Slow Bern: The Sanders Candidacy In Perspective

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Slow Bern: The Sanders Candidacy In Perspective

'In the end, it is popular movements that bring about change by putting pressure on elected officials.' (Photo: Michael Vadon/flickr/cc)

It’s true folks, Hillary Clinton has caught up with Bernie Sanders, and they are now tied in delegates. This is becoming a real race!

The fact that Sen. Sanders is running such a successful campaign is quite historic in the context of our recent political history. It’s wonderful that so many people are excited by Bernie, especially young people. He is shaking up the campaign and the democratic party, which really needs some shaking.

"It’s not the person that we are voting for that is the most important thing, it is their program, a set of policies that will improve the lives of our fellow citizens and make us a better neighbor in the world."

Bernie has inspired millions of Americans because he is a hard-working public servant with a long history of honesty and consistency on the big issues. His refusal to accept Super PAC money has gone a long way towards convincing people that he's not bought and sold. His integrity and record, including his record on veteran’s rights, give him a broad appeal that may make him the most electable candidate, because he’s getting a lot of support from independents, and even some republican voters.

Bernie electable? You may laugh. But for those who don’t think that America will elect a Jewish socialist hippie carpenter, let’s not forget that tens of millions of Americans worship the archetypal Jewish socialist hippie carpenter every Sunday (and one with very long hair).

That being said, I hope that we can agree that it’s not the person that we are voting for that is the most important thing, it is their program, a set of policies that will improve the lives of our fellow citizens and make us a better neighbor in the world.

There's something in the air...

Bernie is setting forth a program that is by far the most sensible set of proposals for our nation:

  • Civil rights for all Americans: Racial justice, women’s rights, LGBT rights, disability rights
  • Reform of our justice system & prison system, including ending private prisons
  • A fair immigration and humane policy
  • Single payer health care
  • Free public colleges and universities
  • A living wage for all Americans
  • Public investment in infrastructure and energy to create decent paying jobs
  • Expanding social security by lifting the cap on payroll taxes
  • Financial regulation and Wall Street reform
  • Progressive taxation to reduce income inequality
  • Campaign finance reform to strengthen democracy
  • A rational foreign policy
  • Environmental policies to combat climate change

Bernie is a self-described democratic socialist, inspired by the wealthy nations of northern Europe, including Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Germany, France and the Netherlands. It’s important to realize that, in the context of our history, he is not a radical. When you look at his program, as Robert Kuttner has pointed out, he is essentially a New Deal democrat like FDR and Harry Truman (remember, Harry Truman tried to pass single-payer health care in 1948, almost 70 years ago).

New Deal democrats became rare in the 90s. Pres. Bill Clinton, under pressure from the racist Reagan revolution, ended up passing right-wing policies that Reagan could only dream of, including welfare reform, the crime bill, deregulation (esp. the repeal of Glass-Steagall) and NAFTA.

In fact, the progressive agenda has stalled and been set back for well over 30 years, ever since Reagan became president. So there is a lot of work to be done, and Bernie is showing the country what is possible.

And it’s not pie in the sky. The sorts of policies that Bernie is proposing work in every other wealthy nation in the industrial democratic world: Western Europe, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Japan. None of these nations is a perfect utopia. They all have their problems. But we can learn from them, because they have solved many of the problems that we face. Perhaps they can learn from us as well.

The point is that we have to be rational about policy, and look at what works, and discard what doesn’t. And many of our policies are not working. Everybody in America should rush out and see Michael Moore’s new movie “Where To Invade Next” in order to learn about some very practical ideas that are extremely effective in other countries, including mandatory paid vacations in Italy, high quality school lunches in France, labor rights in Germany, rehabilitative justice in Norway, free colleges in Slovenia, and a high degree of political leadership by women in Iceland.

The whole movie is like a two-hour campaign commercial for the Sanders platform, although, to be fair, the example of Iceland is a great advertisement for the Clinton campaign. Still, I truly believe that if every American of voting age saw “Where To Invade Next”, along with “The Big Short” (which is about the financial crisis of 2007-2008), Bernie would win in a landslide.

Why don’t we have these sorts of sensible policies in the good ol’ USA? We must remember that Bernie’s candidacy, is part of a long struggle for civil rights and economic justice in America. There have been victories and losses, and sometimes we’ve taken a step backwards after having made real progress. This is a battle that we will be fighting for the rest of our lives.

Bernie himself has been working on these issues for decades. His candidacy is built on previous historical efforts, as well as his own hard work over the years. In calling for a political revolution, Bernie reminds us that we have to keep our eyes on the prize, and realize that electing one candidate won’t solve everything in one fell swoop. Whether he wins or loses the primary, his campaign can and must advance the progressive agenda in the US.

With that in mind, here’s how I view the presidential campaign:

1. Support Sen. Sanders because he’s got the best program and he is the most electable candidate.

2. Even if Bernie is behind in delegates, we must encourage him to go all the way to the convention and put pressure on the party to become more democratic, and to make sure that the platform and Sec. Clinton’s campaign is as progressive as possible.

3. If Sec. Clinton wins the nomination, we must support her because the progressive agenda will be set back for years if a republican become president.

4. If Sec. Clinton wins the presidency, we must continue to put pressure on her. As President Obama said, presidents can’t do the job alone.

In the end, it is popular movements that bring about change by putting pressure on elected officials. We have to continue to build the movement for a more just America. The world we live in today is a much better place because of the struggles of millions of Americans in the movements for women’s rights, civil rights, LGBT rights, labor rights, economic justice and environmental sustainability. This battle didn’t start with Bernie’s candidacy, and it won’t end with this election. Now, let’s get to work to elect Bernie!

Chris Siebert

Chris Siebert is a jazz and blues piano player based in San Francisco, and the bandleader for touring singer Lavay Smith & Her Red Hot Skillet Lickers.

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