It’s nearly a year and a half until the next presidential election, but I know who I hope will win that election: Senator Bernie Sanders. For over 45 years, our country has suffered from a refusal to face up to the causes and consequences of an increasingly grotesque economic inequality. Our society and economy are now divided between a handful of individuals and families who possess obscene amounts of wealth, and the overwhelming majority of the middle and working class, who struggle to find jobs, to provide for themselves and their families, and to live in security and happiness.
Those few wealthy individuals have increasingly hijacked our political system, using their massive wealth to commandeer the loyalties of politicians, who not only vote in fundamentalist lockstep with the wishes of their paymasters, but stack the Supreme Court with justices prepared to privilege the rights of corporations over those of citizens.
Most politicians in the Democratic and Republican parties are singularly ill-equipped to discuss economic inequality, and most members of the latter see its increase as an indicator of a healthy, virtuous economy.
One stand-out exception is Bernie Sanders, a democratic socialist and independent Senator from Vermont. In an era when politicians resemble contortionists more than they do ethical agents of change, Sanders is unapologetic about his left-wing ideology, which positions him diametrically opposite the right-wing consensus which has given so much power to the super-rich and the financial sector at the expense of labor and the overwhelming majority of our citizenry.
Many Americans, having been trained since infancy to think of socialism as the stuff of Stalinism and gulags, might balk at the thought of a democratic socialist for President. Republicans will invoke the spectre of a planned economy and fearmonger about the dangers of redistributing wealth.
But Americans should know that Bernie Sanders’ democratic socialism underpins the political economies of many European countries where the quality of life for the average citizen is far higher than in the United States, and where citizens enjoy more political rights. Democratic socialism would certainly require more substantial public investment, and therefore taxes, particularly from the super-rich who, in the United States, refuse to pay back their fair share. But citizens in social democracies receive in exchange economic security, universal access to healthcare, free university access, and a host of other benefits and protections designed to shield people from misfortune, fear, and poverty.
Democratic socialism also calls for the state to take a more active hand in managing the economy. Sanders, for example, has called for sustained investment in our country’s ramshackle infrastructure, a move which could remake our energy sector, create a great many jobs, improve transportation, and revitalize our economy. It is this kind of ethical intervention—with an eye to making investments that benefit a large number of people and advance the public interest—that frightens the Republican Party when they talk about “big government”, and which is spurned by the invertebrates in the Democratic Party who recite the fairytale of “free trade” to comfort themselves.
But make no mistake, we currently live in a planned economy. The difference between what we have now and what Bernie Sanders advocates when he talks about higher, fairer taxes, and investment in the public sector, is that our existing economy is planned in places we can’t see, for the welfare of people who are ashamed to participate openly in the democratic process, by people over whom we exercise no influence and can’t hold accountable.
Sanders is unapologetic in his rejection of this economy, just as he is staunch in his support of organized labor. However imperfect, labor is nonetheless the best protector of the welfare of not just union members, but middle- and working-class citizens across our economy.
Sanders was also a steadfast opponent of the Iraq war and of the secretive and unaccountable security state that emerged after 9/11. The Iraq war not only led to the deaths of thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, but spread non-state terrorism across the Middle East, destabilized the region, and created a new generation of threats (including ISIS) with which we are contending today because of the short-sightedness of most Republican and Democratic politicians.
The American security state, defended and constructed by leaders from both parties, has proved unaccountable and irresponsible, breaking the law as it swept up the information of blameless citizens and created a climate of fear and political intimidation, where democratic citizens are surveilled with the connivance of corporate power.
Few politicians had the guts to push back against the claims leveled by the Bush administration as they launched their illegal, immoral, and ill-judged war of aggression in Iraq, and few have pushed back against the security state.
Bernie Sanders, in word and in deed, has defended those—whether working citizens, veterans, the unemployed, or the victims of U.S. colonialism—who are preyed upon by those with massive wealth and power.
Sanders’ only opponent in the Democratic primary is a deeply-unserious, dangerously opportunistic, dreadfully flaky former Senator and Secretary of State.
Hillary Clinton, who supported the war in Iraq, defended U.S. terrorism abroad, and promotes Israeli colonialism has as many positions on any given issue as the Koch Brothers have spent dollars on it. She has dismissed grassroots protests against economic inequality in speeches to Goldman Sachs, pledging to protect the financial sector that Sanders would dramatically reform.
