Decimated. I’m watching Bernie Sanders following the South Carolina primary, and he’s not putting any gloss on the rout he suffered. Decimated is the word he uses.
So here’s where we are, Bernie fans. We had a tie and a close loss in the first two caucus states. We won big in the New Hampshire primary. We lost twice as big in South Carolina. This is all-too-familiar territory for those of us in Wolfpack Nation. Some early-season successes. Blown out by our first tough opponent. What did legendary N.C. State basketball coach Jimmy Valvano advise in such circumstances? “Too bad,” I think he said. “We’re hosed. We can’t win. We should drop out and root for Carolina.”
No! He didn’t say that! He said never give up! Never, ever give up! You know, like Hillary Clinton said this country will never, ever figure out how to ditch the insurance companies and save everybody money with Medicare for All—Bernie’s plan.
Well, Hillary has her never, ever, and Bernie supporters should have ours. We should vote for our guy if we want to, knowing he’s unlikely to win, but so was the ’83 Wolfpack—until they reeled off nine upsets in a row to take the national championship.
Notice, I am not trying to persuade Hillary’s fans to vote for Bernie. That would be like asking people in light blue shirts to put their thumb and middle fingers together while holding up the other two. Can’t happen.
Hillary’s voters have a right to their belief that the way the country’s going is the best we can hope for—and so what if we’re moving steadily to the right, ceding more and more power to corporations and the wealthy few? Because if the Republicans take the White House, we’d be worse off, and besides, Hillary has experience.
But for those not sold on Hillary, I offer these five reasons to vote for Bernie in the March 15 Democratic presidential primary.
1. He won’t win the nomination.
Wait, what? We should vote for him because he won’t win? Well, yes, in a way. The most effective argument Hillary’s campaign has used against Bernie is that if he’s the nominee, he’ll lose in the general election and Donald Trump—Donald Trump!—will be president. Sure, it’s bull, and the truth (oh, OK, my guess) is that Trump probably can’t be elected, but if he can, it will be because he takes Hillary’s long record of mistakes and mistruths and twists it around her neck to the delight of a majority of voters who don’t like him, but they like her even less. Bernie, a paragon of political virtue—and who else can you say that about?—would simply shrug off Trump’s insults while advocating his platform. I think Bernie does better against Trump than Hillary—and, to this point, anyway, the polls agree.
But again, we don’t have to go there, because thanks to the Democratic establishment—the party officials and elected officeholders who are superdelegates to the Democratic convention—Bernie has little to no chance of actually winning the nomination even if he gets a majority of the primary votes. So there’s no need to fear The Donald on Bernie’s account.
2. Thus, you are free to vote your aspirations.
Do you think the rich should pay more in taxes and the very rich substantially more? Should trade deals put Americans to work and not just line the pockets of corporate executives and shareholders while exploiting cheap labor in third-world nations? Should public colleges and universities be tuition-free? (Remember, students would still pay for room and board, which costs a boatload, but Hillary likes the idea of college students paying something toward tuition, too.) Do you think Wall Street traders, the ones we bailed out with literally trillions of dollars from the treasury department and the Federal Reserve, could pay a small tax per transaction, which would pay for the tuition-free program?
These are among the plans that Bernie advocates and Hillary says are unrealistic. But what makes them unrealistic is that neither political party—neither the Democrats nor the Republicans—supports them. The only way they become realistic is that people demand them, candidates support them, and the candidates get votes—enough votes to get the attention of at least one of the two parties.
If you like these ideas, the way to move them forward is to vote for Bernie. In fact, the mere threat that you might vote for Bernie was enough for Hillary to reverse her long-held support for NAFTA-style trade deals that benefit corporations but not labor or the environment and come out against the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a deal she supported as secretary of state.
It was the “gold standard” of trade deals, Hillary assured us, before listening to Bernie—and Bernie’s rising poll numbers. Pay no attention to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which predicts that Hillary will reverse herself again and find a way to be pro-TPP if she gets to the White House.
3. Bernie is right on the issues.
The Age of Technology will be remembered—if humanity survives—as the time when computers, the Internet, and cellular communications allowed businesses to operate on a global scale, challenging the authority of even the most powerful nations to regulate them. Business is, by definition, profit-driven and oriented to the short-term. Labor is a cost. Adherence to environmental rules is a cost. Attention to the future health of the planet is, if not a joke, only a sales pitch for the copywriters to lie about.
