Why Bernie Matters

Opponents of Bernie Sanders have been having a field day. Over the past couple of weeks, the Vermont Senator has taken a number of shots. A writer at Slate rather absurdly knocks him for 1) hosting a popular podcast allegedly characterized by shoddy production values and softball questions. More seriously, he has been criticized both for 2) failing to endorse, at least initially, Democratic Congressional candidate Jon Ossoff in Georgia’s sixth district, and 3) endorsing Omaha mayoral candidate Heath Mello notwithstanding Mello’s votes to restrict abortion rights in the Nebraska legislature. Sanders also continues to hear from carpers who resent his decision 4) to re-become an independent after registering as a Democrat before his Presidential run.

Sanders should have climbed on board the Ossoff train weeks before, not immediately after, the primary in which the Georgia Democrat came agonizingly close to prevailing in a long-held Republican district. On the other hand, Bernie’s support for Mello is reasonable in light of Mello’s “feisty economic populism” and pro-choice voting record over the past five years.

Ultimately though, the attacks on Bernie are beside the point regardless of merit. Sanders is our country’s most popular politician and most important progressive because of his authentic outrage at America’s “rigged” neo-liberal political economy and his preference for an idealized form of Euro-style socialism. A recent poll suggests over 100 million Americans view him favorably. No other politician comes close.

Bernie doesn’t just decry the ever-increasing share of our nation’s wealth and income gushing to the top. He articulates a clear and credible vision of a better America characterized by 1) an end to free trade deals, 2) a $15 hourly minimum wage, 3) single-payer healthcare, 4) tuition-free public colleges and universities, and 5) much higher taxes on the rich. In light of this achievement, his somewhat whimsical endorsement record is an afterthought.

Bernie’s core message is that the 99% must unite to fight economic injustice but he does not ignore other challenges including potential environmental collapse. Indeed, he links the two phenomena. From his website:

The scientists are virtually unanimous that climate change is real, is caused by human activity and is already causing devastating problems in the United States and around the world. And, they tell us, if we do not act boldly the situation will only become much worse in years to come in terms of drought, floods, extreme storms and acidification of the oceans. . . . While fossil fuel companies are raking in record profits, climate change ravages our planet and our people – all because the wealthiest industry in the history of our planet has bribed politicians into ignoring science.

Recognition has been growing that Bernie’s diagnosis for what ails us is accurate. Indeed scholars, along with religious leaders and anti-poverty activists are warning that our very civilization could unravel as a result of either global warming, extreme inequality, or a confluence of the two. In its May 2014 edition, a trio of NASA-funded scientists led by the University of Maryland’s Safa Motesharrei made this point. In an article in Ecological Economicsthey concluded that “two features . . . seem to appear across societies that have collapsed: the stretching of resources due to strain placed on the ecological carrying capacity, and the division of society into Elites (rich) and Commoners (poor).”

In June 2015, Oxfam International’s Executive Director Winnie Biyanyima praised Pope Benedict for his “moral leadership on these two defining issues, inequality and climate change.” Just last week, the BBC’s Rachel Nuwer lamented in a published article that Syria’s recent history and the evident unwillingness of developed nations to meet the challenges of economic injustice and climate change suggest that the task of saving civilization may “exceed our political and psychological capabilities.” More optimistically, Nuwer concludes that “Western civilisation is not a lost cause, however. Using reason and science to guide decisions, paired with extraordinary leadership and exceptional goodwill, human society can progress to higher and higher levels of well-being and development[.]”

Given the evident urgency of humanity’s current predicament, Democrats have a moral obligation to grapple with Bernie’s policy proposals and, failing better solutions, embrace them. Nitpicking his podcasts, pointing out inconsistencies in his endorsement record, and chiding him for not being a “real” Democrat serve only as distractions from this essential task.

Sanders should have climbed on board the Ossoff train weeks before, not immediately after, the primary in which the Georgia Democrat came agonizingly close to prevailing in a long-held Republican district. On the other hand, Bernie’s support for Mello is reasonable in light of Mello’s “feisty economic populism” and pro-choice voting record over the past five years.

Ultimately though, the attacks on Bernie are beside the point regardless of merit. Sanders is our country’s most popular politician and most important progressive because of his authentic outrage at America’s “rigged” neo-liberal political economy and his preference for an idealized form of Euro-style socialism. A recent poll suggests over 100 million Americans view him favorably. No other politician comes close.

Bernie doesn’t just decry the ever-increasing share of our nation’s wealth and income gushing to the top. He articulates a clear and credible vision of a better America characterized by 1) an end to free trade deals, 2) a $15 hourly minimum wage, 3) single-payer healthcare, 4) tuition-free public colleges and universities, and 5) much higher taxes on the rich. In light of this achievement, his somewhat whimsical endorsement record is an afterthought.

Bernie’s core message is that the 99% must unite to fight economic injustice but he does not ignore other challenges including potential environmental collapse. Indeed, he links the two phenomena. From his website:

The scientists are virtually unanimous that climate change is real, is caused by human activity and is already causing devastating problems in the United States and around the world. And, they tell us, if we do not act boldly the situation will only become much worse in years to come in terms of drought, floods, extreme storms and acidification of the oceans. . . . While fossil fuel companies are raking in record profits, climate change ravages our planet and our people – all because the wealthiest industry in the history of our planet has bribed politicians into ignoring science.

Recognition has been growing that Bernie’s diagnosis for what ails us is accurate. Indeed scholars, along with religious leaders and anti-poverty activists are warning that our very civilization could unravel as a result of either global warming, extreme inequality, or a confluence of the two. In its May 2014 edition, a trio of NASA-funded scientists led by the University of Maryland’s Safa Motesharrei made this point. In an article in Ecological Economicsthey concluded that “two features . . . seem to appear across societies that have collapsed: the stretching of resources due to strain placed on the ecological carrying capacity, and the division of society into Elites (rich) and Commoners (poor).”

In June 2015, Oxfam International’s Executive Director Winnie Biyanyima praised Pope Benedict for his “moral leadership on these two defining issues, inequality and climate change.” Just last week, the BBC’s Rachel Nuwer lamented in a published article that Syria’s recent history and the evident unwillingness of developed nations to meet the challenges of economic injustice and climate change suggest that the task of saving civilization may “exceed our political and psychological capabilities.” More optimistcally, Nuwer concludes that “Western civilisation is not a lost cause, however. Using reason and science to guide decisions, paired with extraordinary leadership and exceptional goodwill, human society can progress to higher and higher levels of well-being and development[.]”

Given the obvious urgency of humanity’s current predicament, Democrats have a moral obligation to grapple with Bernie’s policy prescriptions and, failing better solutions, embrace them. Nitpicking his podcasts, pointing out inconsistencies in his endorsement record, and chiding him for not being a “real” Democrat serve only as distractions from this essential task.

Published April 27 at 9:51 am.  Updated April 28 at 1:35 pm

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One Response to Why Bernie Matters

  1. Daniel DeCamp says:

    Bernie should run in 2020. He’ll win. Screw age discrimination!

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