I absolutely love Bernie Sanders. I love his passion, his sincerity, his integrity. I love the crowds that come to Sanders’ rallies. I love the story; the 74-year old socialist fighting for ordinary Americans. I love his low-tech, low-money, high energy campaign, and I especially love the way he engages with young voters. I love his idealism. And I love, above all, his vision for America.
And I’m voting for Hillary Clinton in this campaign. Enthusiastically.
Start here. Here are his issues, his vision for America, taken straight from his website. He wants universal health care for all Americans. He wants free college tuition for everyone who wants one. He wants a higher minimum wage. He wants higher wages generally for the middle class, and he wants higher taxes on the super-wealthy. He wants to over see a reduction in the power of corporations. An expanded social safety net, with mandatory paid maternity leave. A fairer, more equitable society, a society in which prosperity is widely shared.
I don’t see any of that as remotely implausible. In fact, if we’re genuinely progressive in our political views, something akin to Bernie’s vision is what we should all be aiming for. I know Republicans have been shocked and appalled and horrified at the thought that Bernie Sanders–a socialist, a socialist!–is doing so well on the Democratic side. Who cares? It’s a good vision, a workable vision.
What Sanders is calling for is more or less for the economic realities that prevail in other countries in the world. Which means, essentially, all the countries in the world where you wouldn’t mind living. Think about it. If through some appalling exigency you, or a family member, or a friend, had to move to Somalia, say, or Libya, or Syria, or the Congo, you’d be frightened for them. You’d worry. Whereas, if your friend or family member were to move to Canada, or Austria, or Norway, or Denmark, or Sweden, or Germany, France, Belgium, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Iceland, the United Kingdom, Finland, Luxembourg, Lichtenstein, Switzerland, you’d be fine with it. You’d think: ‘how cool.’ China? Sure. South Korea? You bet. Brazil, Argentina, Mexico? Absolutely. Russia? Sign me up. There are failed states in the world, places that aren’t safe to live. But most countries in the world are doing well enough. And many many nations of the world are closer to Bernie Sanders’ vision for America than they are to American realities. In a very real sense, we’re the outliers.
Now, when you point this out, how many countries of the world enjoy the benefits of democratic socialism, your conservative friends will point out problems in those countries. Problems with immigration, for example. High taxes. Restrictions on personal freedom. But there isn’t a perfect society anywhere on earth. No one is saying that Sweden doesn’t have difficulties. Sweden does have a stronger social net, and a more equitable society than we do. They don’t have problems with gun violence; we do. I’m just saying that we could learn a lot from other countries. We could look to Finland, for example, for ways to strengthen public education.
In many respects, of course, America is kind of a socialist country. We have a strong social safety net–progressives would like it to be stronger. We have a decent health care system for most of our citizens–progressives would like everyone to have access to first-rate health care. We’re getting there, incrementally.
So why not support Bernie? On his website, on the first page, are two words that give me pause. Revolution. And Movement. And, of course, if we’re going to overthrow the entrenched political power of corporations and of the conservative movement, we will need a mass movement, and we will need a revolution. Cue John Lennon’s guitar: “you say you want a revolution, well, you know, we’d all love to change the world.”
The fact of the matter is that the American form of government does not lend itself to revolution. In a Parliamentary form of government, such as those found in all our European allies, elections are won by parties, and governments are formed from the leadership of whichever parties have a legislative majority. If a party wins an election on a platform of universal health care, they get universal health care, by golly. They tend not to subsequently give it up, either. Our Constitution, however, is filled with impediments to legislation; checks and balances. The Framers didn’t anticipate the rise of political parties (though they got the reality soon enough), but the kind of government we now have, with a President representing one set of ideas and a Congress representing the antithesis, is not one the Framers would have found terribly alarming or worrisome.
There have been a few moments in our history where cataclysm has led to huge majorities and revolutionary advances: Roosevelt’s administration, especially 1933-37, and the New Deal, and 1964, and the Great Society after Kennedy’s assassination. But mostly, what we get is incremental change. Compromise and deal-making. Surrendering the ideal in pursuit of the possible. Who does that sound like to you?
I think Bernie Sanders shows us what America could look like in 2040. But it’s probably not achievable in 2016. With Republicans controlling the House, possibly controlling the Senate after this election, with conservatives in ascendence in state governments all across America? It’s not likely to happen, not now, not yet.
Our task right now must be to move the ball forward, maybe just a little at a time. Fight for small improvements, work with conservatives on bills where we can find agreement. We’re not likely to see a great leap forward. I’ll settle for a step or two, in more or less the right direction.
If you believe in the vision Bernie Sanders articulates so passionately, then let that vision have a stronger hold on your soul than the person arguing for it. And, of course, if Bernie is the nominee, I will vote for him. Please, commit to supporting Hillary otherwise.