Friday, February 19, 2016

Why I Will Caucus for Bernie Sanders Tomorrow

Sanders at the Henderson Pavilion in Nevada, 19 February.
Nevada’s Democratic Party is holding its caucus tomorrow morning, and I plan to caucus for Senator Bernie Sanders, the social democrat from Vermont.  I have many reasons for backing Sanders, but given that many in the Democratic Party and beyond seem keen to characterize supporters of Sanders in particular ways, I will dwell for a moment on some of those characterizations.
I am not caucusing for Sanders because I believe him to be a messiah who will wave a magic wand and fix our country and the world. 
I am not caucusing for Sanders because I am some kind of idle-minded buffoon who wants giveaways and doesn’t think beyond the headlines.
I am not caucusing for Sanders because I am what some are characterizing as part of a ‘jello left’, because I inhabit some kind of fantasyland, because I gobble up right-wing propaganda, because I am a GOP sleeper cell, or for any of the other hurtful and cynical reasons that some liberals and progressives assume must define any backing of Sanders.
I am caucusing for Bernie Sanders because in contrast to what his critics say, he talks coherently and movingly about the rights claims that people have made and must continue to make in our country, and because he emphasizes the importance of economic as well as civil rights, and the relationship between those and race and gender.
I am caucusing for Bernie Sanders because my grandfather was a ‘Dreamer’ from another day, a kid from Central America who would today be defined by demagogues on the right as a rapist, a murderer, and a ‘taker’, but who found his version of the American dream in the fields and railyards of his new home, California.  He found that dream because he arrived in the U.S. at a time when it was a country that invested in its citizenry, and Sanders has pledge to protect the Dreamers of today from abuse by the state and from attacks by the political right.
I am caucusing for Bernie Sanders because the first big political event that shaped my worldview was a monumentally stupid and illegal war of aggression in Iraq.  As a 16-year-old who read the newspaper daily I could see that this war was going to be catastrophic, and it is extraordinary that not only did hundreds of elected representatives back that war, but many of them continue to double-down on the twisted logic that underpinned it, with fatal consequences.  We are living with the consequences of that war today, and the lives of our own citizenry and the lives of people around the world are too valuable to be put in the hands of neo-conservatives from either party who have pledged to commit war crimes in pursuit of a sinister and violent American imperialism.
I am caucusing for Bernie Sanders because although I wish he had more to say about foreign policy, his instincts seem good to me and because the ideas that he is promoting with regard to domestic policy can be productively used to shape a smarter and fairer international policy.
I am caucusing for Bernie Sanders because my wife is from a country that has developed a social contract that ensures that its citizenry is able to live decent, stable, secure lives without sacrificing civil liberties.  That country and others like it provide models and ideas, even if they can’t be neatly transplanted to the United States, and they do so while bearing some of the costs of U.S. imperialism and terrorism abroad.  Sanders has embraced the social democracy that is at the heart of those countries.
I am caucusing for Bernie Sanders because the transformative effects of social democracy around the world are too significant to ignore and because I believe that the growing fascism of the political right in the United States is best confronted boldly, with clear moral and ideological principles.
I am caucusing for Bernie Sanders because I live in a state ripe for the kind of change he is promoting.  Poverty is obscenely rampant, schools and universities are pathetically under-funded, the gap between sparkling suites and ground-down neighbourhoods is terrifying, and the power of the plutocracy is offensive.
I am caucusing for Bernie Sanders because he represents a break from the tribalism of the Democratic Party’s liberal candidates, who view Republicans as enemies rather than fellow citizens.  I appreciate that Sanders seeks the votes of Republicans by seeking to draw them to common ground, without pandering and while rebuking in the strongest terms the racist, misogynist, and hateful howls of the party’s leadership. 
I am caucusing for Bernie Sanders because I think he is a movement man.  Where his rivals say ‘I’, he says ‘we’.  Parties are critical, but I think the bulk of the Democratic Party will fall in line behind whichever candidate wins the primaries and caucuses, leaving the candidate flexible to devote time to creating a movement that won’t simply be used as an ATM.  Many take almost comical umbrage at the fact that Sanders hasn’t thought out every step of this battle or every point of policy along the way, but like the rest of us he is having to quickly adapt to the possibility that he can win the nomination.
I am caucusing for Bernie Sanders because I had the good fortune to spend ten years of my life in the most amazing system of higher education in the world and because he aspires to defend and reinvigorate public universities.  Other candidates dismiss the idea of free public university as unrealistic or impossible or something incompatible with American values.  But at least some of those candidates grew up in the U.S. at a time when free public higher education did exist.  I appreciate that Sanders recognizes that things changed not because of some cosmic inevitability, but because of sets of deliberate and by extension reversible political decisions.

And I am caucusing for Bernie Sanders because I hear in his hoarse voice and see in his un-deviating stump speeches clarity and consistency of purpose, and someone who is willing to lose to say important things.  That is a thought that terrifies many Democrats because of the alternatives.  But if we embrace Sanders’ use of the plural pronoun, I suspect that we will prove the wisdom of another social democratic candidate from over eighty years ago who declared that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.  

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