by Reid Fitzsimons
Bernie Sanders is vying to be the next Democratic candidate for president. He is a socialist, or perhaps a democratic socialist but probably not a social democrat. The former two aspire to the end of private property and capitalism, while the latter suggests more of a welfare state within a capitalistic framework- a reluctant capitulation that wealth must be created in order to distribute it. Here is a brief bio gleaned from various internet sources:
Bernie Sanders was born in Brooklyn, NY City in 1941 and grew up in what might be described as lower middle class circumstances. He was a bit of a high school athlete, attended college in Brooklyn for a year then transferred to the University of Chicago, graduating with a BA in political science in 1964. By this time he was established as a socialist and left-wing activist. He spent perhaps a few months at a kibbutz but otherwise the cursory internet sources don’t specify how he occupied his time in the mid-60s. Several agree he purchased a “summer house” (together with a spouse at the time) in Vermont and by 1968 was residing in Vermont full-time.
Throughout the 1970s he unsuccessfully ran for several different offices under the banner of a leftist fringe party and perhaps supported himself in various jobs- carpenter, filmmaker, journalist, and researcher to name a few. He eventually achieved electoral success in 1981, winning the mayoral contest in Burlington, VT. His next stop was the sole Vermont US House seat in 1990, then the US Senate in 2006, the position he currently holds. All in all, Bernie Sanders was a fairly typical 60s radical hippie kind of guy (no idea if he was a free love drop acid type, or used the word groovy), who was able to broker whatever talents he had into becoming a professional politician.
Bernie Sander’s political philosophy, which some might describe as radical and avant-garde, is as original as candles on a birthday cake- the usual populism in the form of victimization (i.e. YOU, the helpless and hapless little persons, are being screwed by the BIG corporations and evil RICH people in general). Prior to WW2 and maybe even 50 years ago this might have sounded noble and righteous. Today, however, when both the “1 percent” and the other 99 percent in the US are wealthy beyond any historical or contemporary global standard, it’s more of a call to even further greed, selfishness, and materialism. Sadly, the richer we are the more we’re inclined to perceive ourselves as being materially cheated by extrinsic forces and increasingly deserving of more, so his siren call is a sweet and enticing sound. Equally, his remedies to all that ails us are no more thoughtful than close tax loopholes, cut the defense budget, cut down on waste and fraud and, of course, tax the heck out of the RICH and BIG corporations.
So many progressive/liberal/leftist politicians are so unimaginably wealthy that their diatribes and posturing against the RICH are both embarrassing and comical. To Bernie Sanders’ credit, he is not wealthy beyond comprehension, at least depending on who’s doing the comprehending. He is married to a (presumably well-compensated) college president so it’s not easy to distinguish between individual and household wealth. His salary with perks as a US Senator place him in the top 5 percent as far as income goes, regardless of whatever his spouse makes. His net worth seems to be reported at a low of half a million to 2 million. In relation to his peers he is not wealthy; in relation to the vast majority of the population he’s very wealthy. Ironically his wealth is not a problem for those disinclined to vote for him.
The one important thing that sets him apart from his democratic rivals is that he, at least to a respectable degree, actually believes in his worldview, ideas, and solutions. This is evident to most and may account for the enthusiasm he is generating. He affect seems refreshingly Quixotic as compared to the abject sociopathy of his leading opponent, and this plays well with many (though not all; lots of Democrats would rather go on living a perpetual lie than go on living without her). Nevertheless, on two recent occasions he was confronted and largely silenced by descendents of the 60s radicals, in these cases Black Lives Matter activists.
Now on to the excellent book, later movie, from the 1960s, The Sand Pebbles. A US Navy gunboat, the San Pablo (nicknamed Sand Pebbles) is patrolling the Yangtze River in China in the 1920s, a time of great tumult and revolution. Their job is to show the flag and protect colonial interests and American citizens. During the climactic scene, the ship is well upriver with the goal to evacuate missionaries threatened by the increasing instability and violence. Upon reaching their destination they find the senior, long-experienced missionary contemptuous of America and refusing to leave. As the radicals-revolutionaries-soldiers approach he holds up a document and yells out he has renounced his US citizenship; moments later he is fatally shot. In his mind he was a dedicated champion of the Chinese peasant; in their minds he was just another white face- his beliefs and accomplishments, no matter how significant, meant nothing to the angry mob.
Now back to Bernie Sanders. It is doubtful he has ever questioned the correctness or righteousness of his views. However, he is of an age and culture that valued reason, i.e. his inclination in declaring an opposing viewpoint wrong would be to explain why his is right. He doesn’t comprehend, or at least doesn’t know how to respond to, the spawn of his progressive radicalism, which doesn’t consider reason, truth, or logic, it just feels, and nothing beyond feelings (typically outraged ones) matter. Hence, when poor Bernie replied, with almost plaintive words, during one of the recent interruptions, "Black lives, of course, matter. I spent 50 years of my life fighting for civil rights and for dignity," he was trying to reason, make a compelling argument. He might as well have been the elder missionary in The Sand Pebbles, waving a document utterly meaningless to the mob. Whether Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street, or whatever movement is coming soon, there is no room for disagreement or even respect. One must feel, not think, and no variation in feeling is permitted. The irony is, of course, Bernie Sanders and his fellow 60s travelers planted the seeds, and the resulting crop has ripened.