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About Bernie


He’s not my first choice. I was strongly for Hillary in 2016, and in these 2020 primaries, my heart has inclined to Mayor Pete, while my head is with Joe Biden. But I took The Pledge early on: “I promise to vote for whomever the Democratic candidate is.”

Now, after Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada, that candidate looks to be Bernie Sanders (who by the way is leading in the California primary). If it is, then fine with me. The conventional wisdom, at least among the chattering classes and Democratic cognoscenti such as James Carville, is that Bernie can’t win. The “socialist” epithet Trump will hurl at him will frighten millions of centrists and independents, many of them my age, who grew up with a (government-instilled) distrust of socialism, which to many Americans was essentially identical to Communism, an ideology we had been bred to loathe.

Of course, if you ask these same anti-socialists, especially the older ones, if they like Social Security and Medicare, they’ll answer “yes.” If you point out that Social Security and Medicare are “socialist” schemes that happened to arise in a democratic, capitalist society, their intellectual position starts to erode. “Well, yes,” they might say, “they’re ‘socialist’ in a sense, but…”.

“But what?” you interrupt, as they struggle to formulate their rationalization.

“Well, the U.S. isn’t a socialist country.”

It’s best, at this point, not to continue to argue with these people. If you show them their inconsistency, they’ll get resentful; and the last thing we need in the upcoming election is for angry, resentful Democrats to sit this one out, like they did in 2016.

But, as I say, although I’ve never been a Bernie bro (and was very angry at them in 2016 for what they did, which in effect was to give us Donald Trump), neither am I dedicatedly against him. It behooves me and all of us to try to understand just what it is about the Bernie bro’s (and Bernie sis’s) that makes them so passionate about their guy.

The word most closely associated with Bernie Sanders is probably “billionaires.” He spits it out in every speech; “billionaire” has become an epithet in Bernie’s mouth. To some extent, this is part and parcel of the American attitudinal vernacular: we as a people always have had an uncomfortable relationship with the ultra-rich among us. Whether it was the Vanderbilts and Carnegies of old, or the Henry Fords of the last century, or the Michael Milkens and Jeffrey Epsteins of more recent times, these billionaires have been a suspect class to working people, who viewed them—rightly or wrongly—as a subversive element out to take all the goodies for themselves, and exploit or cheat the rest of us.

But Bernie Sanders has made our view of billionaires much more acute over the last few years. Indeed, many Americans, maybe even a majority, are frankly sick and tired of the way the one percent runs the country—how their lobbyists buy and sell politicians like corporate stocks, how the laws get tailored (often in secret) to protect the rich while hobbling everyone else, and how rightwing judges refuse to stop the trend towards corporate fascism. Republicans often speak of such views as “class resentment,” as if working-class people who feel over-taxed and overlooked by government are mentally ill if they want a fairer distribution of the nation’s resources.

But it was this very “mental illness” that founded the U.S.A. The Founders were likewise sick and tired of the egregious practices of rich English aristocrats, who they felt were siphoning off every penny from the Colonies, without offering much in the way of self-governance. (“Taxation without representation.”) And in fact Trump himself appealed to such “mental illness” when he promised—falsely, as it turns out—to make average working people the centerpiece of his policies. It turned out that Trump is just another conniving rich guy, out to protect his family’s and his class’s interests.

Young people see the contradictions in American history: how we talk about “freedom” and “equality” and “the rights of man” while skewing everything toward coddling the rich. They see, too, that things have gotten much, much worse lately: their parents had the opportunity to work at good-paying jobs, buy houses, take leisurely summer vacations, maybe even have a second home in the country (as my middle class parents did). But now, in 2020, these young people see nothing ahead but a life of struggle and debt. Condos in San Francisco go for $14 million and nobody but junior Zuckerbergs can afford to buy a house.

This is not “class resentment,” it’s perfectly understandable disappointment, shock and outrage. This is our country, after all: if it’s not working for all of us—and it’s clearly not—then something has to be done to “refresh the tree of liberty with blood” in order to make, or remake, America into what it’s supposed to be.

This is what fuels the passion of Bernie supporters. The Democratic establishment—if it’s really trying to stop Bernie, and it clearly is—has got to understand this. If they resist a mass movement that wants Bernie Sanders to be the nominee, then they will turn over the country to a second Trump regime, as surely as if they actually voted for Trump.

As for the theory that moderate Democrats won’t vote for Bernie, I reject it. I’m a moderate Democrat; if Bernie is the candidate, I’ll happily vote for him. I think most Democrats are like me. Look: I’ve seen three presidents in my lifetime who “couldn’t be elected”: JFK because he was Catholic, Reagan because he was too rightwing, and Obama because he was Black. Now people are saying Bernie can’t be elected because he’s too leftwing? History suggests otherwise.

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