Will Sanders Own Up to the Truth?

A viable path awaits if he'd come clean about Russia.

Bernie Sanders’ blindness to matters of racism, white supremacy and white privilege was a subject of Tuesday’s Editorial Board. This may be the softest part of his soft underbelly, the main reason he probably won’t win over enough Democrats. (Well, that and the fact that he continues not to be a Democrat. That’s going to hurt him.)

Let’s talk about another vulnerability: Russia.

I do not believe, as some of his critics believe, that Sanders is or was in any way involved wittingly with the Kremlin’s sabotage of our republic. But no one can doubt that Sanders’ efforts, however well-intended, benefited from Russian propaganda. No one can doubt that Vladimir Putin helped lay the groundwork for Sanders’ second run by stoking the belief that he would have won had neoliberal corporatists not crowned Hillary Clinton. Well, no one can doubt that except Sanders and his followers.

They have lots of reasons to deny not only that the Russians helped Sanders but that the Russians turned the election in Donald Trump’s favor. They believe “Our Revolution” is the result of a wellspring of righteous anger. They believe the Democratic National Committee rigged the 2016 primaries against Sanders to prevent the people from having their voices heard. They believe they are the future of politics, as capitalism, decadence and decay eat out the heart of freedom and democracy.

Some of them go so far as to say that the entire focus on Russian sabotage distracts from the real problem, which is that the Democrats no longer speak for the people, and now we have a fascist for a president. Some go ever further, calling the Robert Mueller probe an outgrowth of a pernicious “Deep State.” Like it or not, Sanders’ champions are aligned with the president, but for obviously antipodal reasons.

Again, I do not believe Bernie Sanders is or was involved knowingly in the (ongoing) assault on our democracy and public discourse. But I do believe that an unwitting beneficiary of such sabotage, someone who values his good name and loves his country, is obligated to acknowledge forces in his favor when those forces are malign. I wouldn’t personally hold him responsible for what other people do. But I do want to see that he sees, because that matters when you’re asking to be president.

I do not recall Sanders saying what he would do to combat foreign propaganda, because I do not recall his saying that has anything to do with him. Yes, he’s conceded the fact of the Russians’ violation of our national sovereignty. But he’s never said he plays a role in preventing it or blunting its impact on the electorate. Indeed, he has blamed Clinton for not doing more. With that, he revives the malignant spirit of 2016.

It might be better for Sanders to relive that year. Back then, he was David. Back then, Hillary Clinton was Goliath. But now that Goliath is dead, now that the Democratic Party is moving leftward, now that the president is weak, now that the GOP is straining under the weight of investigations from all quarters, what’s so bad about the Democratic establishment now? Why do we need David this time around?

We know Russian hackers stole DNC files. We know Wikileaks laundered those files in cooperation with the GRU. We know Roger Stone connected Wikileaks to the Trump campaign (possibly Paul Manafort or Steve Bannon or both). We know they loved them some Bernie-Hillary hate. The belief in rigged primaries likely suppressed turnout for Clinton. And we know Sanders fell for it, reacting to stolen DNC emails as if they confirmed suspicion the primaries were preordained. (Fact check: They weren’t.)

From the Mueller indictment of 13 Russians:

“On or about July 6, 2016, Organization 1 added, “if you have anything hillary related we want it in the next tweo [sic] days prefable [sic] because the DNC [Democratic National Convention] is approaching and she will solidify bernie supporters behind her after.” The Conspirators responded, “ok . . . i see.” Organization 1 explained, “we think trump has only a 25% chance of winning against hillary . . . so conflict between bernie and hillary is interesting.”

Again, I do not believe Bernie Sanders is or was involved knowingly with Russia’s disinformation operation, then or now. But even if he’s not knowingly involved, he is nonetheless involved, deeply, whether or not he wants to be. Moreover, patriotic voters who will choose the next Democratic nominee are going to hold him accountable for being involved. And they are going to do that regardless of whether that’s fair.

None of that is in question. The only question is this: Will Sanders own up to the truth? I wish he would. I can see a viable path forward if he comes clean. Rail against the capitalism, decadence and decay eating out the heart of freedom and democracy while railing against Russia. It worked (sorta) for the anti-Communist left in the 1950s. Why not for the democratic socialist Bernie Sanders in 2020? Again: Will he?

I doubt it.

—John Stoehr

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John Stoehr
Editor & Publisher
The Editorial Board

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