U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, a Jew originally from Brooklyn (like so many Jews in America including me), may upset America’s proverbial political applecart.
Announcing his interest this week in running for U.S. president on the NBC television program “Meet the Press,” Sanders declared: “I think anybody who speaks to the needs of the working class and middle class of this country and shows the courage to take on the billionaire class, I think that candidate will do pretty well.”
He’s right. Only last week, a law school professor unknown until the last weeks of the campaign and with virtually no money, received an impressive share of the vote in a primary to run as the Democratic candidate for governor of New York. Zephyr Teachout, a professor of constitutional law at Fordham Law School and an expert in governmental corruption—her new book Corruption in America has gotten excellent reviews—took 34 percent of the vote against 60 percent for incumbent Governor Andrew Cuomo. Statewide, she beat Cuomo in half of New York’s counties.
As John Cassidy, in an analysis in The New Yorker put it, ““Eschewing the etiquette of internal party discourse, Teachout accused Cuomo of governing as a Republican, acting as a shill for the big banks and other campaign contributors, and being part of a ‘corrupt old boys’ club in Albany…She demonstrated that, even in this day and age, a candidate with a real message doesn’t necessarily need the support of the party apparatus, or the financial backing of big donors, to have an impact.”
I interviewed Teachout and found her the most refreshing candidate for New York governor in decades—and I’ve interviewed several.
Where I live, on eastern Long Island (like many Brooklynites, I’ve moved east on Long Island) she beat Cuomo in some towns and got 43 percent of the vote overall.
Her running mate, Tim Wu, a law professor, too, at Columbia Law School, and a leader in the important battle in America against the consolidation and monopolization of the nation’s media, did as well as Teachout.
They were good candidates, but they also did well amidst what Sanders correctly described as a deep unrest in America. “I think whether people are Democrats, moderates or conservatives, there is a profound anger in understanding that the middle class is disappearing, that millions of people are working longer hours for low wages,” said Sanders Sunday on “Meet the Press.”
“The question is, at a time when so many people have seen a decline in their standard of living, when the wealthiest people and largest corporations are doing phenomenally well, the American people want change,” Sanders went on. “They want Congress, they want candidates to stand up to the big-money interests,”
Sanders correctly blasted the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Citizens United v. the Federal Elections Commission, which gave corporations the same rights as citizens in making political contributions. “I think Citizens United will go down in history as one of the worst Supreme Court decisions ever,” he said. “I think it is opening up the road to oligarchy in the United States of America.”
He specifically targeted the billionaire conservatives Charles and David Koch who have been spending hundreds of millions promoting right-wing candidates and causes. “You know what their agenda is?” said Sanders on Meet the Press, the longest running TV series in America. “This is what they told us: They want to end Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid. More tax breaks for the rich and large corporations. Nobody in America wants that except the billionaire class. And yet they are now able to put hundreds of millions of dollars into the political process. This is a real danger to American democracy.”
Sanders is an appropriate figure to take on the vested interests in what has become a
a time of the rich getting richer and richer in America, manipulating the political and governmental systems while ordinary people suffer.
Sanders is the longest serving independent in American Congressional history. He was elected to the U.S. Senate from Vermont in 2006 after 16 years as that state’s sole representative in the House of Representatives. Before being elected to Congress, he served as the independent mayor of Burlington, Vermont from 1981 to 1989 (with a population of 50,000, Burlington is Vermont’s largest city, yet the bagels there still don’t compare to those in Brooklyn).
After attending Brooklyn College and graduating from the University of Chicago, Sanders spent time on a kibbutz in Israel, an experience which reportedly shaped his political views.
He was active in the civil rights movement in America.
In 1964, he moved to Vermont, always “captivated by rural life,” he has explained.
In Vermont, Sanders worked as a freelance writer, filmmaker, carpenter and researcher before getting involved in politics.
Can this self-described “democratic Socialist”—a Jew still with his Brooklyn accent– impact on the U.S. presidency? Yes.
He has a “pragmatic gadfly’s approach,” as a New York Times article has described it. He’s been successful as an independent in Congress. He caucuses with the Senate Democratic majority.
How might he affect the front-runner for the Democratic Party’s nomination for president, Hillary Clinton? “I don’t know that Hillary Clinton is running,” said Sanders on “Meet the Press.” “The issue is not Hillary. I’ve known Hillary Clinton for many years. I have a lot of respect for Hillary Clinton.”
“I know that the middle class in this country is disappearing,” Sanders continued. “I know that the gap between the very, very rich and everybody else is growing wider. I know there is a profound anger at the greed on Wall Street and corporate America, anger at the political establishment, anger at the media. The American people want real change, and I’ve been taking on the big-money interests and special interests all of my political life.”
“I am thinking about running for president,” said Sanders. “One of the reasons I’m going to Iowa is to get a sense of how people feel about it.” Iowa is the site of a key U.S. presidential primary where early would-be nominees vie against each other.
One member of a panel of “Meet the Press” pundits suggested after Sanders was interviewed that in an “anti-establishment year” he could become the new George McGovern and Clinton, the Edmund Muskie. The panelist, a Republican strategist, was referring to the Democratic presidential contest in also turbulent 1972 in which the liberal McGovern got the Democratic nomination over fellow U.S. Senator Muskie, a centrist.
Or Sanders could end up running for president as an independent, a pattern in many U.S. presidential races in recent decades. Might he then siphon votes from Clinton as the Democratic candidate and cause the Republican nominee to win?
The situation in America today could result in several scenarios. And a big chunk of the situation also has to do with incumbent President Barack Obama. Sanders said on “Meet the Press” that Obama “has done some good things” but “in some areas I very clearly disagree with him….The bottom line is I think he has not tapped the anger and the frustration that the American people feel on many, many issues. The only way we bring about change is when the American people become mobilized.”
A “candidate with a real message,” someone with the “the courage to take on the billionaire class”—and Bernie has guts, political talent, vision and seychel—will, indeed, in these times in America, “do pretty well.”