bernie sanders, the pope, and the politics of amnesia

I see a lot of excitement online, in places like Common Dreams and The Nation, and in my Facebook feed, about Bernie Sanders, supposedly remaking US politics, and Pope Francis, supposedly remaking the Roman Catholic Church.

About Sanders, I shake my head and wonder why long-time Democrat voters do not see him and his candidacy for what it is. About the Pope, I wonder why progressive people allow themselves to care.

Sanders is the new Dean

Bernie Sanders has been praised as a maverick, an independent, and a socialist. All of which may have been true at various points in his political career.

Right now Sanders is running for President as a Democrat. He is not spearheading a movement to build a new alternative. He is not refusing corporate funding and appealing to the grassroots. He is not "challenging politics as usual," as headlines in progressive news sites often say. He is seeking the Democratic nomination, which means he will play within the boundaries of that game.

And that game demands that Bernie Sanders not run for president. I suspect it's already a done deal: that in return for firing up progressive voters and helping them to believe that their cause is the Democrats' cause, he has already been offered a cabinet position, should Hillary become POTUS. I'd be shocked to learn that this is not the case.

However, whether or not there is already a backroom deal in place, we can be assured that Bernie Sanders will not be the Democratic presidential nominee. No matter the size of the crowds at his appearances, no matter the polls. The nominee is not chosen based on crowds, nor on polls.

Just as we have always been at war with Eastasia, there has always been a Bernie Sanders. His name has been Dennis Kucinich, and Howard Dean. His name has been Jesse Jackson, and Paul Wellstone. He exists to reassure and corral the liberal vote. He does his part, then fades away, as the "electable" candidate is tapped for the big show.

I recently saw this headline: Sanders and Trump Offer Two Roads Out of Establishment Politics—Which Will We Follow?. In what way does Sanders offer a "road out of establishment politics"? During his tenure in Congress, he has voted with the Democrats 98% of the time. Sanders is seeking the Democratic candidacy and Trump is seeking the Republican candidacy. What is anti-establishment about that?

Francis is not the new anything

And then there's the "radical pope". If ever there was a time for the "you keep on using that word" meme, surely it is when the word radical is applied to the leader of the largest hierarchy on the planet.

In what way is this pope radical? He has said some things. He has made some statements.

Pope Francis has declared that Catholic priests will temporarily be allowed to absolve the sin of abortion without obtaining special permission from a bishop. And media hailed this as the Church softening its stance on abortion!

Absolution? The Pope should be begging our forgiveness for the untold number of women who have died from illegal abortions, the orphans and desperately poor children whose mothers were denied contraception, the families forced into poverty by the Church's own policies. The Church offers a brief amnesty for women who exercised their human rights? Fuck you.

Pope Francis has made some statements against unchecked capitalism and in sympathy with the world's poor. Has the Church renounced its immense, tax-exempt wealth in order to feed the hungry world?

"God weeps," said this Pope, at child sexual abuse, and similar statements of contrition that survivors have heard from two popes before him. Pope Francis praised his bishops' handling of the sex abuse crisis, only to back down after an outcry from survivors and advocates. One more "carefully choreographed" statement. One more nothing. If survivors themselves had not risen up and demanded the world hear them, the Church would still be playing whack-a-mole with pedophile priests.

Pope Francis has acknowledged that LGBT people are human beings, and perhaps will not suffer eternal damnation for leading their own lives. Gee thanks, Pope.

There is no doubt that Pope Francis has changed the tone of a tone-deaf institution that is decades, if not centuries, behind the times. Because liberation movements - of women, LGBT people, indigenous people, sexual abuse survivors - have changed our very world, the Church was finally forced to acknowledge modernity.

But he has altered nothing of substance, and certainly has not moved one iota towards radical change.

This pope name-dropped the great radical leader Dorothy Day, much as every US politician quotes Martin Luther King, Jr. But besides his speeches in the US, what did Pope Francis actually do? He canonized Father Junípero Serra, a Spanish priest who was actively complicit in the genocide of indigenous peoples of North and South America.

Yet this change of tone and some heartfelt conciliatory speeches are enough for the media - including much alternative media - to hail Pope Francis as a Great Bringer of Change.

