanders taught us these things himself, by running for office, and that many of us wouldn't have learned them had Sanders not chosen to run. We therefore owe the Sanders campaign a debt of gratitude if for that reason alone.
2) Leupp argues that:
U.S. “democracy” is in general a farce.
Yes, of course -- though such a formulation of the problem is likely to convince people to surrender the democratic farce to the elites. We can still organize politically even though US democracy is in general a farce. But it's harder than it looks, which may be a lesson Sanders himself is still digesting. Leupp could have taken this tack rather than pummeling the "farce" argument into the ground.
3) Leupp notes that:
The Democratic Party’s primary system and super-delegates are specifically designed to prevent change.
The fact that Bernie Sanders was obliged to run "as a Democrat" suggests a lesson we should all have learned a long time ago. Forcing our best candidates to run "as Democrats" and getting them to fear "being spoilers" is a sure sign that we don't recognize the party system as an impediment to democracy when, in fact, that's what it is.
4) Leupp also notes that:
There are unusual aspects to this particular farce, revealing a system in deep, deep doo-doo.
Yes, of course. One thing Leupp could also have mentioned, though, is the elaborate and crude election fraud that has accompanied this year's attempt to kill the Sanders campaign.
5) Leupp argues:
The system wants to suck you in, and make you think it’s somehow “yours.”
So far only the people who have rejected Clinton outright have recognized this lesson. But all the lessons about Clinton narcissism were there on full display during Sanders' campaign -- the foundation money, the quid pro quo arrangements, the PNAC militarism, the whispering campaign, the biased media coverage, the influence-peddling and so on. What strikes me about the people peddling this "lesser of two evils" line about Clinton is that we are supposed to turn our backs upon all of these lessons and cower in abject terror at the thought that we might possibly be responsible for electing a buffoon (as opposed to a clever evildoer) to the White House.
6) Leupp gracefully concludes that:
The successes of the Sanders campaign, such as they are, show that another world is in fact possible.
Lastly, and unfortunately, we still seem to need an actual Sanders, or someone like him, to show us that this is true. Sanders didn't just point to the fact that, as Leupp says:
The best possible result would be for friendships and networks built in this fool’s hope campaign to resist that planned co-option. We should rage against the dying of the light, wake up to the need for real revolution—real democracy, real socialism—abandoning illusions about the “process” that the wolf in Armani clothing credits Bernie for drawing you into.
But rather, Bernie Sanders pointed to the fact that a revolution actually has to have a focus, and that we can't just stand on the street making erudite Marxist arguments about the system (or sit here typing nice arguments on our keyboards) if things are to change. There's the "brand new Congress," there's the actual need to run for office, there's a path forward, illustrated by actual things which need to be done.
For all this I am grateful to Bernie Sanders for the lessons he's taught me and others.