Bernie Sanders for President? In Our Dreams
Bernie who? Unless you’re a political junkie like me, Vermont’s independent Senator Bernie Sanders may not be a familiar name on the political landscape. That’s about to change, since he declared on April 30th that he’s running for president, and as a Democrat. He’ll be challenging the already ordained Hillary Clinton. Robert L. Borosage or Reuters, writes that the two are mirror images of each other. She has universal name recognition, unlimited funds, national campaign experience, and a powerful political machine. He has scant name recognition, paltry funds (he refuses to accept big money with its customary strings attached), no national experience, and is just putting together a staff.
These drawbacks make his run tough enough. But in an age where candidates for national office must look like movie stars, Bernie falls a little short telegenically. His unruly hair and rumply overall appearance remind one more of the TV character Columbo, he’s 73 years old, and ethnically Jewish, his parents having emigrated from Poland. Oh, and did I mention he’s a Socialist? Grab the women and children and head for the tornado shelter. So let me tackle each of these issues. Is America ready for a (secular) Jewish President? Well, we elected a black one — twice — and would seem to be on the verge of electing the first woman (sadly, it won’t be Elizabeth Warren), so I don’t see a problem there. At 73 he’s the same age as Ronald Reagan when he began his second term. What Bernie lacks in charisma he makes up for in passion and authenticity. With a jackhammer speaking style, he plainly articulates his ideas with elegance and simplicity. As for his mirror image failings, in the first 24 hours of his campaign, he raised $1.5 million from about 35,000 people. It was up to twice that in four days, and after the first week he has over 200,000 volunteers. Like Obama did in 2008, Bernie is hip to the social media thing, something the Republicans haven’t grasped yet (not being into science or technology).
What about the socialist thing? When Republicans use the word, they want people to think of Stalin or communist China, where the government owns the means of production. Bernie doesn’t want the government making his jeans or his cars, and neither do I. He is specific when he unapologetically identifies himself as a democratic socialist, after the European models in France, Germany, Holland, and the Scandinavian countries. The armed forces, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, the U.S. Postal Service, these are all socialist forms, so people should just take a deep breath. The Sunday after he declared, he was on ABC, and George Stephanopoulos asked him about the “S” word, of course. Bernie talked about the democratic model in Scandinavia, where everyone has national health care and free college. Stephanopoulos: “I can see the Republican attack ads now; Bernie wants America to be more like Scandinavia!” “That’s right,” Bernie answered, “and what’s wrong with that?” He went on to point out that many countries have a stronger middle class, better pay, stronger environmental laws, and that while we do well in many areas, others are doing better; why not look at how they’re doing it? So putting labels aside, I want you to read the main ideas in Bernie’s platform, and see how much sense they make to you.
Jobs — Bring back the jobs! Since 2001 60,000 factories have been shut down or moved overseas, costing between 5-6 million jobs. Part of that is due to the tax break companies get when they offshore. Those subsidies should be ended, and given to companies to induce them to stay here. Our nation’s infrastructure is badly in need of repair, and we need a massive jobs program similar to FDR’s Works Progress Administration, which would put millions back to work, and making a living wage.
Economy — “We have a grotesque level of wealth and income inequality in this country, the worst in the developed world. I want an economy that works for all of our people, rather than a few billionaires.”
Money in politics — We need to get money out of politics by overturning the disastrous Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, and go to a public funding model: “A political system in which billionaires can buy our legislators doesn’t sound like democracy to me.”
Student loans — Let’s make it possible for students to get a college education free, or at least make college loans with the same interest rate (under 1%) that the banks get when borrowing from the Federal Reserve. It’s an investment in our future, and other developed countries understand that.
Health care — The U.S. is the only one of the 34 developed nations that doesn’t guarantee health care as a human right, and whose primary health care is a privately owned “pay or die” profit system rather than a national single payer one. These countries spend half the amount we do per patient, and have better patient outcomes.
Social programs — We don’t need to cut social programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, SNAP (food stamps), WIC (Women, infants & children supplemental nutrition), and others. We need to expand them.
Tax reform — Let the big corporations and the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes, like the rest of us. That means getting rid of the Capital Gains tax for passive income like investments, which is only 20%. No matter how you earn money, it should be taxed the same rate as other earnings, with a top marginal rate of 39.6%. And we need to raise that rate. We must keep the estate tax, which for the most part, only applies to the upper tenth of a percent.
Climate change — “We have a Republican Party that with but a few exceptions, does not even recognize the reality of climate change.” We should be leading the world in moving away from fossil fuels to more renewable energy sources.
You should know that in a February poll by GPA Strategies, commissioned by the Progressive Change Institute, at least 70% of recipients agreed with the above ideas. The polling was across the board, Democrats, Republicans, and independents. These are things the American people want by a wide majority. This is how Bernie has been winning elections in Vermont. He goes out and engages with the public in town halls, cafes, and city squares. Ten years ago it was common to see Bush/Cheney signs in lawns everywhere, with a Bernie Sanders sign right next to them. In his last campaign he was up against a buttoned-down, immaculately coifed, Bentley-driving Republican, and he still got 74% of the vote (Vermont is about 55% Democrat). And he didn’t run a single TV ad.
The big question is how will the media treat Bernie? Their corporate masters don’t like the things he’s saying, so I wonder if he’ll get access to coverage or be more or less treated as a sideshow. They won’t be able to ignore those six debates the Democrats have planned. Many Americans will see in those debates something that may confuse them — a genuinely caring, passionate man who pulls no punches and minces no words. That’s charisma, at least in my book. We can expect Fox (alleged) News to hammer on him, and we’ll hear democratic socialism equated with Marxism. Fortunately, there’s the democratic process made possible by social media. Also, the national conversation over income and wealth inequality started by the Occupy movement still resonates with a lot of people nationwide. Realistically, he probably doesn’t stand much of a chance against the Clinton machine. Many will say well, at least he’ll push Hillary to the left, and that’s true. On “Face the Nation” Bernie told Bob Schieffer that as President, he wouldn’t nominate anyone to the Supreme Court who supports the Citizens United decision. A mere four days later Hillary said the very same thing in a media interview. Since Bernie entered the race, she’s become quite the progressive. But I don’t want someone who has to be pushed to the left; I want someone who’s already there, who has been there his whole career. Matt Taibbi, in his excellent article in Rolling Stone said it well; he had the overall impression that Bernie is motivated to use his political power to help people who can’t help themselves. He may be one of the last honest politicians in America, and maybe our last chance to reclaim this country from the oligarchs (of course it won’t matter if the Republicans retain control of Congress). The 2016 election could be very interesting, even compelling. Bernie may not win, but I think he’s definitely the best one for the job.