The biggest issues of our time revolve around global corporations and their bankers. Will corporations be allowed to exploit labor, or will governments require (via tax policy and trade rules) that they share their profits with workers and society? Will they be allowed to extract oil, natural gas, and coal by any means necessary, even to the point that the carbon emissions bring global warming and catastrophic damage to human habitats? Will they be permitted, even encouraged, to develop and sell advanced weapons, planes, and ships to nation-states that may be here today, with their oil money, but be overthrown by terrorists tomorrow? Will the U.S. continue to make war in the Middle East through corporate proxies, supposedly in the cause of peace but in fact creating enemies everywhere we go?
These are not simple problems with fill-in-the-blanks answers. But any attempt to solve them must begin with the recognition that if corporations, libertarian billionaires like the Koch Brothers, and military arms dealers like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Raytheon are allowed to control government policy, we’re in deep trouble.
This is what Bernie means when he talks about leading a political revolution in which the people take back their government from the—everybody now, with your best New York accent—the billionaires and the corporations. I don’t say that Hillary doesn’t understand the threat. I do think she is tone-deaf about what it takes to achieve political change. She thinks she can continue to take campaign contributions from Wall Street executives—the corporate bankers—and not be influenced by them. Maybe. But as long as she does, and other politicians do, the rest of us can be forgiven if we throw up our hands and decide that politics is corrupt and both political parties are corrupt. And we won’t be wrong.
Bernie is a political hero in Vermont because he ran for office again and again without taking money from corporations or their political action committees. He lost some, won some, but he was true to his principle that he couldn’t serve two masters, and that if wanted to serve the people, he needed to turn the big money down. Yes, Vermont is a small state where someone like Bernie could win the voters’ trust without much money behind him. Should we penalize him for not moving, say, from Arkansas to New York, where the really big political money is?
And it’s not just Hillary’s political contributions that should bother us. Hillary was paid $675,000 for three speeches to groups at Goldman Sachs, the Wall Street firm—personal payments that exceeded, for a few hours work, Bernie’s total net worth from forty-plus years in public life. She says she took the dough because that’s what she was offered as a former secretary of state, and because she didn’t know at the time—this was in 2013—whether she’d be running again for president.
Oh, c’mon. She was already running, if unofficially. But she just doesn’t get it that it’s not all right when she and Bill line their pockets with giant speaking fees from banks and corporations—and universities, by the way, which may be one reason they cost so much to attend—and then she turns around and says that working people shouldn’t be paid $15 an hour, a minimum wage worthy of being called a living wage, and $12 an hour is plenty for them to live on, thank you very much.
You want to change the country? Be the change. Bernie’s life story is standing up for change though it cost him money and more than one election. He’s financing a national political campaign on millions of individual contributions averaging $27 each. It’s hard to believe, like the ’83 Wolfpack.
I want to reward that kind of behavior with my vote, not Hillary’s tone-deaf denials—or maybe they’re just lies?
4. We desperately need the debate.
I don’t want to be glib about the issues. Climate change is going to be extremely difficult to reverse, if we can do it at all. The threat from terrorists is real, and upheaval in the Middle East will worsen in coming decades, especially if renewable energy sources displace oil and the desert regimes go broke. Technology, which should improve our lives, is thus far helping some to get rich and millions of others to be cast into poverty. The American middle-class is eroding, and it won’t be easy to restore it.
In American politics, the Republican Party is no help. To the extent that it stands for anything, it stands for unfettered corporate power and the God-given right of all of us to acquire and hoard as much wealth as we can—with compassion for the poor, of course. In fact, it’s worse than that. Donald Trump is their leading presidential candidate!
Unfortunately, we have only one other political party in this country, the Democrats. Once the party of working people—white working people, prior to the civil rights movement—it has been, in the Age of Technology, the party of letting big business have its way but with slightly higher taxes on the rich than the Republicans would like. And lip service to labor unions.
This is the legacy of the Bill Clinton administration, which deregulated Wall Street, approved NAFTA, cut capital gains taxes, weakened the social safety net for the poor by, among other things, going along with Newt Gingrich’s bill to repeal welfare, and decried trickle-down economics while swallowing most of its tenets. Meanwhile, black males were jailed for drug use under a federal crime bill that Bill and Hillary Clinton both supported but now concede was a disaster.
The Clintons argued that a leftist political party couldn’t win in the United States, and that to be viable against the Republicans and big businesses, Democrats needed to split the differences and find a “Third Way.” The upshot is, as the Republicans have veered crazily to the right, splitting the difference has meant that Democrats have also moved right, leaving the fate of working people to the tender mercies of the “market.”
