We live in a hypercapitalist society, which means the function of every institution is not to perform a public service but to make as much money as possible. – Senator Bernie Sanders
IT’S THE interview with independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont in the November issue of Playboy that is the must read explanation of what I’ve been writing around here for a very long time about “The System.”
Bernie Sanders is a champion of the middle and working class, the loudest voice against the Patriot Act and the broad expansion of NSA spying in the Bush-Obama era, which now has our most valued European allies, led by Chancellor Angela Merkel, as well as France’s President Francois Hollande, demanding an explanation from President Obama. The backdrop is the event on Saturday that had progressives, libertarians and independents rallying against government spying. Reuters is now reporting that Merkel has been spied on since 2002.
It’s Bernie Sanders explaining politics from where he sits as an independent that’s invaluable reading, especially for the broad audience Playboy reaches. An excerpt:
PLAYBOY: Are we stuck with the two-party system?
SANDERS: There’s no question there is a massive amount of cynicism and displeasure toward our current political system and Republicans and Democrats. Clearly most people vote for one or another party not because they strongly believe in the goals of that party but because they see it as the lesser of two evils. Having said that, no one should underestimate the enormous difficulty of creating a broad-based third party that speaks to the needs of working families. That party in all likelihood would have to be organized through the trade union movement and its millions of members.
What too many people railing against voting for the lesser of two evils, as it’s couched, don’t understand is what Sanders knows all too well as an independent in Congress who still must caucus with Democrats. He doesn’t say so explicitly, but through his “broad-based third party” appeal he tacitly admits that with the fracturing of independents into a myriad of parties from Green to the Justice Party, but including Libertarians, there is no chance of success to change the system, which has been unequivocally proven. The success of the Working Families Party in New York is a microcosm of what Sanders is talking about, with that state a perfect place for this experiment.
Looking toward 2016 and a potential Hillary Clinton run for the presidency, Sanders weighs in on the last two Democratic presidents compared to FDR.
PLAYBOY: How would you describe the differences between FDR and Bill Clinton?
SANDERS: Well, Clinton was and is a very smart guy, but he is the guy who signed NAFTA. I like Bill Clinton, I like Hillary Clinton, but they live in a world surrounded by a lot of money. It’s not an accident that Clinton is doing a fantastic job with his foundation. Where do you think that money is coming from? The point being that Clinton was a moderate Democrat who was heavily influenced by Wall Street and big-money interests, and Obama is governing in that same way.
PLAYBOY: And compared with FDR?
SANDERS: The difference is FDR had the courage and the good political sense to understand that in the middle of terrible economic times the American people wanted to know what caused their suffering, who was the cause of it, and they wanted somebody to take these guys on, so he was very aggressive in his rhetoric in taking on the money interests. He said, “Of course they’re going to hate me, and I welcome their hatred. I’m with the working people of America. We’re going to take on the money interests, and we are going to create jobs through a variety of government programs.” If you’re prepared to deal with class issues, as Roosevelt did, if you’re prepared to take on the big-money interests, you can rally the American people, and I think you can marginalize the Republicans.
One can only imagine Senator Sanders reacting to FDR’s court-packing.
Rep. Ron Paul didn’t buck the Republican Party last year, because he knew all too well he would be frozen out of debates if he had, with his son marginalized forever as well. You also don’t see Senator Ted Cruz trying to break the system, but instead is working it, as he succumbs to the Iowa beauty pageant in an attempt to build more power. It is reality for anyone serious about ascending in American politics, which is why Tea Party darling and former Senator Jim DeMint started his conservative PAC with Senator Cruz.
On the other side of Ted Cruz extremism, it’s interesting to contemplate that Hillary Clinton’s political pragmatism may finally be appreciated because of it. Her realipolitik penchant, but also her modern smart power diplomacy that puts emphasis on public-private partnerships and monetary solutions to international problems, stands in contrast. Clinton embraces making compromises to get a deal done, talking to opposing forces and engaging, which is the foundation of good governance that is missing in the Republican Party today.
One question on foreign policy that is worth mentioning, Sanders also agrees that Bashar al-Assad “has to go” and that supporting opposition groups is important.
PLAYBOY: And what role, if any, do you see for the U.S. in Syria?
SANDERS: With regard to Syria, it is my strong opinion that Bashar al-Assad has to go. He is a terrible dictator at war with his own people. The difficulty for the United States is to make certain the opposition groups we support in Syria are not extremists working with Al Qaeda.
What Hillary Clinton could offer is a chance to work Washington by accepting the system always prevails, just like the house always wins in Las Vegas. Considering the big money, hypercapitalistic reality in which we all live, politics has become a lot like gambling, which Citizens United cemented.
The smartest politicians, including Senator Bernie Sanders, understand that you have to play within the system we’ve got, because standing outside and railing at what isn’t not only won’t change a thing, but actually can allow Republicans and the right to be successful in “playing one group against another,” as Sanders describes it, which means everyone loses.