Mainstream media focuses on positives of Vermont senator, fails to mention democratic socialist’s history of imperialist foreign policy
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’ campaign has received much political coverage in recent weeks after a strong showing at the Democratic Debate on Jan. 19, the release of a single-payer universal health care program and surges in the Iowa and New Hampshire polls. As a 74-year-old democratic socialist who rarely bothers to comb his hair, the political establishment long dismissed him as a radical pariah, posing no threat to the next Clinton coronation.
Now that he stands within striking distance of a win in Iowa and New Hampshire, the establishment regularly attacks Sanders. Few of these criticisms hold water when one considers the alternatives — warmongers, demagogues and neoliberals to the bone. Yet by throwing our weight behind Sanders, many ignore the nuance — and often hypocrisy — of his ethos and candidacy, which includes war mongering.
Most of the recent media focus is on Sanders’ health care plan. Under his single-payer system, everyone would be eligible for free health care, at the cost of $1.38 trillion a year. His plan has come under fire as unrealistic and expensive. Although the cost is fairly daunting, nonfederal spending over the next 10 years will amount to nearly twice that at $28 trillion, according to projections in “Health Affairs.” A single-payer healthcare system would replace private insurance and be funded by a tax on the middle class and an even higher tax on the wealthy elite, which ends up saving families money.
Additionally, Sanders is often touted as a champion of the poor. He supports a $15 minimum wage, the decriminalization of marijuana, the dismantling of Citizens United — which allows for SuperPACs — and free public education — all policies that benefit the lower class and consonant with his support of social democratic welfare states.
He has consistently worked for middle class families, voted for affordable housing, women’s rights and progressive taxation policies. Sanders’ popularity is founded on his fight against classism, unlike Hillary Clinton, who fought for “welfare reform” as First Lady, stripping away essential welfare assistance for poor families. These policies spiked extreme poverty in families with children by 150 percent, subjecting the lower class to even greater hardship.
All of his policies, however implausible some may seem to the centrist establishment, are more in line with the moderate social democrats of Europe and progressive left than any form of socialism. His “radical” ideas of reforming Wall Street, getting big money out of politics and health care for all are rather populist in nature — are supported by the majority of Americans. In an age when 62 people own half of the world’s wealth, according to a new report from Oxfam International, a fight against the Clinton-cleaving upper class is not only popular — it is necessary.
Most recent attacks on Sanders are silent on wealth inequality and instead direct focus towards the ‘implausibility’ of single-payer health care. These attacks, however, rely on a reader’s sympathy toward the wealthy elite. Sanders’ most odious policies, specifically his foreigh policy in, are shared by the establishment, any criticism of which would require a caliber of self-awareness unattainable by the mainstream media.
U.S. foreign policy has undeniably torn apart the Middle East, destabilized dozens of countries and ravaged Central America. And when one closely inspects Sanders’ foreign policy, his cognitive dissonance becomes clear. A true reformer would condemn government-endorsed terrorist attacks, such as NATO’s missile strikes on Radio Television Serbia, which killed 16 innocent people. Yet Sanders enthusiastically supported this NATO aggression on the former Yugoslavia, which rained bombs on factories and homes, tore apart infrastructure and murdered thousands of innocent civilians over 78 days.
Showing no remorse afterwards, and still lauding the bombing of Yugoslavia to this day, Sanders is demonstrably an imperialist. Yet this form of murder is normalized in a neoconservative state that refuses to acknowledge any foreign policy missteps. Why are these narratives, in opposition to an abject foreign policy, still so invisible? Where is the candidate who shows equal compassion abroad as he does at home?
In a society stripped of “experience,” our news is absorbed through mainstream media. Theodor Adorno, a philosopher, saw the “culture industry” as constituting a principal source of domination within complex, capitalist societies. Society shifts the individual from producer to consumer, so one cannot achieve one’s own critical consciousness. This is an administered policing of consciousness, inescapable in the mainstream media. And one which, bankrolled by faux-left billionaires like Rupert Murdoch, offers no unilateral alternatives to foreign aggression.
Sanders is, thus, a bowdlerized form of nominal opposition, a product of an imperialist system of domination. Yet if we reject Sanders as a viable, compassionate candidate, the only candidate truly working to aid the poor and disenfranchised, then our only alternative is despair. His warmongering pales in comparison to that of Clinton or the GOP, and thus demands a compromise from the engaged citizen.
Ernst Bloch once said every criticism of imperfection implies possible perfection, or a hope thereof. By paving the way for a social democratic renaissance in America through health care, a living wage and so on, Sanders will do more civic good than any other potential candidate.
Although his foreign policy is imperialist, his domestic policy still favors the many over the few, and remains our best option. We may celebrate the ‘radical’ Sanders, yet we must not let his brand of compassion be painted as virtuous and absolute. Rather, it is necessary to embrace him as our most ethical option, acknowledge his imperfections, and keep pushing for a better and more compassionate future.