US – A Firm Left Doesn’t Need To Be A Firebag Left – Proof Of That? – Senator Bernie Sanders Should Suffice – 17 March 2013

This is one of those articles I’d like you to read and then tell me the Left doesn’t have a problem.

The article is about one of America’s best senators, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont). It was written by the now deceased Thomas Naylor, who was one of the leaders of a Vermont separatist group called Second Vermont Republic. Since sovereignty/separatism is an intellectual interest of mine (I wrote my doctoral dissertation on the politics of Quebec separatism), I already knew who Naylor was. It’s interesting that Naylor wanted to question Sanders, in this article, on his commitment to “socialism” when Naylor himself was not a socialist – indeed, he described himself as a “left-leaning libertarian” in an interview. But, then, the intemperate criticism of Sanders is what we so often hear from people who express similar views of where they fall on the political spectrum.

The reason I’m posting this, I suppose, is to show why I like Sanders. No one really does question his commitment to leftist values…I suppose, that is, no one except people like Naylor…indeed, at times I have felt he has hewed a bit to lefty purism, such as during the health care reform debates, where he seemed unwilling to veer from single-payer-only despite the fact that the votes simply were not there for that in Congress. However, as this article documents, when the Left gets really stupid, Bernie does not join them. Time after time, when matters are discussed in Congress where some segment of the Left is actually for the wrong thing – not merely supporting _good_ legislation that is unlikely to pass, but supporting _bad_ legislation that possibly could – Sanders does the right thing.

Sanders, according to Naylor, supported “all of President Obama’s nasty little wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen”. Of course, that’s certainly not completely true. Here’s the Senator himself on his positions on Afghanistan and Iraq: … Sanders opposed the Iraq war from the beginning and is currently pressing Obama to meet his 2014 commitment and get out of Afghanistan. But we know what Naylor was really saying – that Sanders wouldn’t immediately assume that if the US military was doing something, it must therefore be terribly wrong and contrary to freedom and justice. And indeed, Bernie doesn’t do that.

Where Libya was concerned, for example, Sanders merely expressed “reservations” about American involvement – which any sensible person would do, really, about any war. Unlike Iraq, where he opposed President Bush, and Afghanistan, where he has signaled clearly he will hold President Obama to his promise to pull troops out by 2014, Sanders opposition to the involvement in Libya was minimal. Perhaps that might have been because he recognised the justice of the war against Gaddafi, and was merely concerned to ensure everything was done in the right way, rather than opposed?

With regard to the big “drone” issue in Pakistan, here’s what Sanders very diplomatically said when he expressed similar reservations about John Brennan’s appointment as CIA director: “With regard to the use of drones and other methods employed by the Central Intelligence Agency, I am not convinced that Mr. Brennan is adequately sensitive to the important balancing act required to make protecting our civil liberties an integral part of ensuring our national security.” That’s not an opposition to drones, it’s an opposition to someone who might not know how to use them properly or show the necessary concern for a “balance” of civil liberties and genuine national security requirements.

So Naylor was onto something – Sen. Sanders was indeed reticent to “go after” the President on Libya or drone warfare. But, in my view, that is to the Senator’s credit. “Reservations” about Libya was better than opposition – standing with the people of Libya was the right thing to do. Standing for “balance” in our approach to drone warfare rather than opposing it in all circumstances was also the right thing to do. Sanders found a way to do both of those things quietly, so as not to arouse the wrath of firebagger sympathisers, and move on with genuinely progressive stuff. Good for him.

Some of the subtext in this article is pretty typical as well – “Sanders is the darling of the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee and the right-wing Likud government of Israel,” said Naylor. That’s more or less a “Psst, did I mention Sanders is Jewish?” Indeed, Sanders lived in Israel for a while – he worked on an Israeli kibbutz. (You know, one of those “experiments in actual socialism” they had, and still have, in that nation in the Middle East which most of the Left seems not to want to exist now?) Sanders has described his time in the kibbutz this way: “”What I learned . . . is that you could have a community in which the people themselves actually owned the community. Seeing that type of relationship exist, and the fact that these units in the kibbutz were working well economically, made a strong impact on me.” Not surprisingly, Sanders is not working extra hard to see to it that those kibbutzim are swept into the sea by the Palestinians. Like anyone with left-wing values, he’s concerned that Arabs are sharing in the life of Israel, or allowed to develop independently. But again, he quietly seeks the balance and does not stampede where so many imprudent (or intolerant) left wingers currently seek to tread.

I do see at least one area where Bernie could, arguably, be more of a “myth”. That would be gun control, where he has long played to Vermont minutemen stereotypes and tried to peddle the idea that gun control should be a state-level issue. He seems to be coming around from that, what with all the hue and cry about mass killings recently.

But on the whole, it is firebaggery that seems to be more mythological. Bernie is still one of the few good people in the Senate. I cannot see what possibly could be gained from playing lefter-than-thou here – he remains one of the great voices – for the _real_ Left – in the US Senate.

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