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Democratic presidential candidates participate the presidential primary debate at the Charleston Gaillard Center on February 25, 2020 in Charleston, South Carolina. (Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Democratic presidential candidates participate the presidential primary debate at the Charleston Gaillard Center on February 25, 2020 in Charleston, South Carolina. (Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Bernie's Very Welcome Assault on Our Cliché of Greatness

Sanders is giving voice to ideas and realities that have long been declared taboo in American political discourse. One might even called it historic.

Robert C. Koehler

“Excuse me, occasionally it might be a good idea to be honest about American foreign policy.”

I don’t think I’ve heard that much honesty from a mainstream-party presidential candidate in virtually half a century. And suddenly this race begins to matter in a way that seems like . . . oh my God, a return of democracy? Suddenly I don’t feel utterly marginalized as a voter, as an American, left with nothing but cynical despair as I wait to learn which “lesser evil” the Dems will serve up for me as a candidate.

The words are those of Bernie Sanders, of course, standing up to the red-baiting the moderators and some of the other candidates were slinging at him during the latest debate, trying their best to bring him down.

He went on: “That includes the fact that America has overthrown governments all over the world — in Chile, in Guatemala, in Iran.”

Well, yeah, but . . . we’re still the greatest country on the planet, right? I get why the corporate media hates Sanders and wants to get rid of him ASAP. The American political center (as it likes to call itself) has done a helluva job marginalizing the truth-wielding, anti-war, pro-empathy, pro-sanity wing of the American population ever since the early ’70s, in the wake of George McGovern’s shattering defeat by Nixon. Never again! The taming of the liberal agenda cleared the way for the Reagan domestic counter-revolution and the U.S. military’s recovery from Vietnam Syndrome and public distaste for war. But now that all this is settled and endless, profit-spewing war is quiet background noise . . .

Along comes Bernie Sanders, giving voice to ideas and realities that have long been declared taboo in American political discourse, certainly at the level of presidential politics. Could real change — what I like to think of as evolution — actually start claiming political traction again?

Sanders is leading in the polls and has won the early state caucuses and primaries, but there’s no telling if he’ll succeed in actually claiming the Democratic nomination or, my God, defeating the orange-haired one, much less pushing a progressive, peace- and environment-conscious agenda through Congress. But this much seems apparent right now: He’s beating — and, I hope, deconstructing — the centrist media.

These highly paid bouncers are so used to defining the political limits of the American spectator democracy — i.e., establishing the nature of reality (it’s a big horse race) — they are ever more contemptuous of someone like Sanders, not to mention the constituency for whom he speaks. A glaring example of this contempt was Chris Matthews’ idiotic blather on MSNBC last week, in the wake of Sanders’ big win in the Nevada caucus, managing in a twisted analogy to compare this victory to the Nazi invasion of France in 1940.

Well, it turns out Matthews hit himself in the head with his own hardball. His profoundly offensive analogy immediately generated a #FireChrisMatthews hashtag and he was forced to spew an apology in order to keep his job.

“Senator Sanders,” he said two days later on his show “Hardball,” “I’m sorry for comparing anything from that tragic era in which so many suffered, especially the Jewish people, to an elected result in which you were a well-deserved winner. This is going to be a hard-fought, heated campaign of ideas.”

The apology was accepted by the Sanders campaign, whose manager said “we hope to get fairer coverage going forward.” And maybe they actually will! But what’s worth pondering for a moment is the atmosphere behind the scenes at MSNBC, and throughout the corporate media, prior to Matthews’ remark. Sanders had relatives murdered in the Holocaust, for God’s sake, but how could such a stupid comment form in a pundit’s consciousness as a newsworthy observation about any candidate’s victory? The anti-Sanders, and therefore anti-progressive, atmosphere at MSNBC must have been wide open and uncontained.

And indeed, consider one of the primary lines of attack on Sanders, the democratic socialist, by the corporate media: red-baiting.

Red-baiting is a throwback to the unrestrained Cold War era, in the early ’50s — the McCarthy era, the HUAC era — when a grotesquely hypocritical moral righteousness gained sufficient governmental power to limit Americans’ freedom of speech and thought by poisoning certain political positions with the label “communist.” Has this era returned?

Sanders has been lambasted recently for such sins as saying something good about Fidel Castro, telling Anderson Cooper on “60 Minutes”: “It’s unfair to simply say everything is bad, When Fidel Castro came into office, you know what he did? He had a massive literacy program. Is that a bad thing? Even though Fidel Castro did it?” Pundits have been trying desperately to tear Sanders to shreds over this outrage (and seem to have no memory of the mob-linked Fulgencio Batista, the Cuban leader overthrown by the Castro revolution).

The media has also made a point of reporting that Sanders has been briefed by U.S. intelligence that the Russians are attempting to help his campaign, seemingly because he’s the candidate least likely to defeat Trump. While the briefing occurred over a month ago, it only became news, reported by the Washington Post, the day before the Nevada caucus. Sanders’ response: “I don’t care, frankly, who Putin wants to be president. My message to Putin is clear: Stay out of American elections, and as president I will make sure that you do.”

And then there was the New York Times, throwing such poison seeds into the wind as “his support for the Sandinistas” — as though there weren’t legitimate reasons to support them and extreme controversy during the Reagan years about U.S. support for the anti-Sandinista rebels in Nicaragua, known as the contras. And in the same paragraph, the Times seems to summon the ghost of Joseph McCarthy, informing America that Sanders had a “honeymoon in the Soviet Union.”

Can you imagine electing a president so arrogant he actually claims the right to think for himself and challenge U.S. foreign policy, past and present? A president who honeymooned under the Soviet moon?

As the media is pointing out, the cliché we deeply cherish — we’re good, they’re bad — is under assault in 2020.


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Robert C. Koehler

Robert C. Koehler

Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. Koehler has been the recipient of multiple awards for writing and journalism from organizations including the National Newspaper Association, Suburban Newspapers of America, and the Chicago Headline Club.  He’s a regular contributor to such high-profile websites as Common Dreams and the Huffington Post. Eschewing political labels, Koehler considers himself a “peace journalist. He has been an editor at Tribune Media Services and a reporter, columnist and copy desk chief at Lerner Newspapers, a chain of neighborhood and suburban newspapers in the Chicago area. Koehler launched his column in 1999. Born in Detroit and raised in suburban Dearborn, Koehler has lived in Chicago since 1976. He earned a master’s degree in creative writing from Columbia College and has taught writing at both the college and high school levels. Koehler is a widower and single parent. He explores both conditions at great depth in his writing. His book, "Courage Grows Strong at the Wound" (2016). Contact him or visit his website at commonwonders.com.

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