SYNDICATED COLUMN: Bernie Sanders Could Win. America Could Become Socialist. Are We Witnessing the Failure of Propaganda?

The independent senator from Vermont says the economic system is rigged against working-class Americans. He’s right.

The electoral political system is a subsidiary of those who rule the economy. Which is why Bernie Sanders never stood a chance. The political system was rigged against him.

And yet, despite the formidable institutional obstacles stacked against him, Sanders is doing great: largely considered a shoo-in to win New Hampshire, leading in Iowa, closing the gap nationally. Surprised pundits are marveling at his popular momentum, ground organization and fundraising prowess. There is now a credible path to the Democratic nomination and, if he runs against GOP frontrunner Donald Trump, to the White House.

Center-right Hillaryworld wants to know: how did this happen?

Leftists wonder: is this cause for hope?

It is an amazing story. Everyone in a position to block Sanders’ campaign did everything they could to sabotage him.

Knowing that coverage is the essential oxygen of politics, the media mostly ignored him. By one measure, corporate media gave Trump 23 times more coverage than Sanders! On the few occasions when they spilled a little ink on Bernie, it was to insult him and his socialist politics. (My personal Exhibit A was a New York Times piece that carried a photo that emphasized his bald spot.)

Marginalization always used to work. Remember John Edwards? His 2008 primary campaign was doomed because TV networks refused to cover him. But the media’s cold shoulder isn’t hurting Bernie.

In the bag for Hillary Clinton and remembering the lesson of 2008 — the more voters hear from her the less they like her — the Democratic National Committee fed her aura of inevitability by refusing to give Bernie the exposure and legitimacy offered by a robust round of debates. Debates, the few of them the manipulative DNC chair and Hillary toady Debbie Wasserman Schultz allowed to take place, were scheduled for the nights known for low television viewership.

That tactic backfired. Hillary did better than Bernie in the first three debates. But no one saw her flex her foreign-affairs muscles.

Bernie got nothing but chicanery from the DNC, to the point that the Sanders camp had to sue to access its own voter data. Which only reinforced his image as a rebel — not easy for a U.S. senator — and further endeared him to his supporters.

Despite everything, Sanders could win.

Moreover, it’s not just Sanders the candidate who is doing well. His “unusual” politics are becoming usual.

Sanders’ self-labeling as a democratic socialist — universally considered political suicide in the United States — is catching on. In one of the most surprising poll results of the 2016 race, a recent survey of likely Iowa caucus-goers finds that more of them call themselves socialist (43%) than capitalist (38%).

Where did Iowa’s socialists come from? They certainly weren’t indoctrinated by the mainstream system. No ideology, not even radical Islam, has come under heavier systemic assault than socialism. From the Palmer Raids of a century ago to McCarthyism to the Tea Party’s (sadly mistaken) insinuations that President Obama is a secret red, socialism has been the bête rouge of mainstream American politics: reviled in ridiculous movies, misrepresented and excluded from acceptable public debate, even on the watered-down liberalism that passes for a “left.” Even in schools, socialism and communism are lied about — if they’re mentioned at all.

My friend the film critic Cole Smithey calls what we’re seeing “the failure of propaganda.”

It’s certainly a notable moment. The ruling elite’s old tricks are indeed failing them. But it’s too early to declare propaganda dead and gone. Propaganda works. That’s why those in power keep using it.

Here’s what I think is really going on: old institutions have been discredited. Sanders’ growing support and Iowa’s surprisingly socialist hordes reflect public contempt for everyone in charge.

Pundits have mostly focused on populist anger on the right, embodied by the wild neofascist-lite pronouncements of Donald Trump. But there is just as much rage on the left excluded from the Democratic Party since George McGovern’s 1972 defeat to Richard Nixon. Divided or not, one thing Americans can agree upon is that they don’t trust government — on the right to leave them alone, and on the left to help them out.

Propaganda is still effective. But when it’s broadcast by elites who are widely despised, its effect is opposite of what’s intended.

Hillary Clinton racks up endorsements from unions and left-leaning organizations like Planned Parenthood. In the past, these would have given her a boost. This year, it reinforces a negative framing of her as bought and paid for by special interests.

In days of yore the endorsement of a young actress starring in a hip TV show would have been a feather in Hillary’s cap. In 2016, it’s hard to imagine how poor Lena Dunham will wash away the stink of Hillary’s hard-edged corporatism.