Mass amnesia

I watched in wonder as liberal USians hailed Obama as the Great Bringer of Change, then had their hearts broken, as per usual. Yet now, less than a decade later, they appear to be hypnotized again.

Bernie Sanders will not save us. Pope Francis will not save us. We are the people we have been waiting for. If we want radical change, we have to band together and create it ourselves. Idle No More. Occupy Wall Street. Fight for 15. The member organizations of 350.org. Food Inc. No One Is Illegal. Marinaleda. Los Indignados. And a million other groups - groups without names, groups without media coverage - groups of people, acting collectively. This is the way forward.

Vote for Sanders in the primaries. Then dutifully vote for Hillary for president. And wonder why nothing ever changes.


allan said...

Vote for Sanders in the primaries. Then dutifully vote for Hillary for president.

Just as Sanders has promised he will do. Way to think outside the corrupt system, Bernie.

And wonder why nothing ever changes.

What the definition of "insanity" again?

allan said...

And anyone else notice how Sanders avoids talking about anything outside the US's borders? Two reasons for that are his full support of the US's war crimes around the globe and Israel's on-going genocide of the Palestinians. ... What an iconoclast.

Kirbycairo said...

I grew up in the US, I have been involved with Sanders campaigns and others like him. Your critique overlooks a fairly simple fact - Saunders is not trying to place himself outside of the paradigm of US politics per se. Rather, he is trying to make a more traditional (Roosevelt-like) attitude once again viable in the US. Any radicalism that he may possess is tempered by his basic blue-collar, slightly left of centre Americanism. Be critical of it, fine. However, don't overlook that in any large, economically imperialist nation, change is almost always incremental - it is almost always a slight change in certain mainstream discourses that happen way before any real political change. Radical political change always percolates at the margins. The reason Sanders entered the democratic race is as much about his American pragmatism (which is squarely in the tradition of other Americans like Pierce, James, and Dewey) as it is about anything else.

laura k said...

I don't disagree with your critique of Sanders' POV. The point of my post, however, is that Sanders will not get the Democratic nomination. That is a foregone conclusion.

Another point of my post is that the media and many of his followers are hailing him as something new and different, someone who is "remaking" politics. One does not remake anything by aligning oneself with the status quo.

This post doesn't critique Sanders' platform at all.

laura k said...

Another point of my post: Democratic adherents seem not to recognize a pattern they have seen before, indeed have seen in every election where a Democrat was not the incumbent.

James Redekop said...

The current Pope is quite radical as recent Popes go, in that he seems to have actually taken the Sermon on the Mount somewhat to heart, rather than being completely obsessed with Leviticus -- much to the chagrin of the Religious Right in the US. And I admit, just about anything which riles up the followers of Supply-Side Jesus gets a few bonus points from me. (Of course, anyone who leads a global organization dedicated to perpetuating obsolete feudal moral systems gets a lot of negative points, too... But Tim Minchin's Pope Song (NSFW) is slightly less applicable to Frances than it was to Papa Ratzi.)

Kirbycairo said...

I simply don't agree with you Laura - important changes come from both within the establishment and without. Both revolutionary and evolutionary change is necessary. I would use both Napoleon and FDR as good examples. Napoleon was both evolutionary and revolutionary in his way. He came from a very conservative military background but when he came to power he continued various progressive elements of the revolution and instituted revolutionary elements of his own. FDR was very much part of the establishment but he was also an agent of genuine and lasting change. Genuine revolutionary change is also important, in ways that many people don't understand. But it is just too simplistic not to understand the role that evolutionary change can play at times. Change is a dialectal process not simply a linear one.

laura k said...

Kirby, I don't disagree with you about the need for both evolutionary and revolutionary change. But it seems like you're completely misreading this post, responding to something I didn't write.

Bernie Sanders will not be running for president. The present system will not allow it. The Party is not changing, the electoral system is not changing. Thus Bernie Sanders is the latest in a long line of liberal/progressive Democrats who ultimately do not run for POTUS and who fall in line after their moment of the sun has faded.

Perhaps you disagree with that, I don't know. But you seem to be having a different debate.

laura k said...

