Yes, Bernie Sanders is not a Democrat — and Hillary represents the very worst of the party

Sanders has exposed just how reactionary and corrupt the Democratic Party is—while Clinton wants things to carry on

Published April 20, 2016 12:30PM (EDT)

Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders   (Reuters/Brian Snyder/Jonathan Ernst/Photo montage by Salon)
Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders (Reuters/Brian Snyder/Jonathan Ernst/Photo montage by Salon)

A new strategy has emerged in the Hillary Clinton camp: No longer even try to match Bernie Sanders' left-wing politics — which the Wall Street-backed multimillionaire war hawk Clinton is fundamentally incapable of doing. Instead, appeal to authority and accuse the democratic socialist of disloyalty to the corrupt Democratic Party.

Clinton's campaign did just that this week, condemning Sanders for "trying to convince the next generation of progressives that the Democratic Party is corrupt."

The notion that Sanders had to try to convince progressives of this in the first place is ludicrous. The warmongering, corporate-funded, pro-privatization Democratic Party leadership has long made it loud and clear that it is thoroughly corrupt and reactionary.

Yet Clinton and her supporters happen to be correct about one thing; they are just right for the wrong reasons.

Bernie Sanders is not a Democrat. And this is a good thing.

What the Clinton camp appears to be incapable of understanding is that the Democratic Party is less and less popular among progressive Americans.

Since the rise of the Clintonian "New Democrat" almost three decades ago, the party has moved so far to the right it has little in common with the base it purports to represent.

President Obama campaigned on the promise of change, but, in many ways, his presidency — particularly in the first term — was George W. Bush lite.

The Obama administration barely even slapped the banks and financial elites responsible for the Great Recession on the wrist. Not a single Wall Street executive went to jail while, today, the very banks responsible pose just as much of a systemic risk as they did in 2008.

The Obama administration killed thousands of people, including an unknown number of civilians, with its secretive drone war. It expanded the war in Afghanistan — twice — dragged its feet on Guantánamo, backed a right-wing military coup that overthrew Honduras' democratically elected left-wing government and dropped 23,400 bombs on six Muslim-majority countries in 2015.

The Obama administration waged a McCarthyite crackdown on whistleblowers, using the World War I-era Espionage Act to clampdown on more than all previous presidential administrations combined, while drastically expanding the surveillance state.

This is the Democratic Party Americans have grown up with in the past nearly 30 years, since the rise of the Clintonism. And, in these same decades, wages have stagnated, poverty has increased and people have become more and more dissatisfied with the way things are.

It is true that Sanders' social democratic politics are similar to those of New Deal Democrats. He often jokes that many of his policies were supported by President Dwight Eisenhower — a Republican in the 1950s.

Yet the Democratic Party of the mid-20th century is long gone.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the U.S. has drifted more and more to the right — and taken much of the international community with it. During the Cold War, Western capitalist countries had to at least pretend to be concerned with fighting inequality and systemic discrimination. Today they no longer have to compete with an alternative.

As the Republican Party has shifted to the extreme, far-right, the Democratic Party moved along to the right with it. Instead of holding ground (shifting to the left was not even on the table), the Democratic Party embraced neoliberalism.

The so-called "Third Way" paved by the Clintons is just another word for this process.

Hillary Clinton, a figure greatly admired by neoconservatives (who are overwhelmingly backing her over Trump), represents a continuation of this status quo — a status quo millions upon millions of Americans have said they refuse to tolerate anymore.

Americans are desperate for actual change, and Sanders has offered a new path. Clinton has flatly insisted that Americans cannot have basic things that much of the world takes for granted — single-payer health care, free public higher education, environmental policies that don't rely on fossil fuel corporations that destroy the planet. Sanders says otherwise.

The Democratic Party is a party of corporate influence and military power. It is chock-full of 1 percenters, with leaders like Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel — who shuts down public schools en masse and covers up police killings of unarmed black residents — or Debbie Wasserman Schultz — who is working to help loan sharks.