Hillary has an incredible resume: first lady, senator, secretary of state. This year, she’d be better off as an outsider. Credentials subtract from her credibility. What’s wrong now, voters feel, is partly her fault.

Bernie Sanders’ campaign gets accused of improperly accessing Hillary’s data on DNC servers. In the old days, the smell of an ethical breach might have doomed his candidacy. Now, because Democratic voters are disgusted by the DNC’s brazen attempt to fix the primaries for Hillary, the controversy looks like another sleazy attack on Bernie the outsider.

Because the public distrusts journalists, the media blackout works in Bernie’s favor. Through the lens of this new politics of contempt, if the powers that be want to censor the “wild and crazy” socialist senator, he musn’t be that bad after all.

What Bernie really needs is for Hillary to receive Obama’s endorsement (which she obviously, foolishly, wants.) That would be the end of her.

The same reverse-propaganda paradigm holds true for socialism. As America’s continuously lauded state religion, capitalism takes the blame for all its associated evils: layoffs, stagnant wages, home foreclosures, health insurance companies that don’t pay claims. If socialism is anti-capitalism, an alienated populace has evidently concluded, it doesn’t matter that they don’t know very much about it. Socialism can’t be that bad.

If elected, President Sanders will be ineffective. Either that, or he’ll sell us out. Such is the nature of this system: it chews up and spits out those who don’t go along to get along.

A Sanders victory would nonetheless mark an important prerevolutionary moment. As Ché Guevara observed, people will not resort to armed struggle before they exhaust every last opportunity to nonviolently reform the existing system by casting their votes in elections.

A Sanders Administration would be our best, last, 100% doomed shot at fixing a rigged regime.

(Ted Rall is the author of “Bernie,” a biography written with the cooperation of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. “Bernie” is being released today.)


  • alex_the_tired
    January 19, 2016 11:00 AM

    The bald spot shot was bad. Even worse? This one. ( The Sanders photo is a closeup shot of him at a podium, arms outstretched to 3 and 9 o’clock. The angle is so severe, however, that his head is completely unseen. It looks like the podium has arms.

    A Sanders presidency? Assuming he doesn’t “accidentally” fling himself into a tree chipper after drinking battery acid he “must have mistaken” for a smoothie? I don’t for a second believe it will be ineffective.

    Obama was quite ineffective. At the things he and his handlers wanted. (Same for Dubya, Bill Clinton, Reagan, etc.) He was remarkably efficient. His golf game probably improved tremendously over the past eight years. Prison incarceration rates are still way, way up (great for business). Not one Wall Street exec went to prison (phew). We got a health care plan that puts a lot of money in the pockets of private pharmaceutical companies (ka-ching) and still leaves millions uncovered (even better. Sick people are easier to railroad). Plenty of people are still out of work (shareholder profits are through the roof!). Home ownership is turning into more and more of a fantasy than ever before (which means the wealthy can buy even more homes to store all their stuff because you can never have enough).

    Obama was ineffective from the progressive POV because he is part of the system, and the system told him not to make waves. Obama had a bigger groundswell of support than Bill Clinton, and he couldn’t sell single-payer health care? Don’t give me “oh, they blocked everything he tried to do.” We already know that there were dozens of things he never even tried because “it wouldn’t work anyway, no sense in appearing weak.”

    Sanders has no choice but to be effective. And he has no choice but to be dazzling effective. We’ll see, won’t we? (Again, assuming the Powers That Be let him live.)

  • Sanders won’t get anything done because he’ll have a heart attack three months in. Hillary’s steady diet of the souls and false hopes of the damned will keep her going strong.

    • LMFAO @ “Hillary’s steady diet of the souls and false hopes of the damned will keep her going strong.”

      But seriously, why not hope Bernie doesn’t even make it to election day?

      • FlemingBalzac
        January 20, 2016 1:41 PM

        Well, I wouldn’t *hope* for such a thing, but it wouldn’t be impossible.

        I think the bulk of Hillary’s support comes from liberals who, deep down, really understand that the last thing they really want is to see their policies enacted and they know that the Hill-Dog is going to talk big and deliver nothing. So a vote for Hillary is a way to signal their liberal cred without worrying about the taxes and red tape that will result if anything actually gets done.

      • A salient point. Status signaling is a huge deal to most liberals.

  • Has propaganda failed? Or has it simply changed direction? Millennials have been bombarded with Islamophobia for most of their adult lives.

