How to Stop Being a Shameless Hypocrite

Three top contenders for the Shameless Hypocrite Award goes to Bernie Sanders, Cornell West, and the American Labor Movement (no particular order).

What all three have in common is that they often quite eloquently rail against the machine yet their actions keep the engines oiled. Bernie the ‘Socialist’ never once pulled a Mr. Smith Goes to Washington against either Bush or Obama. Even back in Jimmy Stewart’s day it would have been customary to see a politician with a full bladder (or perhaps a jar nearby) ranting and raving about some injustice.  Now the simple mention of a filibuster or asking for time with that in mind can cause Heaven and Earth to stand still. The Republicans know how to play this game all too well. Or maybe it’s just that the Democrats are so easily cowered into relenting?

Where was Bernie as village after village was being droned in Pakistan? Where is Bernie to stop Obama’s appointments to Treasury or the CIA? He might likely vote no, but it’s a safe vote. Makes him look good that he goes against the President. But he is a smart politician and can count. He knows his nay vote is symbolic only, and symbolic of impotence.

Cornell West: When it comes to civil rights and the rights of people all over, who is on the liberal talk shows and media circuit but Cornell?  It’s clear he’s astute enough not to take things too personally. He did get over the Obama snub, after all. Or did he? In an interview with Truthdig in 2011 he called Obama, “a black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs and a black puppet of corporate plutocrats. And now he has become head of the American killing machine and is proud of it.” Such powerful words, yet he went ahead and endorsed him so as not to see Romney elected.  Guess he figured that the Democrats would remain impotent with a Romney presidency and give him everything he would want, as Obama has already been doing without any substantial Democratic challenges.

And now we come to the labor movement. Not your father’s labor movement, for sure. Richard Trumka, President of the AFL-CIO, rallied his army of union activists to campaign for one of the most anti-union presidents since Reagan. Where was Obama when Wisconsin needed him? Where is he when teachers’ unions are being busted all over the country? That answer is simple: playing basketball with the union-buster in chief, Arne Duncan, Secretary of the Department of Education.  President Obama’s wardrobe has to consist of more than just wing tips and gym shoes. How about those shoes he imagined he had when he said in his first campaign that he’d walk the picket line with us? California nurses did offer to buy him a pair.

The list of shameless hypocrites is never ending. We can round it off with Michael Moore, of course.

So how to stop being such a shameless hypocrite? For one, stick to your principles and don’t play politics. That takes courage. Courage to stand up against the winds of complacency and the courage to be true to yourself every day.

The second way is probably the easiest for those who hold power; those with the microphone and a national presence, those with a movement or organization behind them, or those with big mouths and can do what they want with it. Use endorsements as a weapon to achieve your goal, not as a crutch you’re afraid will be pulled if you go off the scripted path. Have national union leaders, from Randi Winegarten to Richard Trumka, ever said, “This is what you have to do NOW and promise for the future if you want our endorsement. We can wait for an answer.”

How more powerful a message could you deliver if the intended target has to do what you say, not the other way around?  Grassroots Republicans (with millions of corporate dollars behind them) know how to play this game.  That is why they are so effective and why the Democrats try to out-Republican them whenever possible. President Clinton was a master at this.

All three listed above could easily have said, “The clock is ticking, Mr. President. Are you going to even mention the poor in one of your stump speeches? (He didn’t) Are you going to give us economic leadership who works for Main Street and not Wall Street? (Fat chance) Are you going to support a national card check or speak out against State Houses that are removing our bargaining rights? We’re waiting. November 6 is just around the corner.”

If only that was the message then and similar statements today and for future elections/endorsements!

Myles Hoenig is a veteran of the Prince George's County Public School system in Maryland, USA. He's a long time activist for social justice. He lives in Baltimore. Read other articles by Myles.