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Dear Americans, Please Stop Dreaming of a Better Nation

Scaling back dreams? Is that what we want?

Sen. Bernie Sanders delivering a speech at Grandview College in Des Moines on the eve of the Iowa caucus. (Photo: National Nurses United/flickr)

This political season seems decidedly more bizarre than others have been. It's not just the fact that someone as arrogant and ignorant about real life as Donald Trump is leading on the Republican side.  What really troubles me is the assertion that we ought not aspire to achieve the best, most equitable and just solutions to our most serious problems because that is unrealistic, politically infeasible and dooms us to fail. This criticism of Bernie Sanders' platform is really unsettling.

This argument that we ought to tamp down our political aspirations has taken many forms as it is oft repeated by those politicos who seem terrified that Bernie might actually win the Democratic presidential nomination.  Some say it's the difference between going with the heart or the head. Others have suggested that you have to ground yourself in reality to actually get things done.  And still others seem to suggest that the reason Bernie does so well with young people is that they are somehow hopelessly idealistic and not yet willing to see the realities of political feasibility.

"Despite a half century of really hard work, I do not own a home, I have limited savings, and my retirement plan is Social Security—if I live long enough to actually retire. This is a far cry from what I dreamed for myself."

Wow.  I think these arguments might be the most unacceptable and bizarre part of the presidential primary season. Who would ever want to ask our young people to scale back their dreams and goals?  As Americans, I thought we have always prided ourselves on our unbridled optimism and our ability to do what others do not believe they can do. We are a nation of dreamers and a nation of doers.  And I want every young person in America to keep attaching themselves to a powerful narrative of building a better future. My generation hasn't done so well so far in leaving a legacy of improved conditions, and Bernie offers that hope to me and to the young alike. That is powerful stuff.  Why would we ever want to temper that?


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The less flattering argument about Bernie's platform is that somehow the issues he addresses and solutions proposed are less well thought out or reflect some lesser degree of intelligent problem solving.  That is insulting and just flat wrong. Every issue—from Medicare for all, single-payer healthcare to tuition-free public college to an end to mass incarceration to expanding and protecting Social Security to implementing a financial transaction tax to pay for these incredibly important plans—is grounded in the reality that so many people are being harmed by the lack of appropriate policy change for decades in Washington, D.C.  For many years, Bernie stood alone as he demanded a different way to conduct business.

So, as I watch more debates and hear the arguments against Bernie, I stand more determined than ever.  I was raised by hard working parents and taught to work hard myself.  But despite a half century of really hard work, I do not own a home, I have limited savings, and my retirement plan is Social Security—if I live long enough to actually retire. This is a far cry from what I dreamed for myself.

As a young girl, I used to lay in my bed and dream of the kind of world I wanted to live in. The poster on the wall next to my bed featured a quote loved by Robert F. Kennedy that read, "Some men see things as they are and ask why.  Other men dream things that never were and ask why not." In 2016, I cannot abide by any argument that seeks to diminish my nation to one that seeks to do just the possible or the palatable or the feasible.  I stand with Bernie. I stand with all those who still dream.

Donna Smith

Donna Smith

Donna Smith Donna Smith is the former executive director of Progressive Democrats of America and currently a Medicare for All campaign surrogate for Sen. Bernie Sanders.

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