By Paul Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Gould
The struggle between "socialist" Bernie Sanders and "New Democrat" Hillary Clinton points out an old conflict underlying the nature of Democratic Party politics which could be regarded as "the love that dare not speak its name."
That "love" is the Democratic Party's relationship with the "real" left of yesteryear, and what it represents to today's politically-fragmented Democratic Party. The real left, as in the "Communist" left and the Democratic Party, at one time had a lot in common. The American Communist Party's influence on programs such as Social Security, civil rights and taxing the rich worked its way so far into Franklin Roosevelt's White House that, by 1944, an angry Joseph P. Kennedy warned Roosevelt that, "They will write you down in history, if you don't get rid of them, as incompetent, and they will open the way for the Communist line."
That fearful threat, of course, never happened. Liberal intellectuals (with a lot of help from the CIA) circumvented the Communist line by inventing an artificial "left" of their own that, over time, successfully marginalized the real left and delegitimized it.
Democratic Party liberals fought the Communists to the bitter end in Vietnam and elsewhere, but by 1980 had so lost track of their own identity that they easily fell to Ronald Reagan's New Right.
The mass movement of the American people away from left-leaning democratic populism came as a profound shock to Democratic Party regulars exhausted from their struggles with the left. Vice President Walter Mondale's devastating 49 state defeat to Reagan in 1984 sealed the left's fate and, in 1985, the party was lobotomized of any left-sided ideology at all, merging with its intellectual other.
The transformation came in the form of the Democratic Leadership Council, DLC a non-profit corporation whose goal was to the recast the old Democratic Party into a go-go pro-business conservative mold. From the start the DLC maintained a strong neo-conservative agenda, especially in foreign policy. Its selection of Bill Clinton as chairman in 1990 helped cement its acceptance with the general public but the split within the party grew even deeper. These "New Democrats" sold themselves as centrist reformers but behaved more like merchant bankers and, within a few years, ushered in a raft of privatizations, Wall Street giveaways, tough-on-crime laws, and deregulated trade rules that would rob the middle class and set a course toward financial ruin.
The New Democrats were quickly swapping tried and true Democratic Party values for tried and true Republican virtues, and within no time had banished the real "left" in anything but name from the political process.
Prior to the 1990s, old Democrats were careful to reconcile their rank and file with the "limousine liberals" who financed candidates and funded campaigns, but according to the author of Reinventing Democrats, Kenneth Baer, the DLC was now brazenly selling itself as an "elite organization [within the party] funded by elite-corporate and private-donors."
As a self-described socialist, Sanders' candidacy has clearly moved the New Democrat Hillary Clinton further to the real left than her Wall Street-friendly establishment supporters feel comfortable. Their discomfort with single-payer health care and the breaking up of Wall Street's big banks was thinly disguised in a recent New York Times endorsement of Clinton's nomination, which sought to dismiss Sanders' "socialist" policy ideas as simply unrealistic, while New Democrat Hillary Clinton's proposals are "very good, and achievable." Yet here, instead of assuring her bonafides as a genuine leader, the Times' endorsement only leaves readers wondering whether Hillary Clinton's "achievable proposals" aren't simply more of the same old hyped-up New Democrat chimeras that will disappear into thin air once the doors to the White House close behind her.
It is beyond doubt that Hillary Clinton will not change her expansionist internationalist views, no matter what she promises or delivers in terms of domestic social programs. Like all New Democrats, she demands a tough military response to virtually all of America's foreign policy problems, even after it has consistently proven to worsen America's security. But without demanding profound and permanent changes in America's neoconservative interventionist foreign policy, Bernie Sanders as President won't make any difference either.
America's next president will have to deal with neocon-inspired crises in foreign policy that grow more dangerous by the day. Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Ukraine, Russia, China, Iran and NATO expansion sit atop a long list of hot-button issues that could quickly turn into violent conflicts far more deadly than World Wars I and II. But unless Sanders is willing to face down the fact that these crises are the product of a neoconservative philosophy of unending war, he will fare no better than his predecessors.
One might assume from Republican campaign rhetoric that Democrats are a soft touch when it comes to interventionist policies, but the rhetoric and the reality say very different things. Jimmy Carter promised in his inaugural address to rid the world of nuclear weapons, then proceeded to lay the groundwork for direct military intervention in the Middle East and the largest military buildup since World War II. Everyone credits Reagan for putting the US back into the deep freeze of the Cold War, but if it hadn't been for Carter's national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski's provocative covert actions inside the Soviet Union, Afghanistan and Eastern Europe -- intended to poison US/Soviet relations -- Reagan's unnecessary buildup would never have gotten off the ground. It's a longstanding joke that presidents rarely keep campaign promises. Over a hundred years ago Woodrow Wilson promised to keep America neutral and out of World War I. In the run up to the 1940 presidential elections, Franklin Roosevelt said "I shall say it again and again and again: Your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars." And so it is with President Obama, a man honored with a Nobel Peace Prize presumably for his commitment to abolishing nuclear weapons, who may well go down in history as the man who made the Apocalypse because of his proposed trillion dollar nuclear weapons upgrade.
America's political freedom relies on safe and rational foreign policy decisions. The Patriot Act, NSA spying and a perpetual War on Terror are but three consequences of a foreign policy that is neither safe nor rational. Supporters of Bernie Sanders assume that he will make foreign policy decisions free from the inbred neoconservative biases of his chief opponent, but what will the Vermont Senator's supporters do should their candidate fall in line with the status quo after the election, as Obama did, and fail to deliver on his promises?
Americans, both left and right, are ill informed when it comes to their leaders. Most Americans would be horrified to learn that many of the neoconservatives behind America's permanent war culture learned their trade under the tutelage of RAND military analyst Albert Wohlstetter, a follower of Leon Trotsky, the leader of the Red Army and a close compatriot to Vladimir Lenin during the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917.
Wohlstetter was one of the many godfathers of the neoconservative political movement. Over the course of 30 years he moved seamlessly from Communism to Capitalism and between Republicans and Democrats, even secretly misadvising John F. Kennedy's Presidential campaign about a "bomber gap" that didn't exist. In the process he helped to shift American political and military thinking toward permanent war by applying the political philosophy of none other than Leon Trotsky.
Americans would have to reexamine every assumption they have about their political system when they realize the core, flag-waving architects of Ronald Reagan's New Right were Trotskyites. Had it not been for Joseph Stalin, they might have been running the Soviet Union but, instead, they are now running the United States.
So where does Bernie Sanders hang his hat in this maelstrom of a century-old struggle to control of the world? With all the insane and somewhat fascist rhetoric issuing from Donald Trump's campaign, one idea worth stealing is the one that riles the neoconservatives of both parties: Sanders' desire to overthrow the neocon ideological agenda of endless war, a political belief system that still rules Washington foreign policy circles.
Bernie Sanders' supporters must come to understand that the only way he can make good on his promise of single payer healthcare, more social security and repairing America's broken infrastructure is to adopt this pragmatic foreign policy position as his own. To not only beat Hillary Clinton, but a Republican contender as well, he must offer a viable and doable alternative to a continued foreign policy of endless war and he must articulate it now, before it is too late.
Copyright © 2016 Fitzgerald & Gould All rights reserved
Paul Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Gould are the authors of Invisible History: Afghanistan's Untold Story, Crossing Zero The AfPak War at the Turning Point of American Empire and The Voice. For more information visit their websites at invisiblehistory and grailwerk. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.