Weekend at Bernie’s

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Sen. Bernie Sanders and his wife Jane O’Meara Sanders take the stage during campaign stop at the Verizon Theatre in Grand Prairie on Sat. Feb. 27, 2016. (Rex C. Curry/Special Contributor to the Dallas Morning News)

Sometime last Friday afternoon, an announcement came across my Facebook feed telling me that #BernieSanders would be appearing in the Dallas area the next day. I had never attended a political rally in all of my 44 years, but the Sanders candidacy is unlike anything I have ever seen. I can’t remember a candidate for either party ever talking about freedom in any terms other than carrying out a military campaign; about crime in any other terms than making sure that we are tough on it; about taxes in any other terms that they are evil and must be eradicated…at least enough to get rid of the programs that the candidate on the screen didn’t like.

But where the hell does Bernie Sanders get off suggesting that a public college education should be free for everyone who wants to go? How dare he suggest that the problem behind the huge number of African-American men in prison is anything other than their own unwillingness to follow the law? How dare he argue that we have, somehow, failed because the greatest nation on the planet has not figured out how to help all of its workers live above the starvation level (I said workers, not the unemployed — his argument that the $7.25 federal minimum wage is a starvation wage has been borne out time and time again).

That’s not what we do anymore, is it? That’s the sort of liberalism that Ted Kennedy kind of railed about but no one has listened to since Lyndon Johnson’s War of Poverty got pre-empted for that conflict in Vietnam. After all, President Clinton saved the Democratic Party by driving it to the center. Today, even if the Puritan witch hunts have become a curiosity, that Puritan work ethic remains, and the mere idea of having us pay taxes to help people who are having hard times causes shock waves all over this land.

But then I learned about Bernie Sanders, and here is why I wanted to make sure that my children got to hear from this radical exception of a candidate. Yes, he refuses Wall Street money. No, there isn’t a SuperPAC collecting millions of dollars to fund campaign expenses for him.Yes, he is turning the idea of what the government should do for its people into a moral question, rather than a phrase that sucks the oxygen out of the room.

So why are all of those young people turning out in droves to hear Bernie Sanders? Why are some of us who are a little older but who have dismissed all politicians as self-interested hacks now wearing buttons and hoisting signs?

It’s not the policies themselves. Yes, they are liberal, but they’re not that outrageous on the spectrum of ideas. After all, President Obama already suggested free community college, and Vice President Biden came out in favor of K-16 education for free as well. Sanders isn’t the only person agitating for a $15 minimum wage — the New York Times is too. Sanders isn’t the only one who wants comprehensive immigration reform. He’s not the only one who wants a fair criminal justice system.

However, he’s the only one who wants these things for the reasons he wants them.

You see, you had to stay until the very end of his speech to understand that. He had already gone through his policy proposals. Some people were walking down the stairs in the balcony to try and beat the traffic home. But the vast majority were still hanging on the edge of their seats, even 45 minutes after he had begun (and several hours after they had taken their seats to see the man they’d made so many memes about).

Bernie does not like to philosophize much. Interviewers have asked him why he took on injustice at an early age in life, and he said that he didn’t know, but that he had always thought that bullying seemed wrong. But he closed his speech with these words: “community trumps selfishness, and love defeats hatred” (yes, ever tweaking the Donald until the end).

But if you didn’t stay, you missed the whole foundation of his program. It’s not about pleasing donors; it’s not about building a personal fortune. It’s not about personal prestige; it’s not about the accolades.

Instead, it’s about a vision for our country. After all, the Puritan work ethic wasn’t all witch hunts and bootstraps. When people’s barns burned down, their neighbors pitched in and helped them build another one. When people ran short on their crops, their neighbors helped them out. We don’t farm anymore; instead, we Facebook. We have become so attuned to believing whatever comes out of the electronic device in front of us that we have forgotten the importance of community and the elegance of love.

If we really believe in community, then we don’t want any child to grow up in poverty. We can’t make everyone make the right choices as adults, but we can give all of our children an even starting point, and we can put together jobs programs that give all of our adults hope. Yes, it’s expensive, but so is incarceration. The problem is that jobs programs aren’t a source of profit, but the incarceration industry has become a privatized sector of the economy that makes profits — and those revenues go to fund lobbyists, and all of a sudden our representatives have a vested interest in voting against compassion.

If we look around us with fear, then our national fabric shreds. Donald Trump isn’t new, after all. There were the bigoted rants of Father Coughlin before World War II; there was the seemingly endless series of hearings of the House Un-American Activities Committee led by Senator Joseph McCarthy. In the wake of the monstrous 9/11 attacks, what was initially an outpouring of American community became the Orwellian Patriot Act. The rise of Trump should not be a surprise.

So when I vote for Bernie Sanders, I’m turning my back on fear. I’m refusing to hate other people. Instead, I’m assuming the very best of them, while demanding the best of myself. You see, when I do that, I have a lot harder time thinking that the main export of my country should be precisely calibrated warfare. Instead, our main export should be what we say it is on July 4 — liberty and freedom. We should take our amazing ideas and our terrific people and build a society where hope isn’t something we laugh at — it’s something we really believe in. No one will ever have to call hope “audacity” again, because it will be the chief dynamic of our national life.

And is that pie in the sky? I used to think so. But now, I don’t think so anymore. #FeelTheBern

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One Response to “Weekend at Bernie’s”

  1. Thank you for the great commentary on the Dallas rally for Bernie. I was at the Verizon and I stayed till the end. You perfectly captured the essence that is the heart of Bernie’s campaign. I was at his first town hall last July here in Dallas and it was so heartwarming to see the enthusiasm has grown. Now Texas….get out and vote in the primary on Tuesday. We need to send the message that Bernie is America’s hope.

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