Aharon ben Or: Bernie Sanders, the unlikely hero
Ahron ben Or
The national media regard him as an unlikely candidate, a longtime independent in Congress making a long-shot challenge to Hillary Clinton’s dynastic claim to the throne of the Democratic Party.
And yet, a recent CNN/ORC poll shows him even with Jeb Bush, edging out Scott Walker, and crushing Donald Trump. Still, 41 percent of those polled don’t even know who Bernie Sanders is, so this is likely the result of an “anyone but the other guy” preference.
Although he has yet to capture the national eye, he is drawing bigger crowds on the campaign trail than any other presidential contender in either the Democratic or Republican fields. Ten thousand came to hear him speak in Wisconsin and over 11,000 in Arizona, a “red state.” Recently, he came to Grass Valley — not in person, but via a live stream presentation to around 3,500 gatherings nationwide totaling over 100,000 people, making it the largest organizing event to date in the 2016 campaign.
Like many of Bernie’s gatherings, the local event had to be moved to a larger venue because of an overwhelming response. The nearly 300 people who attended filled the space to standing room capacity. Like thousands of these events nationwide, it wasn’t even directly organized by the campaign, but by the union of three small groups that found each other via Facebook and the http://www.BernieSanders.com website.
In a country where voter turnout in 2014 was the lowest it has been since World War II, what explains this massive enthusiasm for a relatively unknown senator from the small state of Vermont?
In Wednesday’s address, Bernie offered his answer: the American people are saying “enough is enough.” We have “the most unequal distribution of wealth and income of any major country on earth.” Corporations making huge profits pay almost no taxes because of loopholes. Technology and productivity continues to increase, yet Americans work longer hours for less pay. We have more people in prison than any country on earth.
Though most people are probably unaware of our global standing, Bernie believes we have some catching up to do. Almost the entire developed world has universal health care and so should we, he says. Bernie contends that the U.S. can match countries like Germany that offer free college tuition, and he has introduced legislation to that end. He’d like to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure and take the global lead on renewable energy to fight the climate crisis. He would only appoint Supreme Court Justices who would overturn Citizen’s United and help get big money out of the political process.
The abbreviated version of his stump speech met with repeated cheers and applause from the Nevada County audience. His policies have an obvious appeal to working and middle-class families, but his ability to mobilize such passion goes far beyond policy proposals. It is rather his unique (as a major party political candidate) willingness to challenge the establishment in near-mythic terms that resonates deeply in the hearts of millions of Americans who feel disenfranchised and disempowered.
I believe that his followers have intuited this about him, and about the struggle they face, but the clearest statement I’ve heard from Bernie came at the end of Wednesday’s address, which I quote at length:
“The powers that be, that is corporate America, Wall Street, the insurance companies, the drug companies, the military-industrial complex, these guys are enormously powerful. The only way we can defeat them… the only way we can have a government which begins to work for working people rather than the wealthiest people … is by putting together an unprecedentedly strong grassroots movement and what I call a political revolution … The other side will have unlimited … sums of money; they control the economy, they have huge power over the media, and obviously they have huge influence over the political process … The only way we win this thing is when people come together. So they got the money, they got the power, but we have the people.”
When is the last time a major party candidate launched such an unabashed frontal assault against the power-brokers of American governance and economics? Bernie casts himself, and his followers, as the underdogs in an archetypal David versus Goliath narrative. For those who despair at the possibility of redemption, it is the unlikely hero that rekindles the flame of hope. Perhaps it is Bernie’s campaign of 2016, more than Obama’s of 2008, that truly deserves “Hope” as its rallying cry.
Aharon ben Or lives in Grass Valley.
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