As we all know by now, Bernie Sanders is campaigning on a promise to change American politics in such a way that benefits the middle class and working families at the expense of corporate greed and influence.
“I am asking you to be part of a political revolution,” Bernie told his supporters last summer. “A revolution which transforms our country economically, politically, socially, and environmentally.”
While some have wondered how Bernie’s revolution will stand up to the realities of governing should he win the White House, what’s often been overlooked is the fact that the Vermont Independent has had plenty of opportunities to buck the system as a U.S. Senator. He has not always taken those opportunities, instead siding with big corporations at the expense of the taxpayer.
Nowhere is this more evident than his unwavering support for one of the biggest boondoggles in U.S. military history: the F-35.
What began as a noble effort to bring the U.S. military into the future with a state-of-the-art, radar evading fighter jet unmatched by any of America’s adversaries, has turned into the most expensive and cost ineffective weapons programs in U.S. history. It is currently around $200 billion over budget and the lifetime cost will hover somewhere around $1.5 trillion (yes, that’s a “t”). For reference, with that money we could buy Australia, a mansion for every homeless person in America, or better yet, provide free college tuition for the next ten years for all Americans.
But it’s not just the F-35’s eye-popping cost that’s troublesome — it’s that, combined with the fact that it doesn’t work. Throughout its short history, the F-35 has been beset with a wide variety of problems, for example ejection seat malfunctions, engine failure, and unreliable components. What’s more, the beleaguered aircraft can’t even beat its predecessor in a dog fight, and after 15 years of testing, a Pentagon official wrote late last year that the F-35 cannot demonstrate that it “is operationally effective or suitable for use in any type of limited combat operation or that it is ready for real-world operational deployments.”
But in fact, while Bernie says he opposes the F-35, he also says his hands are tied in doing anything about it because the military has already decided that it’s the plane it wants, and because of that, he argues, he might as well use it to bring jobs to his home state of Vermont.
“In the real world,” Bernie has said, “the plane is built, it is the plane of the U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force and NATO and your choice is whether it goes to Vermont, South Carolina or Florida.”
At a recent town hall event, a voter told Bernie that he doesn’t understand why Bernie supports the F-35 given its cost, the fact that it doesn’t work, and Bernie’s own calls to take on powerful corporate interests.
“Well you may think it doesn’t work, the Department of Defense does think it works,” Bernie replied, adding, “It employs hundreds of people. It provides a college education for hundreds of people. So for me the question is not whether we have the F-35 or not. It is here. The question for me is whether it is located in Burlington, VT or whether it is located in Florida.”
That sentiment, that the political and economic realities of wasteful government spending trump systemic change, stands in stark contrast to Bernie’s rhetoric out on the campaign trail. Indeed, it contradicts Bernie’s own comments on this very issue.
“In very clever ways, the military-industrial complex puts plants all over the country, so that if people try to cut back on our weapons system what they’re saying is you’re going to be losing jobs in that area,” Bernie said in 2014, according to the Daily Beast. “[W]e’ve got to have the courage to understand that we cannot afford a lot of wasteful, unnecessary weapons systems, and I hope we can do that.”
Ben Freeman, a Pentagon budget expert and Senior Policy Advisor for National Security at Third Way, told Blue Nation Review that “it’s hypocritical for Sanders to support the largest weapons program ever and then decry the Military Industrial Complex just to excite his liberal base,” adding, “To paraphrase Sanders– you can be against the Military Industrial Complex. You can support the largest weapons program ever. But, you can’t do both.”