“Bernie the Bomber’s Bad Week” by the late Will Miller is perhaps the most quoted and most-cited piece of ‘left’ criticism of Bernie Sanders and therefore deserves serious scrutiny. At first glance “Bernie the Bomber’s Bad Week” appears to be a muckracking exposé but a closer inspection reveals that it is riddled with embarrassing contradictions and is written with as much respect for the facts as the average Fox News story on President Barack Obama.
Gulf War and Iraq Sanctions
Claim: “Bernie became an imperialist to get elected in 1990. In August, 1990 — after the Bush administration enticed Iraq into invading Kuwait — Sanders said he wasn’t ‘going to let some damn war cost him the election,’ according to a staff member who was present at the time. So Sanders backed the buildup in the Persian Gulf and dumped on the left anti-imperialist peace movement, singling out his former allies like Dave Dellinger for public criticism. … After being safely elected in November of 1990, Bernie continued to support the buildup while seeking membership in the Democratic Congressional Caucus — with the enthusiastic support of the Vermont Democratic Party leadership. But, the national Democratic Party blew him off, so he finally voted against the war and returned home — and as the war began — belatedly claimed to be the leader of the anti-war movement in Vermont. … Sanders continues to support sanctions even though the Iraqi body count has now passed 1.5 million.”
Fact: Sanders’ positions on Iraq’s 1990 occupation of Kuwait and the subsequent U.S.-led 1991 Gulf War had nothing to do with Democratic Party. From day one, Sanders supported getting Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait without going to war and voted against the use of force.
Furthermore, Sanders signed an open letter calling for the murderous sanctions on Iraq to end.
Simply put, Miller lied about Sanders’ stand on sanctions and twisted a good vote against the Gulf War into an act of evil born of opportunism. But lying is the least of Miller’s crimes; in the quote above, he blamed the Bush administration for ‘enticing’ Saddam Hussein to invade Kuwait. So Miller would have us believe that Saddam Hussein — one of the most vicious tyrants in the history of the Middle East — was a helpless victim duped by the big bad U.S. government while the real bad guy we need to worry about is Bernie Sanders.
Kosovo and Activist Arrests
Claim: “Sanders as the self-appointed moderator/boss opened the evening [of a town meeting] with naked self-justification. ‘It is a very complex situation…’ followed by the ritual of demonization of Milosevic — a technique he has perfected over the last eight years on Saddam Hussein of Iraq. Then he presented the false dilemma that the only alternative to bombing is doing nothing. Sanders said his situation was the same as that of Joschka Fischer’s of the Green Party, Germany’s Foreign Minister, who has outraged his Green Party membership by supporting the bombing his coalition government is carrying out as part of NATO. … Apparently, with all the college and universities in Vermont, Bernie had to travel far into flatlander territory to find an academic willing to support his ‘bomb now, talk later’ position. … The overwhelming majority of the people present were against Sander’s support for the bombing. Even with all his attempts to control the meeting, the people had at him for more than an hour and a half. He was denounced for his selling out to the Empire and it’s war machine and for his support for the 9 year old war against Iraq and his active support for every US intervention since he has been in Congress – Iraq, Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Liberia, Zaire (Congo), Albania, Sudan, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia.”
Sanders’ position can hardly be described as ‘bomb now, talk later’ when it was the Yugoslav government’s ‘kill now, talk later’ stance that precipitated the crisis to begin with. Yugoslavia walked away from international talks on Kosovo and escalated their murderous war on Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian majority. Sanders felt that the only way to stop Yugoslav military forces from continuing to expel the ethnic Albanian population after diplomacy failed was to use military force while at the same time re-doubling diplomatic efforts.
Events proved Sanders right right. After 78 days of bombing and intense diplomatic maneuvering behind the scenes, Yugoslavia capitulated and 95% of Kosovo refugees that fled the fighting returned home within a year.
As for Miller’s gripe about being arrested at Sanders’ office, isn’t the whole point of civil disobedience to get arrested and thereby draw attention to a cause? Miller himself even admitted the arrests took place “at 6:30 PM, one half hour after closing time” of the office. So the proof that Sanders “lurched to the right,” joined the political establishment, and betrayed the peace movement is that his staff wanted to go home instead of camping out at their workplace all night long to serve as unpaid babysitters for protesters too unreasonable to come back the next day? The only thing more laughable is the notion that Sanders is so gung-ho for war that he not only ‘actively supported’ U.S. military actions in Iraq (nevermind his voting record) but also in places where it never occurred like Albania.
