Archive for January, 2016

Just Say Yes: #Bernie2016

Posted in Uncategorized on January 26, 2016 by onlookerslowdown

When I was a kid, I learned in school that the American Dream was out there waiting for everyone to claim its promises. From those early years, when the New World was still a wooded canvas that Europeans had not yet managed to win to the ways of God, Gold and Glory, the seemingly infinite expanses seemed a tabula rasa that people could turn into anything that they wanted.

The Puritans, of course, imprinted their vision squarely on the new continent, even though they only clung precariously to its northeastern tip during their early years here. The idea was that hard work was its own reward; those who did not prosper were simply not working hard enough.

So if you weren’t realizing the American Dream, you just weren’t working hard enough.

That’s why so few people cared when those rubes fresh off the boats ended up working for nonexistent wages in the Chicago meatpacking industry after some sharpies had signed them to predatory mortgages on homes that were too shabby and shoddy to provide decent shelter for an extended period of time, which is what made it so fortunate that the immigrant families ended up in foreclosure instead.

But then it turned out that more people cared than Capital had thought, and the Progressive movement was born. Such oddities as a minimum wage, protections against child labor, safety standards in the workplace and protections against fraud slowly eked their way out of the primordial ooze. This is when Teddy Roosevelt rattled his big stick and tried to take on the trusts, urging Americans to protect themselves from a growing inequity of wealth.

It turned out that the protections didn’t quite hold. So when the Dust Bowl wiped out so many American farmers in the Midwest and when the speculation bubble burst in the financial industry, the Great Depression made the Republic twist in the winds of disorder not heard since the fields of Antietam.

So in came Teddy Roosevelt’s cousin, who instituted what many called “socialism” back in the day in the form of the New Deal. That Puritan work ethic reared its Iagoesque head, trumpeting that if people were not lazy, they would not be poor. If those Okies had just worked harder, they wouldn’t have had to limp their way to California, lured by flyers promising a lot more jobs than were actually available, so that the fruit growers could control wages and shuffle through workers as quickly as injuries and deaths could get the existing ones down off the ladders.

But then came World War II — arguably the real rescuer of the economy. We needed so many tanks, bombers, fighters and carriers to fight the quite real menace presented by Hitler, Tojo and their ilk that factories jolted into action and people jolted back to work.

So war changed from being an occasional crisis to a necessary prop for the American economy. Ike warned us about this growing complex, but we didn’t listen. After all, radio had become television, and the television developed color. We almost learned what peace could be during the 1960s, but President Johnson decided that he could send half a million men to Vietnam AND fight the War on Poverty, and he basically failed at both.

So today, when writers brush the popularity of Bernie Sanders off as some sort of 1960’s pipe dream, they take that same Puritan work ethic back out and shake it at us. Those lazy hippies were too addled on drugs to do anything meaningful, right? Where did that peace movement get us, anyway?

President Carter tried to call us back to the sort of idealism that could have led in such a better direction. But then came the Iran hostages. Then came President Reagan, who used the icon of the Western cowboy fighting the Russian bear to distract us from what we could be. Instead of peace, he promised us a real-life Star Wars. This iconography dragged the Democrats to the right, giving us Bill Clinton, who excelled at the saxophone, who dripped with sincerity, but who also told us that the “era of big government” had come to an end.

But it didn’t, did it? It just took on a different shape. Yes, we trimmed spending on social issues, but then we started spending money off the books. The war industry, which had steadily grown during the Cold War, now found a happy target in the Middle East, where the terrorism never ends and all we have to do is keep sending drones in to ensure that the anger against our country never passes. That’s why there is an entire generation of Iraqis who have grown up knowing nothing about the United States except as a source of destruction raining down from the skies, of torture of its citizens — anything but the “land of the free and the home of the brave.”

But then something interesting happened. It looked like we were going to have Hillary Clinton against whomever the Republicans could prop up, maybe Jeb Bush, or Marco Rubio. The same tired arguments of the past two decades — should we dismantle government like the Republicans want (which means shutting down more of the publicly accountable side of the government and throwing more cash into the maw of the off-the-books side, either by growing the military even further or giving more tax breaks to the corporations and the 1%) or should we make some incremental changes to public policy that sort of tug things a little to the left while we still let the shadowy forces of the military establishment and the large corporations keep draining the economy?

