The Spectacle Blog

An Afternoon with Bernie Sanders

By on 2.13.11 | 6:34PM

This afternoon I attended a talk given by Bernie Sanders, the socialist Senator from Vermont. Sanders was in the Boston area promoting his new book The Speech. The book mostly consists of the remarks Sanders made on the Senate floor last December during his filibuster against the tax cut compromise made by President Obama and the incoming Republican Congressional leadership. Sanders' address was essentially a condensed version of the filibuster.

Sanders' remarks took me back to my days with the New Democratic Party (NDP) in my native Canada. His words weren't substantially different from the speeches given over the years by various NDP politicians at which I was present.

Chief amongst Sanders concerns was "the collapse of the middle-class." So what were the signs of this apocalypse in progress? Sanders said the signs were the necessity of two income households, inadequate child care, the highest child poverty rate (it wasn't clear if he was talking about industrialized democracies or the entire world), incarcerating more people in America than in China (I think people in America and China are imprisoned for very different reasons), the decline of the manufacturing sector, outsourcing and the growing gap between the rich and the poor.

Well, Heavens to Betsy!!! What are we to do? Rest assured Sanders had a solution. He said that we had "to demand corporate America reinvest in this country." And by reinvestment, Sanders means infrastructure. While I don't dispute that there is room for improvement of our physical infrastructure do we really want to saddle taxpayers with a thousand Big Digs?

Sanders also delivered his share of red meat. Of course, it wasn't exactly red meat. This was a latte crowd after all who drank it up when Sanders said the War in Iraq was fought for oil. Sanders also claimed that Republicans have moved to the extreme right. (Of course, the Left has been saying this in earnest since 1964.) Now no left-wing gathering is complete without a strong whif of condescension. Sanders stated that "working-people who are hurting and are told the enemy of everything is government are being brainwashed." In other words, working-people who listen to Rush Limbaugh are too stupid to figure things out on their own because of the "concentration of corporate media." So what's the remedy? Sanders thinks there should be "a dozen Rachel Maddows." I would suggest that one is plenty.

Yet Sanders did catch my attention when he described our current state of affairs as a "fairly dismal political situation." There wasn't exactly a lot of talk about hope and change in Sanders' speech. Although Sanders took the Senate floor because President Obama made a compromise with GOP leaders, he otherwise scarcely mentioned the President. This was question begging.

While I was unable to pose a question to Sanders during the Q&A, I did speak with him briefly after the conclusion of his remarks. Given Sanders' bleak assessment I asked him if he thought President Obama would face either a Democratic primary challenger or an independent challenger on the Left. Sanders replied, "I wouldn't be surprised." But then he quickly added, "But I don't have the answer to that."

I did see a couple of people wearing a "Draft Bernie" sticker. For his part, Sanders has said he doesn't plan to make a bid for the White House but will seek re-election to the Senate in 2012. But the fact that it would come as no surprise to Sanders that President Obama could face a challenger from the Left (possibly within the Democratic Party) indicates to me that Obama hasn't made peace with the Left. While Obama has time to rectify the situation if he doesn't it could prove fatal to his re-election campaign. Thus over the coming months, I think it is worth our while to keep our eye on how the Left behaves towards Obama.

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