Bernie Sanders has led opposition to the Trans Pacific Partnership, a “free trade” agreement that would set back international and domestic human rights, environmental, and labor legislation by decades, taking us to a state that would resemble the nineteenth century, from whence the modern Republican Party draws its inspiration. TPP is inexplicably being pushed by the Obama administration, and Hillary Clinton was a major supporter of the agreement, although in recent weeks (thanks to Sanders and Elizabeth Warren), she has been forced to alter her position and retreat into her sturdiest redoubt of dismissive silence.
That, in essence, is the trouble with Clinton’s deeply unserious and irresponsible bid for the presidency. Today, many of her utterances will be closer to Sanders than one might suspect. The problem with Clinton’s professed concern for the welfare of the working and middle classes in the U.S. is that if we look back just a few months, she was inevitably saying something quite difference. Her support for U.S. terrorism and neo-conservatism, her defense of Wall Street and the economic inequality it creates, and her embrace of the inequality at the heart of her husband’s version of globalization all make the prospect of a Clinton presidency frightening, and suggest that she might be more at home in a Republican primary.
There are stylistic differences between Sanders and Clinton as well, which get to something more fundamental, a kind of basic honesty. Clinton unilaterally deleted thousands of e-mails which should have been archived, intentionally or otherwise subverting the democratic process and accountability. Her campaigns chase opinion polls and construct tortured positions on policy matters of life and death, designed to appease Washington opinion makers rather than benefit her constituents. She hoovers up campaign cash from the super rich, who are clearly expecting something in return, and wouldn’t keep giving if Clinton hadn’t delivered in the past. She represents a global foundation that is cosy with some of the most despicable regimes on the planet.
Each Clintonian campaign pronouncement involves a hundred hangers-on, laboring over its every contour. But that’s the extent of Clinton’s promise for our beleaguered economy. Her sympathies do not align well with the needs of our country’s economic majority.
Sanders is blunt in his desire to remake our country in a truly revolutionary fashion. He eschews the monarchical trappings that define the dynasties competing for high office, and does not deign to cloak his ideology in the gibberish of unrealistic, dishonest anti-politics.
A moment when our country is faced with daunting challenges is no time for a morally and ideologically peripatetic lightweight like Clinton. We need someone with Sanders’ character and someone with his views to take on the grab-bag of psychopaths competing for the Republican nomination.
Carly Fiorina, a CEO famous for firing thousands of workers, railed against a broken government in a video launching her campaign, minute and a half whine, with all the substance of a Donald Trump monologue. Marco Rubio gave an acerebral speech at the last GOP convention on “American exceptionalism”, ignoring all of the ways in which a country this wealth is most exceptional for its failure to provide for its citizens.
Scott Walker of Wisconsin has launched a series of savage attacks on the working class, comparing union members to ISIS in his bid to destroy the public sphere in his home state.
Ted Cruz and Rand Paul celebrate economic inequality and have sought to use the Senate as a forum to bring to life their pathological lie that “Government doesn’t work”. Jeb Bush won’t get the vote of his own mother, although his brother will likely support him, since Jeb and Dick Cheney are the only other men left in America who think the Iraq war was a good thing.
Commentators have referred to the Republican primary as a “clown car”, but these are people who pose a clear and serious threat to the future of our country. Most of them have quite openly pledged their allegiance to anti-tax fundamentalist groups, and many of them embrace bigotry and discrimination.
Bernie Sanders offers a clear, ethical, democratic alternative to the danger posed by the Republicans and Hillary Clinton. He is staunchly committed to addressing economic inequality, firmly opposed to an imperial foreign policy, committed to the welfare of the middle- and working-class, and unafraid to say as much…loudly and consistently.
In the first day of his campaign, Sanders raised more money than any of the Republican candidates and unlike the Republicans and Hillary Clinton, his financial support is genuinely grassroots, explaining why he is the most consistent candidate when it comes to advocating the removal of toxic and undemocratic money from our politics, and also indicating the breadth of support for his candidacy.
Sanders democratic socialism has the potential to capture not only the imagination of the traditional left-wing of the Democratic Party. His views about what a moral, fair society should look like speak profoundly to the discontent of the organized working class, those who were drawn to the Tea Party only to find their movement captured by the Koch Empire and its ilk, and anyone in the United States who, through no fault of their own, has faced hard times and uncertainty while a class of plutocrats amasses ever-greater wealth, and the political power that accompanies such wealth.
Bernie Sanders offers truly revolutionary politics: the opportunity to upend a system that has endured far too long at the expense of far too many people. I’m supporting his campaign, have donated money, and will give my time. I hope that others will take a serious look at what he has to offer and consider doing the same.