Running openly as a socialist member of the Democratic Party, Bernie Sanders, who has been an independent socialist for some time, has found that the term may not be as toxic as he’d been led to believe. In fact, he seems to have drawn quite the following. When speaking to a crowd in Arizona, he proclaimed his pleasant surprise at the outpouring of support. His adulation was apparent as he declared, “Somebody told me people are giving up on the political process. Not what I see here tonight!”
The new found popularity of socialist and left wing figures comes with a general awareness of how bankrupt our modern market economy really is – both literally and morally. The Republican Party shows it literally with the bizarre and clownish presence of Donald Trump, a man who is present in the Republican race by force of his own wealth and not popularity. Sanders is a polar opposite image – a man who is built on popularity and solidarity.
Sanders becoming electing the U.S. President would be monumental in many ways – in ways less visible than the election of the first black president but equally significant. His openness as a socialist would spell the death bell of the Reagan era and the idea that “government is the problem.” The label of “socialist” has been openly shunned by both political parties since the Roosevelt era – it’s embrace by a major presidential candidate is a sea change in and of itself, whatever the result of the general election is.
Likewise he would be the country’s first Jewish president. His concept of socialism arose out of visiting a kibbutz in Israel in the 1960s as well as the Scandinavian model of socialism. His Jewish identity is central to his political ideology, as he said in one interview: “A guy named Adolf Hitler won an election in 1932. He won an election, and 50 million people died as a result of that election in World War II, including 6 million Jews. So what I learned as a little kid is that politics is, in fact, very important.”
What is really important about Bernie Sanders’ candidacy is his stance on the most important political issues facing the United States.
Firearms are one of the more divisive issues in the United States. The protection of the right to own weapons and to even potentially use them in certain situations is detailed in the Second Amendment of the constitution. The constitution has stood the test of time for the US – over two hundred years foot the Second Amendment with the same sort of absolutist protection that the First Amendment enjoys.
Sanders may surprise many people when it comes to the gun issue. Vermont is a rural state, he asserts, and his state therefore has next to no gun control. He doesn’t step in to the right wing realm, however, saying that “guns in Vermont are not the same as guns in Chicago.”
It’s a very, very fine line and anyone who is disturbed and upset by the bizarre epidemic of gun violence in the United States may be frustrated with what is clearly a politician speaking politically. He added in an interview with NPR’s David Greene, “I think guns and gun control is an issue that needs to be discussed. Let me add to that, I think that urban America has got to respect what rural America is about, where 99 percent of the people in my state who hunt are law abiding people.”
He added, “So obviously, we need strong, sensible gun control, and I will support it but some people think it’s going to solve all of our problems, and it’s not. You know what, we have a crisis in the capability of addressing mental health illness in this country. When people are hurting and are prepared to do something terrible, we need to do something immediately. We don’t have that and we should have that.”
The fact is that gun control has been applied very successfully in countries like Australia, where it’s still very possible to get one through a very rigorous regulation process and they are used in rural areas just like they are used in rural areas here. It wasn’t smooth sailing in other countries, though smoother with countries that don’t have such a large population and a constitutional protection of weapons that is near absolute.
Ultimately, Sanders’ fine line is better than the staunch red line of conservatives, however. He does see that there is a problem. He also alludes to the mental health problems we have in this country. This country no longer has mental institutions and it is not possible to commit anyone for a solid and definite amount of time.
Abraham Lincoln also spoke with a fine line on slavery in the years leading up to the Civil War – politicians are rarely absolute on such fracturing issues. The Second Amendment withstood largely because we didn’t have a mass shooting problem like we have now – it’s likely it never would have existed if we had – and if this epidemic continues, it’s very likely that a sea change will occur in how firearms are perceived in this country, fine line or not, simply out of human necessity.
Climate change has been a top issue for most of the world for some time. With a liberal president in the United States and a radical pope in the papacy, the issue has taken up resonance among channels that previously were hostile and in denial of climate change.
Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change, Laudato Si, has resonated with an awful lot of people and Sanders was one of those who issued the strongest reinforcement of its contents. In an official statement he said:
“Pope Francis’ powerful message on climate change should change the debate around the world and become a catalyst for the bold actions needed to reverse global warming. The pope helps us all see how those with the least among us will fare the worst from the consequences of climate change. I very much appreciate that the Republican leadership has invited the pope to address Congress. I hope they listen to what he has to say. Denying the science related to climate change is no longer acceptable.”
While on Real Time With Bill Maher, Sanders had high praise for Francis and his work. Calling global climate change “one of the defining threats of our time,” he praised Francis’ encyclical as “a miracle for humanity” and said this has campaign would maintain that the United States has the ability to be largely using renewable energy by 2050.
It may not seem like the top political issue but Sanders has long been a crusader for repairing American infrastructure. The United States pioneered with the interstate highway system in the 1950s but the Eisenhower administration was the last presidency to embark on such bold ventures. The John Birch Society labeled Eisenhower as a “communist” for such bold government actions and as right wing groups became more successful in electoral politics, our bridges were left to languish.
Major bridge collapses have occurred throughout the United States, including in Minnesota and in Washington. Sanders sees it as an imperative issue, not just for the security infrastructure must have for Americans driving on roads but also for the economic benefit that infrastructure investment would bring about. In one of the many Facebook memes his campaign has posted, he says:
“The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that it would cost $3.6 trillion to bring our nation’s infrastructure to a state of good repair. Spending one trillion would create about 13 million jobs. The choice is clear. Let’s rebuild America and create jobs here.”
Sanders is serious about this issue and, along with Maryland Democrat Barbara Mikulski, introduced a bill in January this year called the Rebuild America Act. In an official statement for the bill, Sanders said:
“For too many years, we’ve underfunded our nation’s physical infrastructure. We have to change that and that’s what the Rebuild America Act is all about. We must modernize our infrastructure and create millions of new jobs that will put people back to work and help the economy. My legislation puts 13 million people to work repairing the backlog of infrastructure projects all across this country. These projects require equipment, supplies and services, and the hard-earned salaries from these jobs will be spent in countless restaurants, shops and other local businesses. It’s no surprise that groups across the political spectrum – from organized labor to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce – agree that investing in infrastructure will pay dividends for future generations.”
On the issues, Sanders is a bold step to the left of even our current administration. In the face of establishment opposition from the Democratic Party and goofy and bizarre opposition in the Republican Party, there is a genuine chance that he could win this thing. If he did, it would certainly a step forward for America.