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Bernie Sanders speaks at a rally on the eve of the Washington, D.C., Democratic primary in 2016.

Voices / Viewpoint

At stake: our core Democratic ideas and values

Bernie Sanders is more of a Democrat than many people claiming to call themselves Democrats right now. Do we risk getting into another divisive presidential campaign?

Steve Belczak ’s interest in politics began when, as editor of his high-school newspaper, he got to interview then–Vice President Hubert Humphrey in 1966 and Socialist Party leader Norman Thomas in 1967.

Westminster

There is positive political momentum right now, but it’s fragile, and it needs to become more energized at the grassroots, where the Bernie Sanders bashers are at it again.

There’s again a misinformation campaign from Democrat leadership about Sanders’ staffers being mean to women and minorities. Remember the Bernie bros? The cartoon version of the Sanders campaign that Russian Facebook propaganda pushed and ran with in 2016? It’s back.

A Pew poll showed that a higher percentage of Bernie Sanders voters voted for Clinton in the 2016 presidential election than Clinton’s primary voters later voted for Barack Obama in the 2008 contest.

There were multiple missed opportunities during the 2016 presidential campaign, and Sanders is not to blame for Clinton’s loss.

Bernie Sanders is more of a Democrat than many people claiming to call themselves Democrats right now. When so-called establishment Democrats call Bernie Sanders names, I think that’s a good thing. Politics needs contrast, and they are positioning themselves as losers.

* * *

I’m always pleased to hear how corporate Dems report that Sanders is not a real Democrat. He is conserving and rehabilitating the political ideas that worked during the New Deal and led to the greatest period of prosperity and middle-class growth in history.

An equitable mixed economy and progressive taxation became the transformation that saved the lives of Americans in the 20th century. Bernie Sanders represents the traditional core values of that Democratic Party — values that are not out of date or archaic.

In contrast to Sanders, Beto O’Rourke, in his recent campaign for Senate against the miscreant Ted Cruz, accepted donations from carbon-extraction corporations. In the 2016 presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton could not stake a claim for a $15-per-hour minimum wage. Let’s take it from there.

There is a difference in the approach of politicians because of regional and demographic differences, and Sanders (who campaigned for O’Rourke during his Senate primary) understands how regional politics works.

Texas Dems have not had the chance in the last decades to develop a progressive agenda because of right-wing money and misinformation and DNC capitulation to Republican power grabs in Texas.

The question now: will Beto stake out a more independent-minded position in Texas Democratic politics or will he take advice from someone like ... Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez?

* * *

I consider myself an FDR Democrat, a JFK Democrat, and a progressive Democrat. I’m not invested in Bernie Sanders as a personality, but in his political ideas, which have settled into voters’ consciousness. These ideas resonate not because they are new or radical, but because they are old and conservative and have survived the test of time.

When we talk about conservatism preserving traditional values, we’re talking about the ideas behind the New Deal. Those ideas were about improving the lives of the people.

The word “conservatism” can be useful for some, but when someone announces they are conservative today, it can also be interpreted as intolerant, greedy, hateful, bigoted, racist.

Sanders’ ideas of inclusion go back over 100 years. They have been tested and successfully implemented and imitated by successful democracies all over the world. The concept tying together these ideas is relatively simple. It’s called good governance, which means inclusion, not division.

Access to shared resources and equity was always a Democratic Party commitment, a constant, until Bill Clinton’s rise to the presidency. The leadership of the Democratic Party in the 1990s saw Ronald Reagan’s personal popularity. They wanted to become popular, too — so they became more like Reagan: callous and greedy.

The party was pushed to the right. I suppose it was a canny political strategy at the time, but the Dems happily destroyed the long-term commitment to the people in the process, they lost the idea of the commons, and a fake populist like Donald Trump stole whatever populist mojo remained in the party.

In contrast, Republicans are so full of rage and hate about people receiving health care, having an equitable economy, or caring about whether people live or die. Their ideas and policies have resulted in American decline, income inequality, death, and destruction.

We now have some kind of very weird Mussolini-like fake populism within the Republican Party. Mussolini claimed he could do whatever he wanted if he kept his base happy and well-fed with rage and resentment.

* * *

In 2016, one could see enen in Clinton a sense of frustration. She carried a burden of having to explain not only her pro-corporate positions as a good thing for the people, but her husband’s Republican-lite history as well. She was an easy target.

Trump’s criminality aside, optics matter, and Clinton should have known better. She was supposedly politically sophisticated, but she was just a hack. She was manipulated by Trump’s outlandishness, something else that hasn’t been emphasized enough as well: the role of the media giving Trump free coverage during his fascist rallies.

Because Clinton was already unpopular, her campaign was easy pickings for Russian bots. How many voters didn’t show up to polls because of Russian bots persuading them not to or because she was such a flawed candidate?

Democrats now have to be smarter and fight for what’s right. The will to fulfill the hope and promise of Democratic Party ideals is the promise of what 2020 holds for all Americans.

But the future of these ideals is not in Bernie Sanders’s hands. It’s in our hands.

These ideals must be represented by whoever the candidate is. If not, I fear it will be another disaster.

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Ruby Bode
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Ruby Bode (Westminster, Vermont, US)

What do Russians have to do with any of this? It was the Clinton campaign that smeared Sanders’s supporters as “bros”, and it was the Clinton campaign that blamed their loss to Trump on Russians. Their – including Sanders’ – inability to admit either of those facts does not bode well for the Democrats. To win elections, you have to operate a little more in reality.

 
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Originally published in The Commons issue #492 (Wednesday, January 9, 2019). This story appeared on page D1.

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