Can Bernie Save America?


The Soviet Union self-destructed exactly 25 years ago.  The 20-somethings who’ve helped power the Sanders movement were either not born or too young to remember it.  The rest of us have no such excuse.

The historic collapse of the Free World’s totalitarian nemesis came after more than four decades of Cold War during which time the world was effectively divided into two camps each headed by a superpower armed to the teeth with weapons of mass destruction.  That event created a great opportunity for the United States to chart a new course both at home and abroad.

In foreign policy, the United States could have turned away from military interventionism and involvement in protracted wars far from our shores, costly wars we did not need to fight and could not – cannot – win. We could have reduced arms spending so that US defense budgets would be in line with the share of GDP other countries devote to war readiness. Instead, we still spend as much on “defense” as the next nine largest military powers in the world combined.

We could have used the “peace dividend” to undertake much-needed national infrastructure rebuilding projects, public transportation systems (light-rail and high-speed train networks) and comprehensive national health insurance, to name a few public-policy areas where America lags behind a long list other countries, including not a few with per capita GNP levels far below ours.

We haven’t done any of these things.  Instead, our political and economic elites have placed crass personal gain above the national interest and common good to a shocking degree since the dawn of the “greed is good” Reagan era.  The so-called 1% are the big winners, of course.  They now own a huge share of everything worth owning in this country, including the most valuable asset of all – the United States Congress.

Meanwhile, the people are the big losers. Until Bernie Sanders appeared on the scene, we have had nobody with an effective voice to speak for the public interest – the common good – for so many years that most voters had all given up on the possibility, all but forgotten what a real-deal representative of the people looks or sounds like.  Of course, that’s every plutocrat’s idea of the perfect political order.

As Noam Chomsky recently observed:  “We have this phenomenon where someone is taking positions that would have been considered pretty mainstream during the Eisenhower years that are supported by a large part, or considerable majority of the population, but he’s dismissed as radical and extremist. That’s an indication of how the spectrum has shifted to the right.”

Calling Sanders radical or an extremist would be laughable in the UK or Germany.  But in the US it can be an effective fear-mongering tactic; the people who use it are often the same people who control the mainstream media and stuff money into the pockets of unprincipled politicians.

To say that, “Bernie has substantively — even profoundly — changed American politics for the better,” as Jim Hightower has written, is perhaps wishful thinking.  But his comment that “it’s a chance for voters who have been disregarded and discarded to forge a new political revolution that will continue to grow beyond this election…” is indisputably true.

It’s the first real chance we’ve had in decades.  We have to hope it won’t be the last.

At one point not long ago even an undaunted optimist like Chomsky expressed the opinion that “in our system of mainly bought elections, [Sanders] doesn’t have much of a chance.”  Indeed, the belief that Bernie didn’t have a chance was pervasive from the start year and it’s been a huge hurdle ever since.

But the scoffing and ridicule suddenly stopped, the cognoscenti fell silent, and the Democratic party establishment teamed up with the big news organizations to boost Hillary’s position as the heir apparent and to create a self-fulfilling prophecy, a sense of inevitably.  Surely, we were told, Hillary will win the nomination and go on to win in November.

But Hillary has not been the story so far in this election year.  The voters have rallied around two candidates.  Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.  Whatever else might be said of Trump, he has clearly tapped into a deep reservoir of anger and discontent.  But Trump is the anti-Sanders; he is all ego and bluster and bull.

Sanders and Trump have certain obvious things in common.  Both are outspoken.  Both speak the peoples’ language.  Both take risks and “let it all hang out”.

But Sanders is different in every way that counts.  He speaks truth to power, he doesn’t pretend he has the power to create his own truth.  He isn’t a billionaire and doesn’t claim to have all the answers, but he’s not afraid to talk about real problems. Problems the others chose to ignore.

We can’t fix what we won’t admit.

Sanders has raised roughly $186 million to Clinton’s $262.7 million.  Virtually all of the Sanders campaign financing has come from small donations.  That’s democracy in action, folks.

Hillary has gotten $76 million from super pacs and other pacs. That doesn’t mean she isn’t infinitely preferable to Trump or Ted Cruz (she is), but it does speak volumes about the mood of the electorate.

Sanders has proven that he has more than a chance. Whether or not he has a chance to win the nomination in a sclerotic political party system in dire need of campaign finance reform is still an open question.  But what’s even more important for the nation’s future is this: Sanders has seized the chance to change the way we think about what is possible in this country. To show that votes and voters can make a difference.  That we can change this corrupt and corrupting system.  And in the process save it from the fate of the other one-time superpower.

Save it, that is, from self-destructing.


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