Any sandwich but socialism, please

Ed. note: This column is the author’s response to Paul Krugman’s column in the April 15, 2016 edition of the New York Times.

Paul Krugman’s latest piece in the Times, “The Pastrami Principle,” is just one in a series of recent, let us say, smears against Bernie Sanders. And what’s the essential message of this one? Sanders is a liar and a racist for not being ashamed of his victories in recent primaries with lots of white voters. I hope Krugman does not expect to put this turd in everyone else’s sandwich without comment.

This latest accusation comes on top of previous Krugman charges that Sanders’ economics are “smoke and mirrors“; that he has infantile economic fantasies; that he’s a “single-issue” bumpkin only interested in that humdrum money issue; that he’s a gun nut; and more.

On the subject of “smoke and mirrors,” I submit that this is exactly what Krugman is deploying in these snarky arguments of his. He does this instead of addressing what he really does not like about Sanders proposals: they require too much socialism, too much working class and popular mobilization, and indeed perhaps too much “revolution” – restructuring the current class and power structure – to achieve.

What his hit pieces against Sanders mostly consist of are political biases, not economic judgements. And they are based on a fundamental pessimism about the country as a whole and its aspirations.

Krugman’s angst could be considerably ameliorated if he was spending more of his day talking with folks on the Verizon picket line. No doubt he would have argued that this was basically a strike against automation and trade agreements, and thus likely doomed. There is some grain of truth in that. But that’s not the underlying and important truth. Nor is it the meaning of a 35,000 worker strike.

The American worker is reaching nothing-to-lose-but-chains status as the the decades roll on with no improvement – or, at most, one-step-forward, two-steps-back “improvements” in standard of living and security. It’s a protest against the rigged game for workers. Get on the picket line, Paul. You will feel better about everything.

Now, I do not agree with Bernie on every issue. I don’t think opposition to trade agreements is the effective path to restoring U.S. workers’ bargaining strength in the economy. And is it true that his pitch to African Americans could be better tuned? Of course. I believe he has been responsive to criticisms on this matter, and his polling numbers among African Americans have been steadily improving as people get to know more about him. 

But is he a sincere friend and supporter of every movement and legislative effort to redress racial, national, and ethnic inequalities? Yes. And, most important, is he a consistent friend to every working class issue and movement that is struggling against austerity? Yes. 

So, why treat him as an enemy? Indeed, what question to working people is more important than those two enumerated above? None that I can think of.

So these issues of Paul Krugman’s are just smoke over the real one: his fear of the degree of socialism that may be needed in order to do what must be done – reversing austerity. 

Now, it is not so bad, in my opinion, to show fear in the face of potentially revolutionary changes – changes that the ruling elite will not accept willingly and will deploy every available resource to crush. And I ask every Bernie supporter who calls my radio show, Winners and Losers, if they really want a “revolution.” Most say yes, interestingly. But there is a lot of hot air and empty talk about revolution in the U.S. among some of the “Bernie Bros,” as there has been among numerous others over the decades. I predict the counterpunch from the billionaires, should Bernie actually approach the nomination, will be a fierce and dangerous thing to behold, and a thing to fear.

But that gets to the essential question of this election, on the Democratic side: Does defeat of the ultra right require reversing austerity?

Not just talk. Not just “calling out.” But really reversing austerity.

And if so, does that require “revolutionary,” as contrasted with “triangulation,” tactics? Bill Clinton was brilliant at times playing off the liberal and reactionary forces in Wall Street, high tech firms, and others against each other. But is that sufficient now? Can we raise wages while still promising the billionaires the level of rewards they currently enjoy? 

I lean strongly toward Bernie’s analysis. But I am still, in truth, officially undecided. I want to see if the temper of the people (and my own temper too) is ready to walk the walk that Bernie’s campaign of truth demands.

Bernie Sanders is not a lot of hot air. He is a man who always meant precisely what he said when I knew him in Vermont. He is using the phrase “political revolution” today very deliberately and consciously. He is saying, “Citizens: I am not promising anything but a straightforward and honest struggle for a better life. But this is the kind of struggle in which everyone, including all the politicians, will have to shed some real skin in the game.”

Do I wish Dr. King and the Poor People’s Marchers were walking beside him to add an even broader dimension? Yes.

Do I wish Lincoln, FDR, John L. Lewis, Frederick Douglass, the miners of Matewan, the Rebel Girl, John Henry, the veterans of a thousand working class movements and struggles for human rights were holding him up!? Yes, yes, yes.

We will need the living as well as the spirits and souls of the dead, plus the jeweled lights of the future, to prevail. But we will rise!

John Case is host of The Winners and Losers Radio Program, which broadcasts from 7:30 AM to 9:00 AM EST, weekdays on 89.7 FM from Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, West Virginia.  The program can also be heard on the Internet at Listen Live.

Photo: Burlington Mayor Bernard Sanders greets presidential candidate Jesse Jackson at a campaign appearance at Montpelier City Hall, December 31, 1988.  |   Toby Talbot/AP


John Case
John Case

John Case is a former electronics worker and union organizer with the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers (UE), also formerly a software developer, now host of the WSHC "Winners and Losers" radio program in Shepherdstown, W.Va.