(Opinion) — Bernie Sanders touts campaign finance reform, universal healthcare, privacy rights and a resurgence of the middle class. He opposes corporate welfare for Wall Street, income inequality, racial discrimination in the criminal justice system, and losing young American lives in Middle East wars.
What’s not to like about that agenda? Sanders, who trails former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, is unquestionably the candidate Wyoming should get behind when the state party holds its county caucuses April 9.
Sanders has been a U.S. senator from Vermont for 10 years, and before that he represented Vermont in the U.S. House for eight terms. His first political office was mayor of Burlington, Vermont. All of that experience makes him an unlikely Washington, D.C., “outsider,” but that is indeed what he is. No one is more of a political maverick than Sanders, an independent who has sided with the Democrats for years even though he only joined the party in 2015 so he could make his bid for the White House.
Sanders has long been one of my favorite U.S. senators, along with Elizabeth Warren, and since my views are the polar opposite of Wyoming U.S. Sens. Mike Enzi and John Barrasso, I have adopted the progressive duo as my senators. I’ve got the finest Senate delegation in the country representing me at the Capitol.
When he announced his presidential run I thought Sanders was only making a political statement against the establishment’s chosen candidate, Clinton, who had been anointed by party leaders as the automatic nominee. The way the scenario was supposed to play out for Democrats, Clinton would have plenty of time and money to gear up for her fight against whoever Republicans selected.
I hoped Sanders would be able to draw attention to progressive causes, especially the immediate need to address climate change, save the earth from pollution and avoid certain extinction. If he could also make a few points about how billionaires have made the planet their personal playground and plundered our resources for their profit, so much the better.
I thought I was alone on the Bernie bandwagon, until tens of thousands of people started showing up at his rallies. He has galvanized the youth vote across the nation. After a virtual tie with Clinton in the Iowa caucuses and his blow-out win in the New Hampshire primary, it was clear Sanders was a serious candidate.
Well, by everybody but the mainstream media. Television news producers’ obsession with Donald Trump and covering him live every time he sneezes has kept Sanders in the political shadows nationally. Even Clinton could barely get a sound clip broadcast on the evening news, much less her rival — a mere sideshow act in the TV ratings obsessed political carnival.
Frankly, it’s made me ashamed to be a journalist. I no longer admit my occupation at public gatherings, preferring to identify myself as a professional fantasy baseball player. I’m just an amateur, but at least it would be an honorable way to make a living.
It’s against the unwritten code of political columnists to resort to name-calling, but for Trump I make a personal exception. He’s a blowhard and a buffoon, and he’s already made the U.S. the laughingstock of the world by announcing he intends to ban Muslims — one-third of the earth’s population — from our shores.
Trump has also called Mexicans rapists, alienated black and Latino voters, degraded women and veterans and responded to criticism with disgusting, non-stop verbal and Twitter attacks on his opponents. He’s incited his supporters to violence at rallies by encouraging them to punch out protesters and have them carried out on stretchers. If this is the guy Republicans actually want to be their standard-bearer, I think it’s great. The only people still part of his base are old, conservative white guys. The last time I checked they’re outnumbered and not going to be running the show much longer.
But back to Sanders and Clinton. In a March 24 national Bloomberg poll, Sanders held a 49 percent to 48 percent lead. He still trails in the actual delegate count by a couple hundred, but the media always inflates her numbers to include more than 400 “super-delegates.” These are elected officials who could easily switch sides if it becomes clear that Sanders has the best chance to win in November.
And he does, by a wide margin. Real Clear Politics notes while recent national polls show Clinton ahead of Trump an average of 11 percent, she’s only 3 points in front of the GOP’s other nightmarish candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz. Sanders is ahead of Trump by an average of 18 points. He is also 8 points ahead in a one-on-one match-up against the Texas senator.
While Trump’s unfavorable polling numbers are incredibly low at minus 33 percent, Clinton’s are not much better at minus 21 percent. She’s been the target of a vicious campaign against her for the past quarter-century by what she’s called “the vast right-wing conspiracy,” and if she’s the Democratic nominee the unjustified, made-up slime, sludge and smears Republicans use against her will be ramped up. Their fervor will be unprecedented in American politics, which have been known to be plenty nasty since the nation was founded.
Just look at how the GOP has tried to make its rabid case against Clinton for the Benghazi attack and so-called “email scandals.” Republicans are so intent on trumping up phony charges about her emails before the election, they will no doubt continue to attack her public reputation on grounds of dishonesty. It’s a long-shot but if they manage to get an indictment of her before the election, it’s game over for Democrats.
I hope Sanders gets the nomination, but I want to make it clear: if he doesn’t, I’m voting for Clinton.
Sanders, who has been such a nice guy he refused to get involved in any more talk about Clinton’s emails, has only one major weakness as a candidate, but it’s admittedly a huge one: He is a self-described “democratic socialist.” That equates to “commie” in the eyes of many Americans.
But democratic socialism encompasses, for example, the extraordinary accomplishments of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal and similar social programs to reduce vast income inequality after the Great Depression. Sanders is intent on creating a federal government “that works for all and not just the few” billionaires who control the economy.
He recognizes that healthcare is a basic human right, not a privilege, and should be available to every American. That doesn’t make him a Marxist who wants to abolish capitalism; he just wants the middle class and working families who produce the nation’s wealth to get a fair deal.
He’s also exposed the hypocrisy of people like myself. I’ve always preached to readers and friends that the terms “liberal” and “progressive” should be embraced, not hidden away in shame because they label us as different than the majority of red-state Wyoming. We liberals are different, and we believe we have better ways of solving problems. Bashing the federal government at every opportunity and waiting for prosperity to trickle down from the fat-cats in charge when they decide to share a meager portion of their wealth and create a few more low-paying jobs are not solutions that work for us.
I yearned for Sanders to “ixnay on the ocialismsay,” and now I’m ashamed of my attitude. If we don’t use the phrase and explain what democratic socialism really is, we’ll always be hiding for no reason.
I wish Sanders would stress his opposition to the unpopular war in Iraq and reemphasize that Clinton voted in favor of it. I also would like to see his stump speech broadened a bit to include more emphasis on topics that resonate with many voters, like how the so-called war on drugs has done nothing but made criminals out of addicted people — disproportionately minorities — who have a health problem, not a legal problem.
Other Western states like Utah and Idaho — which are similar to Wyoming in their political conservatism and other ways — recently gave overwhelming victories to Sanders at their Democratic caucuses. There’s absolutely no reason why the Equality State shouldn’t do the same, because Sanders embodies the principles of equality. He wants elections to be decided by average voters, not billionaires who give obscene amounts of money to gain access to politicians.
I like the sound of “President Sanders,” and I like what he has to say. The more you get to know what he stands for, I hope you will too.
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** Correction: An earlier version of this story mistakenly described Sanders as having represented Virginia, not Vermont, in the U.S. House of Representatives.