Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Sanders' Campaign Deserves Our Attention

Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton are in town tonight.  The Sanders campaign called me today to remind me about our impending caucus.  The Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary are just around the corner.
Americans are on the cusp of an important primary election involving important choices.  These choices could be historic, too.  Because more than any other candidate in any recent election, the candidacy of Bernie Sanders represents an opportunity to chart a new course.  Like candidates in the Republican Party, Sanders has tapped into discontent: discontent with the conduct of our foreign policy; discontent with a flailing economic system; and discontent with a broken political process.
But unlike his rivals in the Democratic Party, and unlike the Republicans, Sanders offers a series of alternatives in each of these arenas that are consistent, tested, moral, and just.
While Sanders' foreign policy needs serious fleshing out, and while I think he has missed a real opportunity to overturn a toxic consensus in this area, he nonetheless represents the best option out there.  Unlike Clinton and the Republicans, Sanders recognizes that many of the dangers lurking in the world are of our own making and require the modification of our behavior as well as that of others.  Unlike Clinton and the Republicans, Sanders recognizes that savage military force is a blunt instrument that can prove not only immoral, but also rebounds and heightens our own insecurity.  
When it comes to domestic policy, Sanders shares the populist critique of some Republican candidates and Hillary Clinton.  But unlike the latter, he has not flip-flopped on these issues, and is more trustworthy.  Nor has he taken buckets of cash from Wall Street.  And unlike the Republicans, Sanders' populism is rooted in a clear-eyed assessment of where fault lies and what the responsibilities of the state are in rectifying that fault.  Donald Trump can inveigh all he likes against a rigged system.  But I'd urge any of his supporters to peruse his tax plan: it equates to savings for the wealthy and a greater burden for the rest of us.
Like the Republican reformers of the early twentieth century, Sanders recognizes the importance of preventing capital from growing to such a size and amassing such a power that it subverts democratic governance.  Through Republican legislators and Supreme Court justices, plutocrats have already seized an outsized role for themselves in funding and therefore compromising our elections.  Sanders' promise to dismantle flawed institutions on Wall Street and re-draw the lines of economic power to favor the working and middle class are a far cry from the Republicans' promise to put their trust in the fiction of the free market, and far more trustworthy than Clinton's promises given that voters will inevitably wonder what she has said behind closed doors to her funders on Wall Street.
The vision of the U.S. promoted by Sanders is also more compatible with reality and 
We live in a society full of people from around the world who have been in the U.S. for varying amounts of time, from months to many generations.  Those people possess various faiths, various points of view, speak various languages, and are of various ethnicities.  Their faiths and freedoms are protected by law.  So when Republican candidates attempt to demonize entire groups, and to hold them selectively responsible for the actions of people with whom they share a single characteristic on the other side of the world, they are violating the letter and the spirit of that law.  When they seek to turn old migrants against new, the country against the town, and the middle class against itself, they are assaulting the foundations of our society.  Sanders embraces our country's people as they are, not as they were in the 18th century.
But he is not content with the lot of those people.  And in articulating alternatives, he draws on a variety of inspirations.  In some cases, those are our country's own traditions: radicals of the mountain and pacific west; the populists of the depression-era south; socialists and social reformers from the eastern seaboard; and progressives from the midwest.  Those were people with visions of a better, more equal society.  They were all, in their own ways, prepared to contribute more knowing that those contributions would be multiplied because they would be required from each person in proportion to the wealth that had accrued to them in the course of their life in our society.  
Many of those visions went un-realized, but Sanders' other inspirations are those in other parts of the world who won better standards of living, more freedoms, and more secure lives than those many Americans enjoy: the social democrats of Scandinavia; the progressives of Canada; the labor movement in Britain.  These are existing and successful societies, where the social democracy that Sanders embraces have brought not the calamity Republicans predict, but stability and prosperity, imperfect but very, very real.
I hope that traditional Democrats will consider voting or caucusing for Sanders, and that Republicans dissatisfied with the status quo will listen to his words, un-filtered by the degraded mainstream media and the right-wing propaganda machine.  
My adopted state, Nevada, is plagued by serial poverty that leaves its elites unmoved.  Its legislature is run by representatives of a party who range from economic fundamentalists bound by pledges to outright sociopaths who have expressed a desire to murder refugees.  Its economy is warped by the power of protected industries that believe themselves exempt from the obligations of our civil society.  And our social infrastructure is pathetically threadbare, scarcely worthy of the ambitions of our communities, who struggle to make ends meet, to find good schools, and to make new lives.

The movement Sanders is building, the program he would bring to Washington, and his assessment of the problems our nation faces and the culprits behind those problems make his campaign worthy of support.  He represents our best chance of obliterating the combination of injustice, inequality, and disempowerment that plagues our society, and replacing it with something fairer and more equal and more democratic.  Other candidates propose to entrench the existing system, while others would fiddle around the edges.  But if Sanders can take his movement to Washington, we can use his coattails to make change in our states, our communities, and our day to day lives.

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