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Bernie’s Problem With Blacks — And Others

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Bernie’s Problem With Blacks — And Others

Bernie Sanders

So Barack Obama is “a Rockefeller Republican in blackface.” He’s “a black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs” and “a black puppet of corporate plutocrats.” Those are the words of Cornel West, an African-American academic whom Bernie Sanders invites to campaign beside him.

And Sanders’ fans wonder why Bernie isn’t catching on with black and Latino voters. They argue people of color just need to know their hero’s “positions.” They’d learn that if Sanders were to win the Democratic nod and be elected president, he would do more for them than any other candidate out there.

Wait one second.

Everyone is entitled to criticize Obama’s policies, but beating him up in racial terms is crude and unfair. Being black himself does not excuse West from the racial extortion he practices. (By the way, why can’t an African-American be a Rockefeller Republican if he so chooses?)

Not only hasn’t Sanders condemned these remarks but also his campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, defends them. Weaver says of West: “He’s a forceful voice for understanding the intersection of racial justice and economic justice. He understands very well Bernie’s message.”

Boy, are these guys tone-deaf.

That’s the problem with movement politics, no matter what end of the political spectrum they occupy. Movement politics tend to be narcissistic and dictatorial. They allow dissent only within a narrow philosophical band. That constrains the ability to hear through others’ ears.

Mother Jones magazine related the story of how Sanders swatted down a fellow Vermont activist for posing an innocent but off-script question. It was during Sanders’ 1972 run for Vermont governor that Greg Guma asked Bernie why he should vote for him. Guma recalled Sanders responding: “If you didn’t come to work for the movement, you came for the wrong reasons. I don’t care who you are; I don’t need you.”

Sanders has much mellowed since then, but he still inhabits a self-righteous cocoon that has made him an ineffective and marginal figure in the Senate.

Even Democrats express frustration at working with Sanders, an independent who caucuses with them. Moderates bristle at his moralizing and refusal to make compromises required to pass needed legislation. The undeniably liberal Barney Frank, former Rep. from Massachusetts, complained of Sanders’ “holier-than-thou attitude.”

Bernie’s positions on civil rights have been close to impeccable, but his history with non-whites is more complicated.

Back in 1960s New York, black radicals weren’t keen to sit at the knees of white intellectuals and be told what’s what. The ensuing tensions prompted many white radicals to flee to the more accommodating hills of Vermont. Sanders was one. There’s no gentler way to put this, but they were part of the era’s white flight.

I’m not crazy about the term “white privilege,” but there is something to the notion that middle-class whites get a pass on the sort of “bad choices” that ruin black lives.

Jeb Bush consumed prodigious amounts of pot in his dorm room at the elite Phillips Academy with no legal consequences. Had a poor black teen been caught doing the same thing on his front steps, he might very well have gone to prison. He couldn’t have served in the Army, much less as commander in chief.

Sanders has a son born out of wedlock. In 2015, that is not a disqualifier — certainly not if you’re a white male. If you’re black (or female), I couldn’t imagine such a detail going so little noticed.

I know that Bernie people are going to howl at me for this unflattering portrait. I ask them how they’d react to Donald Trump’s defending race-studded attacks against our admirable president.

They may insist that to know Bernie is to love him. Well, love can be blind — and deaf.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at www.creators.com.

Photo: Bernie Sanders pauses to talk to the media before the start of the Milford Labor Day Parade in Milford, New Hampshire on September 7, 2015. REUTERS/Mary Schwalm.

Froma Harrop

Froma Harrop’s nationally syndicated column appears in over 150 newspapers. Media Matters ranks her column 20th nationally in total readership and 14th in large newspaper concentration. Harrop has been a guest on PBS, MSNBC, Fox News and the Daily Show with Jon Stewart and is a frequent voice on NPR and talk radio stations in every time zone as well.

A Loeb Award finalist for economic commentary in 2004 and again in 2011, Harrop was also a Scripps Howard Award finalist for commentary in 2010. She has been honored by the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and the New England Associated Press News Executives Association has given her five awards.

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  1. Jerry Schull September 15, 2015

    West has a point. Obama did hire one of the proponents of Greenspan’s bubble burst economy. That same unregulated mindset caused the recession.

  2. Dominick Vila September 15, 2015

    If all the far right has to say about Sen. Sanders is that he told a reporter to pound sand in 1972, and that he has a son born out of wedlock, Bernie is in better shape than most of us thought.
    What is evident, besides the fact that the right is already aiming at a different target, is that they are, once again, relying on personal attacks and distractions to destroy opponents. Ostensibly, because they cannot challenge the claims or positions taken by their opponents without losing credibility.

  3. Lydia Mpls September 15, 2015

    How has Bernie Sanders ACTUALLY VOTED on issues of concern to people of color? Given that current polls (Aug-Sept 2015) say 90% or More of African-American voterxs are FOR Hillary, I figure they are grossly UNINFORMED—about both Hillary & Bernie. The 8 years of Bill & Hillary Clinton passed policies that CONTINUE to harm the African-American community from escalating the “war on drugs”, mandatory minimum sentences, 3 strikes & you’re out (2/3 applied to NON-violent crimes). added almost 50 MORE crimes eligible for the death penalty, unraveled social safety net, paved the way for foreclosure crisis that hit Black & Latino families hardest, pushed for tens of thousands MORE police on the sztreets WITH NO ACCOUNTABILITY at all, did NOTHING to strengthen unions (which helped build Black middle-class), repealed 1930s Glass-Stegal & other protections that paved the way for 2008-9 Wall Street crash. And all this article can say is that Bernie made a couple of remarks DECADES AGO & he moved to Vermont.

    1. Eleanore Whitaker September 15, 2015

      Actually, that’s an unfair assessment of the Clinton Administration. It wasn’t three years into the first term of President Clinton that the Gingrichians were up to no good sabotaging everything they could find about Bill Clinton. And please do explain to us how Hillary in her husband’s first term of office presented a healthcare reform plan that didn’t get anywhere due to a GOP Majority? If she was so bad for minorities, why bother with healthcare reform so early in the game?

      Your post is loaded with lies you can’t even prove in a court of law.

      President Clinton didn’t repeal Glass Steagall ALL by himself. Do you always assume a President is also a dictator who ignores the Republican Majority?

      As for Sanders, while he deserves the respect Americans have for him, he is what the GOP wants. He is far easier a candidate to beat than Hillary. A vote for Sanders is a vote for a GOP president.

    2. Otto Greif September 15, 2015

      Glass-Steagall repeal didn’t lead to the 2008 meltdown.

  4. Learjet September 15, 2015

    Never mind all that, If he wins the nomination, the GOP will win the White House. There is no way we’re going to ellect a 75 year old self described socialist who looks like Einstein on crystal meth. Be careful what you ask for.


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