The primary elections are getting serious now, with Donald Trump on the verge of sewing things up on the Republican side (so maybe “serious” isn’t quite the right word) and Hillary Clinton beginning to open up a lead over her sole rival, Bernie Sanders.
As they have done for this whole primary season, pundits are once again writing Sanders off, believing Clinton’s margin to be too wide and Sanders’ self-described democratic socialist policies too far out for Americans to embrace. While both may indeed prove to be the case, the Editorial Board of this publication endorses Bernie Sanders for president of the United States.
It’s quickly becoming clear that Donald Trump is going to be the Republican nominee — something no one would have predicted six months ago, least of all me — and though he is the least objectionable remaining GOP candidate in the race, that is like being the tallest midget in a basketball game.
Much has been made in the media about this being a “change” election, and that Sanders and Trump are drawing so many people to their rallies because they are tapping into deep wells of discontent at the fringes of their respective parties. An outsider — be they a non-politician reality TV star, or a politician so ideologically pure he caucuses as the lone Independent in the Senate — is the only hope we have, the theory goes, at breaking the calcified gridlock in the Congress.
The other big similarity between Sanders and Trump, and a big part of their appeal, is that they are not beholden to Special Interests. That is, they aren’t taking campaign donations from corporations or heads of industry — the kinds of people whose problems can be solved legislatively — so they are free to do the Right Thing, however the chips may fall.
Trump claims he can do this because he’s a billionaire. Funding his campaign out of his own pocket is relatively affordable, especially given his strategy to keep himself in the news by saying increasingly outrageous things over the course of the campaign. (As I write this, he’s just assured the audience at a Republican Presidential Debate that “there’s no problem” with the size of his penis.) The media can’t stay away from him and it’s spared him the need to make any commercials or buy any ad time, which is the most expensive part of any campaign. So he doesn’t need any Wall Street money, or military contractor money, or oil money, or insurance company money or any other money. So he can do what he wants, or what the people want, however he’s feeling that day.
Sanders is not able to self-fund, because like a schmuck he chose not to spend his adult life putting his name on buildings and encasing them in gold and black marble veneer. Rather, he dedicated himself to being Rumpled Guy Carrying Too Many Dot-Matrix Printouts, to being Guy Who Knows the Most At the Meetings, to Doing the Reading, to winning Tiny Victories for Regular People, one after the other, first as mayor of Burlington, then as a Congressman, now a Senator. So he doesn’t have any money. But he has been able to fund a competitive campaign on the strength of small donations from regular people, so he also doesn’t take anything from Big Pharma or Big Agro or Big Oil. (Or, it’s fair to say, Big Grooming.)
Both men have a compelling case to make for their independence, but the idea that Trump will not behave as a crony capitalist in the White House simply because he already has plenty of money… well, he’s had plenty of money for a long time, but that hasn’t stopped him from cravenly chasing it and flaunting it and fetishizing it for the last 30 years. We’re supposed to believe that now, all of a sudden, he doesn’t care about money?
If you ask me Rumpled Dot Matrix Guy is the one that doesn’t care about money, but do your own math.
Sanders’ agenda is ambitious, to say the least. He wants to make community college tuition-free, he wants to replace Obamacare with a true single-payer, Medicare For All system, he wants to break up the banks, to name only a couple of the big-ticket items.
I support Sanders knowing that there is little to no chance that anything he wants to do will pass the Congress, largely because Congress is also not able to self-fund. Few presidents are able to get their legislative wish lists anywhere near the finish line, and things being as bitterly polarized as they are now, that trend seems likely to continue.
But it’s not just about the legislative agenda — it’s about character and consistency, and being on the right side of history. And Bernie Sanders stands alone among this year’s crop of candidates of either party, in that he has a long and distinguished record of being Right About Everything.
He has no bad votes he has to hide from. He has been on the right side of civil rights, of equal pay for women, of women’s rights, of fiscal policy, of foreign policy. He predicted that the occupation of Iraq would be a disaster and voted against it; he saw the collapse of the banking system coming long before anyone else. His positions and pet issues have frequently been unpopular in their time, but almost uniformly look good in hindsight. That is the person I want holding veto power. That is the person I want nominating Supreme Court justices. That is the person I want making decisions about war and peace.
Hillary Clinton is a dedicated public servant, and I don’t particularly have anything against her, other than wariness at the prospect of eight more years of Anti-Clinton Hysteria coming from the right. We’ve had enough of that to last us forever. Clinton is a smart, driven person whose heart more or less seems to be in the right place, but she can’t say she’s not indebted to Big Money, and she can’t say she’s been Right About Everything. Bernie Sanders can say both.
And while the right might chortle at Bernie’s lunatic-fringe ideas about making our economy and our society work for everyone rather than just those at the top, they mostly see him as harmless. In an election where the Republicans have put forward the most uninspiring set of candidates ever, and huge numbers of conservative voters are threatening to stay home on Election Day, the idea that the Democrats would nominate the one person guaranteed to get those voters off the couch and into the voting booth, not to vote for Trump but to vote against her, seems even more suicidal than the Republican voters’ kamikaze mission to nominate Trump.
The common line against Sanders coming from the right at the moment is that the people who support him do so because they want Free Stuff. Sanders is proposing to make college and healthcare a public concern, funded by tax increases. I fail to see how that’s Free Stuff if I’m paying for it with my taxes. But even if my taxes went up by, let’s say $400 a month, which is an amount I would feel, but in return I didn’t have to pay $500 a month in health insurance premiums and I didn’t have to start saving for my kid’s college education before I’ve even met his mother, that feels like a good deal to me.
Mind you, none of this will happen. I have no illusions about that. I’m just saying, if it did, it wouldn’t exactly be Free Stuff, it’s actually kind of expensive — just not as expensive as what I’m paying now. The health care I’d get in a single-payer system will be shitty, you say? Well it’s hard to imagine it being shittier than the $10,000-deductible HMO I get through my employer. I’m willing to take a chance.
I’m willing to take a chance on the guy who won’t start any dumb wars, who won’t let Wall Street wreck the economy again, who will spend our tax dollars on something more sensible than raising our military’s superiority over that of the rest of the world’s by yet another order of magnitude.
I’m supporting Bernie Sanders because he has been Right About Everything, because he’s Done the Reading, and because I want Four More Years of James Adomian’s Bernie impression:
Seriously. That impression is so much better than Larry David’s. Bernie Sanders for President of the Muppet Show, and the United States.