Many of the things that have been called for by Donald Trump, a fascistic demagogue, have already been implemented by the Democratic Party.

The Obama administration has deported more than 2.5 million people — more than any other president. It is sending Central American refugees fleeing violence back to where they are killed.

The Obama administration is more and more heavily militarizing the border, a process that began with the Clinton administration's passing of NAFTA.

The Obama administration is discriminating against Muslims throughout society, with widespread police surveillance and entrapment, along with shadowy policies like the no-fly list.

When Clinton's campaign and her supporters implore Americans to oppose Sanders because he is not a Democrat, it is nothing more than a disingenuous appeal to authority.

What they are really saying is loyalty to the Democratic Party is more important than loyalty to the left-wing ideals that it supposedly espouses.

This is the textbook definition of rank opportunism. For them, being a loyal Democrat is more important than having left-wing politics.

Under eight years of a Democratic presidential administration, life for the average working-class American, and particularly for the average working-class American of color, has not gotten better; it has gotten worse.

The Clintons, the most powerful force in the Democratic Party, happen to embody everything that is wrong with it. It was under their leadership that the party took its most reactionary, and despicable, turn.

Bill and Hillary gutted welfare and passed the anti-LGBTQ Defense of Marriage Act.

Bill and Hillary advocated for neoliberal trade deals like NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Bill and Hillary have made millions of dollars speaking for corporations and banks.

Moreover, the Clintons are one of the most corrupt families in U.S. politics. The Clinton Foundation has been described by investigative journalist Ken Silverstein as a "so-called charitable enterprise [that] has served as a vehicle to launder money and to enrich family friends."

Unlike that of the Clintons, Sanders' record is not just consistent; it is squeaky clean. And it is consistent and squeaky clean precisely because Sanders is not an opportunist.

Sanders, a longtime independent, is not a party hack. He is a principled leftist who is only running on the Democratic ticket because he knows this, at the present political moment, is the only way he could have a chance of winning.

And he is right.

When it comes to third parties, the U.S. is an incredibly undemocratic country. Most of the world's democracies have some kind of space for non-hegemonic parties. And in much of Europe in particular, where governments are based on parliamentary systems, third parties can play at least a small role in the political system.

This is not so in the U.S., where there are countless obstacles to democracy in U.S. elections — with limited debates, closed primaries, unelected superdelegates and of course the electoral college.

Sanders' popularity proves that Americans are hungry for real left-wing politics, for the kind of left-wing politics the Democratic Party has long abandoned.

The fact that a 74-year-old, bald and frankly unattractive man, a Vermont senator with a Brooklyn accent whom most Americans had never heard of until this year, has been doing so incredibly well is a testament to just how popular — and one might even say correct — his socialist ideas are.

An enormous grassroots movement has been built around Sanders. This movement has exploded in very little time. It is led by the youth, particularly by young women and people of color.

What we are witnessing right now is the resurgence of a new left throughout the U.S. — and throughout the world. Sanders is part of this much larger international trend, with figures like Jeremy Corbyn in the U.K., or Podemos in Spain.

And Sanders is aware of this. When he says "Not me, us," he is acknowledging that the social movements around him are much more important than he is as a mere individual. The fact that he has responded to pressure from Black Lives Matter and the Palestinian solidarity movement demonstrates this.

Those like Hillary Clinton, who are desperate to cling on to the old vestiges of establishment power, are not part of this new left-wing resurgence; they are in fact impediments to it.

Even if Sanders does not win the primary, one of his many important accomplishments will be helping to expose to millions upon millions of Americans just how reactionary and corrupt the Democratic Party is.

He should be thanked for this, not condemned.

By Ben Norton

Ben Norton is a politics reporter and staff writer at AlterNet. You can find him on Twitter at @BenjaminNorton.

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Bernie Sanders Democratic Party Hillary Clinton