Bernie Sanders framed himself as the man who could change Washington. He described himself as the so-called “organizer-in-chief,” a novel phrase given his organizing isn’t being geared towards general strikes, policy concessions, or pressuring his friend Joe Biden to drop out of the race, but rather allowing his own aides to sheep-dog his supporters into a pro-Biden Super PAC.
As reported by The New York Times, several of the progressive senator’s key campaign staff — including his former campaign manager Jeff Weaver, his senior adviser on Latino-outreach Chuck Rocha, his digital strategy and fundraising expert Tim Tagaris, and 2016 campaign advisers Shelli Jackson and Mark Longabaugh — have all joined a big-money effort to somehow convince young, progressive, Latino and “blue-collar workers” to vote for Biden. This is ironic considering Sanders is a notorious critic of PACs, Super PACs, and corrupt donations from “the millionaires and billionaires.” The kicker? Biden and Weaver’s new effort is called The Future To Believe In PAC, which is based on the 2016 Sanders campaign motto. Talk about a downgrade in integrity.
“The senator is not supportive of Super PACs, and he is not supportive of this Super PAC,” Weaver told the Times. “He certainly would prefer we had not done it through a super PAC. Each of us has to make our own decision about how to move forward. Given the short time frame until the general election, this was the most efficient way for the Sanders movement to lock in some of the gains progressives have made.” Weaver failed to elaborate on what these “gains” amount to, especially since herding supporters via an unaccountable money machine should at least offer some promises on paper. As it stands, it’s just the Biden platform with the face of Bernie silently whispering “I.O.U.” It’s hardly a convincing case.
Likewise, Sanders completely refused to comment on the PAC, referring the press to a separate statement from his spokesman, Mike Casca, desperately trying to make the case he’s “always opposed Super PACs” and that “this is an effort completely independent of him and his campaign…” despite being formed by key players within his own campaign. Given Sanders has only suspended his campaign, whereby his electoral operations have merely slowed down as the primary slowly continues, his staff remains under his guidance and at the political will of his grassroots galvanization. Surely this “organizer-in-chief” can at least keep his staff ethically consistent, no? Using his popular status to sound the alarms among his skeptical supporters? Well, let’s just say I wouldn’t hold my breath.
As I established in my latest article, AOC “Breaks” From Bernie Sanders: Why Leftists Should Do the Same, Bernie is no stranger to political inaction, as well as bouts of self-serving hypocrisy. In 2016, these veterans of the Sanders campaigns helped the senator form Our Revolution, a non-profit working to elect progressive Democrats and effectively campaign on their behalf, which was caught taking undisclosed six-figure sums with “nearly $1 million from donors who gave more than the [legal] limits,” according to tax filings received by the Associated Press. Weaver was the former president of Our Revolution until 2017 when he was replaced with Nina Turner, the Sanders campaign’s former co-chair and surrogate who recently established the Once Again PAC trying to rally big money towards Sanders. Could it be this change in Washington wasn’t against money in politics as a whole, but rather who receives the money? Even with the best of intentions and a substantive case on why unaccountable money is necessary, you can’t pretend you’re above it if you’re actively playing the game.
After all, Sanders has already fought in the trenches against his own workers. In 2018, the champion of a $15 living wage was caught underpaying his own union staff, shamelessly releasing a statement revealing the union was forced to choose between living wages or healthcare benefits (despite Sanders earlier declaring this to be a false choice made by companies like Amazon). After the disputes were leaked to the mainstream press, resulting in an internal investigation, the deal was eventually revised, though no follow-up reports were made to verify the new terms.
This isn’t just some one-off moment of economic selfishness against unionized labor, but rather a pattern of undisclosed predatory behavior. As reported by Forbes Magazine, Sanders happens to have a big sweet tooth when it comes to Capitol Hill’s sugar lobbyists, reportedly accepting $10,000 directly from American Crystal Sugar, the largest donating sugar baron in Washington notorious for having its own union-busting scandal made on similar grounds to Sanders’ own scandal. ACS oversaw 1,000 workers go out of a job simply objecting to a contract that would have doubled their out-of-pocket healthcare costs, only to be replaced with temporary labor throughout the year. And while obviously biased sources such as TheBernReport will say the workers themselves donated to Sanders to fight for their rights, OpenSecrets shows this was just another big-money donation from the organization and their associated PACs, not from individual donators themselves.
Since he’s been in Congress, Sanders has consistently voted to reauthorize the Agriculture and Food Act of 1938 as well as similar legislation, most of which allows for a program where the USDA grants government loans and subsidies to farms and producers in exchange for artificially raised prices, such as in the sugar industry. Effectively, common Americans are paying for a price-gouging scheme. In 1996, Sanders has voted against amendments that would reform this very same program. It wasn’t until 2012 that Sanders finally voted with Democrats and Republicans for repealing sugar subsidies from the years 2012–2015… only days later for him to vote against an amendment to suspend this practice from around 2017-onwards.
Even in this unprecedented moment of Coronavirus, the left’s best figures like Sanders and AOC look the other way on controversial stimulus packages like The CARES Act, transferring anywhere between $2 to $6 trillion in federal wealth towards corporations and executives, refusing to call out the leadership of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for passing it through a secret vote where nobody can verify their support or opposition.
All politicians — including deified progressive heroes — are actors beholden to the alters of political power. Some just take more money, hide it better, and reduce more harm than others. Such is politics.
Whether it’s for an end goal which helps their constituents or their wallets, it’s important to understand the game being played in order to criticize it. This is why I’m no longer under the illusion there are principled players within the world of Washington, and I advise leftists and anyone who fell for the cult of Bernie Sanders to follow suit. Once again, it’s all just an act, and it’s only made real if it’s made real through direct action. This is why these arguments must be made without also falling for the cultism of #BernieOrBust like positions, denying the distinctions between Bernie, Biden, and Trump. If someone is going to be president, moral people will vote to reduce the harm the office brings. Let’s just be honest there was no uncorrupted candidate to begin with, only lesser evils or problematic allies worth ticking on the ballot.