This is crackpot leftism at its worst.
Democratic Party Hypocrisy
The Democratic Party eventually got tired of having its teeth kicked in at the polls by Bernie Sanders and gave up running against him. Instead of hailing this humiliating surrender by the Democratic Party to an avowed democratic socialist as a victory for politics independent of the two-party system, Miller bemoans the absence of Democratic Party candidates running against Sanders and sings the praises of the ‘unauthorized’ Democratic Congressional candidate Delores Sandoval– all while accusing Sanders of selling out to the Democratic Party! If there were a way to quantify and measure hypocrisy, Miller’s remarks on this issue would score off the charts.
Hardly anyone who cites “Bernie the Bomber’s Bad Week” as a damning indictment of Sanders bothers to study it closely much less investigates the website it is hosted on which belongs to the Liberty Union Party. The Liberty Union Party and Sanders have a long history:
Bernie Sanders was the Liberty Union’s first candidate for governor, receiving 1% of the vote in 1972. Martha Abbott, Progressive Coalition candidate for Burlington City Council in 1992 and key campaign coordinator in Sanders’ 1990 Congressional race, won 5% in 1974. Sanders was again the candidate in 1976 and reached 6%. Sanders concluded that the Liberty Union Party had lost momentum and was at a dead end. He resigned as chair and from the Party in 1976. The Party dropped to 3% in 1978 and has generally hovered below 1% since then. The Liberty Union has developed into a tiny club of idealists with no interest in gaining political power.
Not only did Liberty Union Party have no interest in gaining political power, they tried to block Sanders from gaining or wielding such power on behalf of working people by running against him in almost a dozen elections starting in the 1980s. Since the publication of “Bernie the Bomber’s Bad Week” there have been four elections for Liberty Union Party and the Will Millers of Vermont to make their case about Sanders to the voters. Here are the results:
Gubernatorial Election, 1986
- Bernie Sanders (I) – 28,418 (14.4%)
- Richard Gottlieb (LU) – 491 (0.2%)
Congressional Election, 1988
- Bernie Sanders (I) – 90,026 (37.5%)
- Peter Diamondstone (LU) – 1,455 (0.6%)
Congressional Election, 1990
- Bernie Sanders (I) – 117,522 (56%)
- Peter Diamondstone (LU) – 1,965 (0.9%)
Congressional Election, 1992
- Bernie Sanders, (I) – 162,724 (57.78%)
- Peter Diamondstone, (LU) – 3,660 (1.30%)
Congressional Election, 1994
- Bernie Sanders (I) – 105,502 (49.8%)
- Annette Larson (LU) – 1,493 (0.7%)
Congressional Election, 1996
- Bernie Sanders (I) – 140,678 (55.2%)
- Peter Diamondstone (LU) – 1,965 (0.7%)
Congressional Election, 1998
- Bernie Sanders (I) – 136,403 (63.4%)
- Pete Diamondstone (LU) – 2,153 (1.0%)
Congressional Election, 2002
- Bernie Sanders (I) – 144,880 (64.2%)
- Jane Newton (Liberty Union Party/Vermont Progressive Party) – 3,185 (1.4%)
Congressional Election, 2004
- Bernie Sanders (I) – 205,774 (67.4%)
- Jane Newton (LU) – 261 (0.0%)
Senate Election, 2006
- Bernie Sanders (Independent) – 171,638 (65.4%)
- Peter Diamondstone (LU) – 801 (0.3%)
Senate Election, 2012
- Bernie Sanders (Independent) – 207,848 (71.0%)
- Peter Diamondstone (LU) – 2,511 (0.86%)
The people of Vermont have clearly and repeatedly rejected this ‘left’ critique of Bernie ‘the bomber’ Sanders and it is not hard to see why:
Will Miller’s and Liberty Union Party’s petty-bourgeois radicalism consists of little more than moral outrage and empty gestures (not to mention Saddam Hussein apologism), none of which resonates with or excites working-class Vermonters who rightly and overwhelmingly see Bernie Sanders as their champion.