About that Bern I’m Feeling . . .
David R. Weiss
February 28, 2016
Despite being a devoted introvert, I’ve been pretty politically extraverted lately … on behalf about Bernie Sanders. Here, in 1100 words, is why.
Bernie is the best candidate to run for president in all my voting years. I trust his character, consistency, transparency, and authenticity. I’m also struck by his candor about his secular faith. He would bring to the presidency a moral vision grounded in compassion that is as explicit and more universal than has ever been the case. The philosophical commitments I see in his politics: prioritizing peace, ecology, sufficiency, diplomacy, equity, and global respect, resonate with my own convictions. I admire his willingness to hear others out—especially the voices of marginalized others—and then learn from them.
I appreciate his stance on a wide range of issues.
- He has supported workers’ rights both on picket lines and in policy proposals. As a recently unionized part-time college instructor, and as someone earning less than $15/hour at one of my other jobs, I live in the economy that undervalues honest work and workers’ rights.
- His policy views on racial justice, prison/police reform have been directly shaped by what he’s heard from Black Lives Matter activists. This reflects his lifelong commitment to listen to minority voices, stand with their bodies, and act for their civil rights. Plus, he opposes the death penalty—a principled position that, in practice, actively protects Black lives.
- His views on LGBT issues, women’s pay equity, and women’s reproductive rights are all unapologetically
- He has consistently opposed trade agreements that unwisely put the environment at risk and harm workers’ pay and other protections (both in the U.S. and abroad).
- He has been working to protect the environment as seen in his opposition to fracking, the Keystone pipeline, and offshore drilling, and his support for alternative energy.
- His criticism of the power that large corporations, banks, and those with immense personal wealth have to rig our economy, buy elections, and otherwise leave the U.S. a democracy in name only has been fierce and is spot on.
- He is setting priorities that will make us a stronger nation, from accessible education to universal healthcare, from rebuilding infrastructure to solidifying Social Security.
- His foreign policy views show a persistent moral-practical critique of U.S. militarism and empire-building. He may have less direct “frontline” foreign policy experience than Hillary, but his moral compass has been far more reliable on these matters.
- Bernie’s position on gun control is evolving. His Vermont context is different than in those areas most affected by gun violence. But, precisely because of this—and because of his vision of a society where all can flourish without fear—he’s uniquely positioned to help us as a nation navigate this most necessary issue.
Neither of the leading critiques of Bernie’s candidacy are persuasive.
Some say he isn’t electable. That he’s simply too far to the left or too far out of the mainstream to appeal to enough voters—and that any Republican candidate would have a field day with him in attack ads. I strongly disagree. Yes, any Republican candidate will go after him, but Bernie’s positions reflect the core aspirations of many in America. If you’ve read George Lakoff’s book, Don’t Think of an Elephant, you realize that every time someone slams Bernie for his “socialist” idea of “universal healthcare,” voters will hear—again and again and again and again—about this notion of universal healthcare. And, to the extent that his priorities and proposals actually resonate with the aspirations of middle America, each attack will end up reminding Americans that Bernie is actually on their side. Bernie speaks with uncanny clarity and straightforward honesty about the issues the matter to real middle class, working class, and lower class Americans. He is eminently electable.
Others say, even if he were elected, he couldn’t get anything done because of Congress. Again, I strongly disagree. During his last twelve years as an Independent in a Republican-controlled House (that entire time!)—Bernie passed more amendments to bills than anyone else in the House. Progressive amendments. And he continued to use amendments as a powerful tool in the Senate. His “outsider” status, far from making him ineffective, has led him to hone his skills as at building alliances on both sides of the aisle. And when Killer Mike admits, “Bernie is a one-issue candidate: his one-issue is the citizens of the United States,” he identifies what can make Bernie successful in the oval office. Bernie has shown an extraordinary capacity thus far to tap into the public ferment of American citizens and (unlike Trump) to harness it to hope. If he animates the Executive Branch with the hopes of countless citizens and the savvy of a seasoned legislator he will get things done.
I have friends—some of them fellow progressives whose wisdom I highly regard—who support Hillary. I respect their views, but there are two primary reasons that I find it very difficult to support Hillary.
First, as a matter of a principle: democracies cannot endure dynasties. For twenty years, from 1989-2009, just two families (Bush/Clinton) controlled the White House. Were Hillary elected in 2016 those two families would sit in the White House for 75% of a 32-year stretch. If she were elected to a second term, just two family dynasties would hold the oval office for 28 out of 36 years. This would mean that over half of all Americans alive during her second term would have seen just two families hold the presidency for 80% of their lifetimes. That simply isn’t democracy.
Second, while Hillary is extraordinarily sharp … she strikes me as also extraordinarily expedient. Sadly, I simply don’t believe that black lives or trans lives or workers lives or poor lives or the planet’s life truly matter to her at a gut level. I think they matter to her “all other things being equal,” and in politics “all other things” are never equal. Her record and her rhetoric suggest this. Put very bluntly, even though I’d vote for Hillary in heartbeat in a race pitting her against any of the Republican candidates, I’m pretty much convinced (and not cheerfully so!) that a Hillary presidency would be a deep disappointment and a delay of dreams.
And while I would take disappointment and delayed dreams over moral-economic-political disaster, which is what the current Republican candidates all offer, that is NOT a progressive choice. And until the Democratic convention has come and gone, I’m not about to settle. Under Hillary, I’m quite worried that trans lives, black lives, workers’ lives, poor lives, and the planet’s countless other lives (human, plant, animal) would all be left more exposed, and I’m not able to get excited about that.
Bernie Sanders is running for President on a platform remarkable for its hope and its commitment to justice. It may be imprecise as yet and imperfect in what it accomplishes. No single person can “redeem” a broken political system or a broken politics. But in Bernie’s candidacy I hear an unmistakable echo of Langston Hughes’ words, residing still in so many hearts and minds: “America never was America to me, And yet I swear this oath—America will be!” And that’s why I #FeeltheBern.
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David R. Weiss is the author of When God Was a Little Girl, a playfully profound and slyly subversive children’s picture book (Beaver’s Pond Press, 2013; www.WhenGodWasaLittleGirl.com) as well asTo the Tune of a Welcoming God: Lyrical reflections on sexuality, spirituality and the wideness of God’s welcome (2008, Langdon Street Press). A theologian, writer, poet and hymnist, David is committed to doing “public theology” around issues of sexuality, justice, diversity, and peace. He lives in St. Paul and speaks on college campuses and at church and community events. You can reach him at email@example.com and read more at www.ToTheTune.com where he blogs under the theme, “Full Frontal Faith: Erring on the Edge of Honest.”