    Back in the day the bad guys in every book, movie & TV show was a commie or nazi. We had presidents talking about the evil empire and playing up the police states calling themselves communist or socialist. We had the cold war and civil defense classes emphasizing duck & cover in case of a nuclear attack by those darn commies.

    You don’t hear that so much, any more. Maybe “Socialism” is no longer a Bad Word, and that’s a Good Thing.

    If every person saying, “I’d vote for him except he can’t win” were to vote for him, he would win!

    • Americans are such losers.

      Americans vote for winners who have few economic interests in common with losers like themselves. They are somehow seduced into voting for people who are rich by thinking that a rich president backed by the rich will make them rich too.

      Anybody that has a chance to win is so unlike the typical American.

      That’s why I will never vote for a winner.

      My bet is that Bernie is going to lose. Bernie is a loser. He has no chance to win.

      That’s why I am planning to vote for Bernie. Bernie is the loser candidate for losers.

      Now, if every loser voted for this loser then we losers would become winners. But that would be against the loser credo. So it probably won’t happen.

      But if all the losers did vote for this loser, he would win.

      In that case, I would lose my bet that Bernie will lose by losing for Bernie’s winning.

      Got that, you losers?

      • Got it, Glenn. I don’t know whether I’m laughing or crying, but I got it.

        I’d rather lose the good fight than lose by picking bad a winner.

      • If it comes out to Sanders against T-rump, Sanders will end up winning just like Al Gore did … or is it that Gore lost in the winner’s column?

        In any event, at least T-rump is not a member of the tribe, so if he’s granted the pResidency, he’ll at least kiss Zionland’s ass (with whatever Netanyahoobot is in charge at the time) from a Scotish/German perspective. As far as I see it, Sanders is just a (not too) deep Kosher “Manchurian.”


  • So, Ted, you’re outraged at Obama for ordering the murder of children, but you’ll invoke the words of Che? I’m not keen to give Obama credit, but at very least he didn’t relish personally executing children.

    Also, if Hillary is “center-right,” I’d expect at least some people on the right to support her.

    • I can tell you’re one of those winner millionaires just by the things you say.

      But why do you bother slumming down here with the rabble?

  • alex_the_tired
    January 21, 2016 8:47 PM

    I think propaganda has a half-life that is relatively short, and it requires fresh dosing on a regular basis. The longer it goes on, the harder you have to work at it as more and more signs of the truth trickle out.

    Hillary Clinton’s campaign? I can almost smell the scent of defeat. It isn’t there yet, but she’s starting with the missteps. I give it about another three weeks, and I expect the contagion of failure will bloom. And it will be a cascade effect. In two months, I suspect her campaign will be at the stage Monty Burns’ campaign was in after he spat out the piece of the three-eyed fish Marge Simpson served him.

    Sanders will do well in Iowa. He’ll cream her in New Hampshire. Then the server scandal will return. The FBI probe that just finished was not kind to Hill. And the FBI is going to have to do something about that report (or simply stop writing them altogether). Then the press will have to start wondering about “What will the server probe mean for Clinton’s campaign. Could she go to jail before she goes to the White House?” That sort of thing. Then there’ll be a rehash of all the prior scandals: Whitewater, Linda Tripp, Monica Lewinsky. It’s just a trainwreck in her past, isn’t it?

    Of course, at that point, she’ll be getting to the states that she’s expecting to do well in: states with lots of black voters, But she’s almost out of money at this point, and Bernie Sanders’ campaign has many, many volunteers. Her supporters have already maxed out for the most part. She bet it all on landslides in the first few primaries, and it’s just not going to be landslides. These are proportional elections: Sanders getting 33% in Iowa? That’s 1/3 of the delegates. He could wear her down to the point where she’s got no one to man the phones and no money to get things done. And if Sanders starts getting attention from the black community? Hillary could end up a very distant second.

    Meanwhile, the stock market just fell about, what, 2,000 points in the last 10 days? But, wait. Unemployment, at least the U-2 stat, is super super low, why is the stock market dropping? Why aren’t things getting better? The pundits are already discussing the NEXT recession. And while that’s going on, Martin Shkreli will be pleading the Fifth in front of a Congressional committee in a couple days. More grist for the mill.

    I think it will take a miracle (or Bernie Sanders dying before he names a Veep) for Hillary to win.

