As I write this, despite the overt and covert opposition of most of the Dem leadership and much of the mainstream media, Bernie Sanders’ candidacy has been thriving. To wit:
(1) He has won the popular vote in all three primaries that have been contested to date (and by a wide margin in Nevada, which has a diverse electorate).
(2) He has continued to raise considerable amounts of money. To this point, he has raised more than any other candidate, except for self-funding billionaires Steyer and Bloomberg.
(3) He is generally acknowledged as the Dem frontrunner. Furthermore, the preponderance of the campaign contributions he has received are from small donors suggesting broad support of ordinary people.
So, how did this happen? What is his appeal? Do a large plurality of voters actually support Socialism? Can an acknowledged Socialist actually be elected president? Can he be stopped? If so, by whom? All good questions. I’m not sure I have the answers. I’m not sure anyone does, but read on and I will give it my best shot.
To understand Bernie and his political philosophy it is necessary to go back to the beginning. Bernard Sanders was born on September 8, 1941 to a Jewish working-class family in NYC. His father was a paint salesman. Often, he would complain bitterly about societal inequities that he perceived to be the cause of his lack of success. One might surmise that this influenced the development of Bernie’s economic and social beliefs. Money was tight. His older brother, Larry, recalled that although there was money for essentials, like food and clothing, “major purchases, like curtains or a rug were not affordable.” Both parents died relatively young. His father was 57; his mother was 46.
Bernie was an outstanding athlete. His elementary school basketball team won the Borough of Brooklyn championship one year. In high school he was captain of the track team, and one year he placed third in NYC in the one-mile race. He was less successful in politics. He ran for president of the student body and lost, finishing last.
He became interested in politics at an early age, particularly the rise of Nazism in Europe. Much of his family had emigrated from Poland and Russia. Those who had remained behind in Poland were murdered in the Holocaust.
He attended Brooklyn College for one year and then transferred to the University of Chicago from which he graduated in 1964 with a BA in political science. By his own admission, he was a “mediocre” college student. He characterized the schoolwork as “boring and irrelevant.” To him, “the community was more important to his education.”
Bernie began to exhibit his Socialist bent while at the U of C. The 1960s were a period of violent protest and upheaval, and Bernie fit right in. He became very active in the nascent Civil Rights Movement. He joined the Young People’s Socialist League, which was the youth adjunct of the Socialist party in the US. Additionally, he became a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), of which he served as chairman of the university’s chapter.
In 1968 he moved to Vermont. In the 1970s he ran for political office several times as an independent and lost every time. In 1981 he was elected mayor of Burlington and served four terms. As far as I was able to discern from my research, this, at the age of 53, was his first real job. Prior to this, he had relied on the financial support of his wife and girlfriends and government support. In 1990 he was elected to the House of Representatives. He was elected to the Senate in 2006.
In my opinion, his career in the Senate can best be described as pedestrian. He has only sponsored a few bills that actually became law. He developed a reputation as a quirky maverick. Most of the time he was registered as an independent. I maintain that he only switched to the Dem Party because he wanted to run for president as a Dem.
He managed to avoid military service during the Vietnam era. Was he a “draft dodger?” Perhaps, although his supporters deny it. We do know he was strong critic of the war and applied for a conscientious objector deferment, which was a common ploy among draft dodgers at the time. It was denied, but by then, he had “aged out.” You can evaluate his actions for yourself.
Consistent with his Socialist/Communist political leanings he has visited Cuba, where he tried unsuccessfully to get an audience with Fidel Castro, Nicaragua, where he met with the pro-Soviet Sandinista Government leaders, and Russia, for his honeymoon.
This, then, is the candidate who somehow has managed to become the front runner. How?
1. The promise of “free stuff” is very alluring and hard to resist. For example, at first, glance, who wouldn’t be in favor of free single payer healthcare for all, even undocumented immigrants? Who wouldn’t be in favor of a guaranteed income or of having their suffocating student loan debt, which for many is in the six figures, paid off? On the surface, helping the oppressed and persecuted by opening our borders doesn’t seem so bad. Why not help those less fortunate than us? In view of all the murders annually, why not toughen gun laws? The Green New Deal will benefit our environment. What’s wrong with that?
2. It’s only if and when one analyzes these policies and others that “warts” show up. The most obvious problem is that there is no way to come close to paying for these pie-in-the-sky plans, and that, my friends is the crux of Socialism. No one even knows how much these policies will cost. Estimates have run as high as tens of trillions of dollars per year.
3. Many of Bernie’s supporters have no idea what Socialism is and what damage it would do, especially the version he is preaching. They need to be educated. If they realized what it means and what it has done to other countries that have tried it, they might change their tune. Typically, Socialist ideas sound good, but they simply don’t work. Bernie’s version of Socialism has never been successful anywhere. Contrary to what he claims, it’s not the Scandinavian version. Even the president of Denmark has disavowed it. It’s the type that has plagued the economies of Russia, Cuba and Venezuela, among others.
4. Bernie has taken advantage of a weak field. The other candidates are too old, too timid, too inexperienced and/or too reluctant to put forth policies that mainstream voters favor. Instead, they have misread the electorate and have allowed Bernie to pull them too far to the left.
5. I believe that for some of his supporters, their support is a “protest” vote. They don’t really support his ideas or even understand their significance. They just don’t like the current system. They feel it is not working for them. They are unhappy and want to try something else.
6. Bernie has a way of explaining his ideas in a positive way. He’s an excellent public speaker, almost mesmerizing, akin to an evangelist. Someone, a reporter or a rival candidate, needs to force him to explain them, in detail, expose them.
Due to the foregoing, I firmly believe that Bernie’s election would be disastrous for the American way of life. The key question is can Bernie be stopped or is his candidacy inevitable? At the present time, he definitely has momentum, but his nomination is not inevitable. Nine months is a lifetime in politics.
The power brokers in the Party are adamantly opposed to his nomination. They perceive that it would lead to a decisive Trump victory. I agree. I can visualize a debacle similar to George McGovern’s defeat in 1972. The Party leaders and their allies in the media are determined to derail a Sanders nomination as they did in 2016. Their latest trick was to bend the debate qualification rules to qualify Bloomberg to participate. That tactic backfired miserably due to Bloomberg’s inept performance. But, you can be sure they will keep at it. There is still time to thwart Bernie’s candidacy, but the Dems need to (1) find a moderate candidate who can appeal to the mainstream of the Dem Party and (2) follow the steps outlined above.
Who could it be? I don’t know. Maybe, there isn’t anyone who is up to the task. If you have any suggestions, to quote the late Ross Perot, “I’m all ears.”