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In it to win it

A new book shows why it would be foolish to write off Bernie Sanders’s chances of winning the US presidential elections, says JOHN HAYLETT

Why Bernie Sanders Matters
by Harry Jaffe
(Regan Arts, £12.99)

CYNICS may scoff, in the wake of Hillary Clinton’s recent primary victories in some major US states, that Vermont senator Bernie Sanders’s relevance has receded.

They would be wrong, not simply because Sanders remains mathematically in the running for nomination as the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate and will continue to campaign through to the national convention in Philadelphia in late July.

It is also that Sanders is projecting something different in US national electoral politics. Millions of previously disenfranchised US citizens identify with his pitch and are prepared to finance it through their modest contributions.

Sanders attacks the symbiotic relationship between Wall Street and the political establishment, pointing to the readiness of his opponent Clinton to take hundreds of thousands of dollars from Goldman Sachs for speaking engagements while claiming that she will regulate the banks.

“The reason we have defied all expectations is that we are doing something very radical in American politics. We are telling the truth,” Sanders tells campaign rallies.

Harry Jaffe’s biography is supportive but unauthorised. He received no help from the subject because that’s not his style. He draws a line between private and political.

So the editor at large of Washingtonian magazine has had to do his own research, speaking to those who know Sanders including, belatedly, his wife Jane O’Meara Sanders. In the process, he draws his own conclusions.

Sanders grew up in Brooklyn in a lower-middle-class Jewish family. Most of his Polish-Jewish father’s family perished in the nazi Holocaust.

“So what I learned as a little kid is that politics, in fact, is very important,” was his laconic comment to a Christian Science Monitor breakfast session last year.

He became politically involved at college, reading Karl Marx, joining the Young People’s Socialist League and the Congress of Racial Equality and picketing University of Chicago landlords who refused to rent to African-American students.

But his main political activity began after he moved from New York and Chicago to the rural state of Vermont where property was cheap and he could buy an old farmhouse in which to live and write.

Unlike many old lefties, Sanders has never seen taking part in electoral politics as enough.

As his aide Richard Sugarman put it on hearing that he was seeking the Democratic nomination: “We gave up running symbolic campaigns long ago. He’s not in this to give a speech at the convention. He’s in it to win.”

Meticulous organisation and alliance building have been at the core of Sanders’s campaigns since he became involved in Vermont, reaching out to dairy farmers and military veterans’ organisations.

Support for US imperialism’s cannon fodder led Sanders to introduce his Veterans Affairs Bill in 2014. It offers, at a cost of $22 billion over 10 years, improvedhealth care, education and job training for demobbed military personnel.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who recently dropped out of the Republican presidential candidacy campaign, slammed it as too costly. “If you think it’s too costly to take care of our veterans, then don’t send them to war,” was the Sanders rejoinder.

His sharp rebuttal of the phoney patriotism of the ruling elite is attracting new supporters to those who had already aligned themselves with his opposition to “big money” deciding elections.

Representative Tulsi Gabbard from Hawaii, who has served twice with field medical units in Iraq and was promoted to major, chose to stand down as vice-chair of the Democratic Party’s national committee to campaign for Sanders.

Her endorsement stressed that Sanders “will not waste precious lives and money on interventionist wars of regime change.”

More prosaically, Jaffe backs Sanders’s “political revolution” as changing the course of the US “from exclusion to inclusion, from hoarding to sharing, from oligarchy back to democracy. That’s why he matters.”

Both the book and its subject are highly recommended.

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