  • People don’t have to vote for Sanders to get their best “doomed shot” at proving by painful experience that the system is hopelessly rigged against them. This is why historians are so helpful. We’ve had this experience before. The most recent and obvious example of how the system is rigged happened in the period of 2006 – 2010. In the 2006 congressional elections the Democrats promised that if they got control of Congress and the Senate that they would do all in their power to end the Iraq war, such as withholding funding for the war. They did nothing. In 2008 Obama campaigned as the peace candidate who would put an end to the wars and close down Guantanamo. He did nothing of the sort.

    For 2 years the Democrats had a large majority control in both houses of congress and they held the presidency. They had the power to do practically anything they wanted, maybe even make amendments to the constitution, but they did absolutely . . . NOTHING!!!

    Bernie has always caucused with the Democrats, he is running as a Democrat, he always has been, in essence, a Democrat. The Democratic Party is a key part of the political establishment and they will NEVER EVER lead a revolt or even a significant reform movement against the status quo.

    Don’t vote for Bernie. Don’t vote.

    • On the other hand, Republicans *could* “lead a revolt or even a significant reform movement against the status quo,” if they happened to have their party hijacked by, say, a charismatic, straight-talking tycoon.

      • Sure they *could* … if it weren’t for the fact that they profit so much from the status quo.

        You don’t seriously think that Trump would do anything for the middle class, do you? Or take power away from the wealthy?

        If so, then I’ve got a deal for you, two Brooklyn Bridges for the price of one! Cash only, and small, non-sequential bills please.

      • CH,

        Even if Trump only comes through on just immigration or free trade or even one other lesser issue, that still makes him the best choice we have.

    • So … Bernie won’t do anything because Obama didn’t do anything. Yeah, that’s some real sound logic there – guilt by association and other assorted fallacies.

      I’m still curious why a self-described socialist is working against any sort of reform in the US. Not that I’m expecting any more answer than I’ve gotten the last half-dozen times I brought it up.

      • “I’m still curious why a self-described socialist is working against any sort of reform in the US.”

        Because I honestly do not consider Bernie to be leading a progressive reform. He is, as I explained and as his history shows, in essence a Democrat. The Democrats have a long track record of not helping the working class and oppressed of the US or anywhere else in the world. They are part of the establishment and are dangerous reactionaries.

      • “…in essence a Democrat. The Democrats have a long track record ”

        Guilt by association & argument by assertion. Care to try a new fallacy?

    • > maybe even make amendments to the constitution

      uh, no, actually – unlike the countries you keep championing, changes in the US government require the consent of the governed. Might I suggest you try reading that document before commenting on it? Otherwise you just wind up looking foolish…

      …on second thought – don’t bother.

      • From Article V of the US constitution:

        “The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress . . .”

        The Democratic controlled congress could have gotten the process started. It may have been a bit of a long shot to actually succeed in having an amendment ratified depending on the particulars of what it said, but they could definitely have put out a proposal, and with the help of a handful of moderate Republicans, they could have gotten the ball rolling.

        The Democrats could have easily shut down funding for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, but they chose not to.

      • So, let’s do some math – you need two thirds of both houses just to start with. The senate is 54% dem today, at the beginning of O’bummer’s term it was 50.5%. Don’t know how they do math in Russia, but in the US, 50.5% is hardly an overwhelming majority – nor is it anywhere near two thirds.

        The House was 54% dem at that time, and 46% now. Again, not exactly an overwhelming majority, especially when it’s in a minority. Given the GOP habit of opposing anything vaguely related to O’bummer there is no way you could pull off a two thirds majority; let alone getting it past the states.

  • FIRST! Neener Neener!

    (Just knocking our Russian shill off the top of the column, since it seems to be so important to him to claim that spot. 😉

    • Congratulations.

      I had an original comment to make and so it showed up on top. The last comment always does.

      Sometimes I need to reply to someone and the thread has run out and so I have to make a new comment that will appear at the top. That’s all.

      • Threads don’t run out, they merely stop intending.

      • Everyone else has figured out how to reply in line.

      • Now that you know that, will we stop seeing you at the top of the column?

      • I guess I can’t be much of a professional troll, then. They should have taught me that at Troll Institute.

        If I have a comment to make that I want to address to everyone, then I will make a new comment that will appear at the top.

      • … bu the proof in the pudding will be whether you refrain from doing so when you are responding to an existing thread.

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