Bernie, by contrast, has always presented as a socialist—now, a “democratic socialist”—who believes in a stronger safety net, including government-funded health care, and in using government to create jobs, with corporations and the rich kicking in to pay for them. The centerpiece of his platform is his Rebuild America Act, a $1 trillion proposal over five years to modernize infrastructure (roads, transit, the electricity grid), creating—he says—13 million jobs. The jobs would pay at least $15 an hour, his proposed minimum wage. Money for the program would come from closing corporate loopholes.
Hillary’s response to this is twofold. She has a smaller infrastructure-jobs program. And she says Bernie’s plans aren’t realistic, because—again—he’ll never, ever be able to get them done.
Well, no he won’t, as long as the Republicans control Congress. Neither will she be able to get anything done as long as the Republicans control Congress, unless getting stuff done means passing the Republicans’ plans, as Bill did with Newt Gingrich’s bill to end welfare.
To get things done in a progressive way, the Democrats must persuade the country to support them and throw the Republicans out. I’d say Bernie’s plans, because they’re more ambitious, are more likely to bring on the revolution that’s needed to make that happen. I don’t hear Hillary saying anything that’s the least bit inspirational or transformative, beyond the fact that she’d be the first female president and, yes, I think that would matter. If she wins, which is not a given.
But here’s the thing. Turnout so far in the Democratic primaries and caucuses is dismal. Bernie’s not pulling them in, except in New Hampshire. Neither is Hillary, who won in South Carolina by a landslide but with younger voters and white voters staying away in droves. Compared to 2008, when Barack Obama defeated Hillary and John Edwards, the Democratic turnout was off by some 30 percent.
It’s early, and yet it’s not. Just four states have voted, and two of them only in preliminaries—the caucuses—yet the media is pronouncing this race over and Hillary the winner. The TV talkers are fixated on Trump and the GOP trainwreck, which I must concede is great entertainment—and big profits for the corporations that control the media—as long as you don’t care about anything serious like how people are supposed to support themselves with no jobs and no welfare.
But if you do care, you’ll want the Democratic campaign to continue, and Bernie and Hillary to keep battling over how to combat climate change, how to put people back to work, how to restore the safety net, and whether it’s true that a rational health care system can never, ever even be hoped for.
This country is horribly informed about the issues, which translates to terrible voter turnout year after year, which translates to Republican victories, because our ignorance is their strength.
The Democratic establishment, though, not wanting Hillary to stumble, scheduled as few debates as possible in the early months of this campaign. Then a funny thing happened on the way to her coronation. A seventy-four-year-old socialist caught fire and moved from 3 percent in national polls to, in a few recent ones, a virtual tie with Hillary among Democrats and independents. He did so despite being ignored by the major media, who were all Trump all the time.
Bernie survived on the power of $27 contributions and a viral campaign that excited young voters especially, though obviously not in great enough numbers thus far.
But if Democrats really want the country to hear about the issues and what their presidential candidates are saying, they’ll keep the debate going—and the only way that happens is if Bernie remains competitive and stays in the race.
And he can’t do that if his fans give up and don’t vote for him.
5. Bernie would be a helluva president.
I know I said he can’t win. I don’t think he can. But imagine if he did. Imagine if enough people hear him, and his message breaks through—as it should. Fewer wars. More jobs. We conquer global warming by rebuilding our electric and transportation infrastructure. We make college affordable to all, and, as education levels improve, so does the public’s ability to figure out what government should be doing, and not doing, to keep the country strong and safe.
Bernie is no novice. He’s shown as a mayor, as a congressman and as a U.S. senator that his judgment is good and his brand of socialism is more practical, more realistic, if you will, and better for America than letting corporations and the rich have their way.
Did I say judgment? Bernie and Hillary were tested in that regard when they were asked, as members of Congress, to support the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Votes like that one are symbolic, of course. The Bush administration was invading anyway, regardless of the vote, and regardless that Hillary wants us to think it was still an open question when she voted yes.
But votes like that one are about courage, and whether you have the fortitude to say that the answer to every problem in the world isn’t American bombs or soldiers, that forbearance is often the strongest action. Hillary failed that one. Bernie passed.
I think if Bernie were somehow elected president, it would mean that the transformation that this country needs is underway, and the next four years would be amazing.
After which his vice president, Elizabeth Warren, would succeed him, and she’d be a worthy first woman president.