Because that’s what Clinton vs Whoever would have represented. But then some strange things happened, called Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. They are both candidates driven by anger — Trump taking the anger of the Right, particularly the working-class Right, and forging it into a message that addresses their fears (immigrants taking their jobs, all Muslims somehow sharing the radical beliefs of the terrorist minority, those hedge fund managers screwing the rest of us) in a shrill, vague, bombastic torrent that could sweep him to the nomination.

But what of Bernie Sanders? Here’s why I’m voting for him.

Some people say that Sanders is soft on foreign policy. But, as Atticus Finch used to ask, Do you really think so? He thinks that we should help the Middle East resolve its difficulties — but that THEY have to resolve them. Do you really think that radical Islam would be able to market the United States as the Great Satan if our warplanes and our drones and our soldiers went home? Do you really think that a giant caliphate would form and then take over the United States from across the globe? Or does the fact that al Qaeda and ISIS have already turned on each other tell you that our advisers, our troops, our weapons aren’t the answer?

Some people say that Sanders’ solutions represent “pie in the sky.” Free college for everyone. Single-payer health insurance. However, for just eight months of the Iraq War, we could have paid for ten years of free college for our next generation. What’s the better investment? Lockheed-Martin might tell you one thing, but what makes more sense? If more than 30% of people would ever bother to vote in an election, if they were presented with these choices what do you think they would say?

Some people say that Sanders’ single-player health insurance plan fell apart in Vermont because of its sheer cost. However, it looks like political realities facing then-Governor Shumlin played as big a role as the cost in ending that experiment. And who is Shumlin endorsing in the Democratic primary? Hillary Clinton, who has cashed millions in checks from the pharmaceutical industry.

Some people say that Bernie needs to be tougher on gun control. But his point that a law-abiding hunter who wants to carry his rifle in checked luggage should be able to do so resonates. Before we launch some sort of massive buyback of Americans’ guns, we should make the background check system and the mental health system stronger so that more and more of the people who have access to guns are the ones who won’t cause these atrocities.

Bernie Sanders represents what America would look like if you took the wonderful part of the American Dream and left that shadowy Puritan caveat out of it. If people are willing to work hard in pursuing their dreams in life, they should be able to have a level playing field awaiting them when they finish learning what they need. We need to let go of that idea that everyone who is struggling is doing so because they are lazy.

What does that mean? If people get sick and can’t work, they shouldn’t go into bankruptcy because insurance only pays for some — or because they can’t afford the insurance that’s available.

When children enter school for the first time, the relative financial success of their parents shouldn’t determine the quality of their learning environment. That’s not what a “level playing field” means.

When trouble springs up across the globe, our first response shouldn’t be to scramble the jets and fire up the drones. It should be to initiate dialogue, to find alternative solutions. This doesn’t mean that we should stop being vigilant, because the geopolitical calculus can shift radically in a matter of minutes. It does mean that we should think, think and think again before we send our children, our young men and women, off to carry what really are, if we think about it, weapons of mass destruction, because they kill our enemies, but they also kill innocent civilians, and they warp our own soldiers in the process — an epidemic that we have not yet shown the will to eradicate, because that fight doesn’t enrich the defense contractors, doesn’t resolve into a 140-character sound bite.

Bernie Sanders represents new solutions to a set of problems that have plagued us for decades — if not longer. These are not easy solutions — they require thought, they require dialogue, and most importantly, they require that we set aside that impulse to judge one another, to look down on those who haven’t attained our level of success. They instead require that we assume the best of one another and demand the best of ourselves.

Before you tar me with the sticky pitch of the mindless tax-and-spend liberal, you should know that I’m just as tired of wasteful, corrupt government entities as Rand Paul is. However, I’m also tired of corruption in the private sector. I’m tired of greed running rampant simply because it can.

So why Bernie Sanders? Because he calls to the best of our natures. It’s easy to drown out the best and accept the mediocre, the acceptable. It’s easy to drown out the best and listen to the worst, to let the anger have its way.

I’m ready to listen to our best impulses for once. While I accept that Hillary Clinton could also win the Democratic nomination and represents a better solution than Donald Trump, Jeb Bush or Ted Cruz, I believe that a Bernie Sanders presidency would allow what is terrific, what is wonderful, what is transcendent about each of us to shine forth in ways that the Republic has never seen.