And I admit, just about anything which riles up the followers of Supply-Side Jesus gets a few bonus points from me. (Of course, anyone who leads a global organization dedicated to perpetuating obsolete feudal moral systems gets a lot of negative points, too

I definitely agree on both! But real change coming out of the RC Church? We haven't seen that yet.

James Redekop said...

Hey, they apologized for that whole "Eppur si muove" thing, didn't they?

allan said...

Laura and I agree with a lot of what Bernie Sanders has been saying lately. But his actual words have absolutely nothing to do with Laura's post. What I believe she is saying is that it seems obvious (from both recent and past history) that Sanders is merely playing a role in the grand theater of the U.S. presidential campaign. (And I personally believe that Sanders is smart enough to realize that to himself.) There is 0% chance that he will be the Democrats' nominee. Laura is expressing amazement at people who should know better thinking "oh, but THIS TIME things will be different". And why would things be different? The system is only more broken and corrupt and crooked and unfixable than it was four years ago (when these same people went ga-ga over Obama, who promptly (and predictably) veered right-wing with a bigger thirst for war and the murder of innocent people than Bush).

Kirbycairo said...

Laura - I don't believe that I am misinterpreting what you have said. Rather, I responding to the implications of part of what you said. First of all, the claim that Sanders has already made a "deal" is pure speculation on your part. I agree that he knows he won't be the candidate, I take that as read. And the point is not some sort of deception that "things will be different" this time. I believe that Sanders goal, and it is a goal of many such evolutionary socialists, is to influence and shift the debate as much as possible. That might be a small amount or a large amount, this is yet to be seen. There is no doubt that some people are naive enough to think that this is some kind of "revolutionary" moment, I also take that as read. People like Sanders are simply trying to change the terms of debate a bit because they think that this is the way to change things in the long run. He may be wrong or right, but that is what is going on.

laura k said...

Kirby, thanks for discussing and clarifying.

The idea that there is already a deal is speculation, absolutely, I cannot claim to have that knowledge. But it is speculation based on knowledge of what has happened in previous races, on a local, state, and federal level, in the US. Backroom deals are very common and neither party is a stranger to them.

I will only quibble with one thing you've written here. One cannot be a sociliast and an imperialist at the same time. Bernie Sanders was once a socialist - my partner is from Vermont, near Burlington, so we go back a long way with Sanders - but he can no longer credibly wear that label. Evolutionary, revolutionary, doesn't matter. If you condone a system that makes war for profit, you are not a socialist.

allan said...

The Pope apparently met with Kim Davis and thanked her for her courage and told her to "stay strong". ... Yep, he's a real progressive, that one.

James Redekop said...

I agree with the Pope that conscientious objection is a right -- I'm half Mennonite, after all -- but Francis seems to have forgotten that conscientious objectors in the army don't get to stay on as soldiers, they have to quit and find other work.

And, of course, it's kind of rich for the Pope -- head of an organization which includes the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for dealing with people who protest about policy -- to take this position.

laura k said...

Exactly. Conscience is a human right. All the woman has to do is quit her job, and she can exercise her conscience all day long.

James Redekop said...

IIRC, there was a controversy in Vancouver -- and I'm pretty sure this also happened in the US -- where Muslim cabbies have refused to take passengers with dogs, and there was a lot of outrage at the cabbies. Same thing with stories of Muslim grocery clerks refusing to ring up alcohol purchases.

Of course, for Kim Davis's defenders, religious freedom only applies to Christians. I've seen it argued in the US that the First Amendment's Establishment Clause only means that the US gov't can't pick and choose a particular form of Protestantism over any other, but is completely free to ban all other religions (including Catholicism, which these particular people did not consider to be Christian).

Which brings up another irony: Pentecostalist Kim Davis chumming up with the head of the evil Papist cult...

laura k said...

Which brings up another irony: Pentecostalist Kim Davis chumming up with the head of the evil Papist cult...

I noted that, too. Normally not the best of friends, but if it comes to working against equality for LGBT people... you know what they say about politics and strange bedfellows.

James Redekop said...

you know what they say about politics and strange bedfellows.

What, that politicians spend too much time thinking about other people's bedfellows and not enough about their own? ;)

laura k said...

Good one. :)