THE WHOLE THING DIDN’T GO AS PLANNED. The de facto Republican leader, Donald Trump, was supposed to be an also-ran, largely purged from the primaries by early 2016. For Hilary Clinton and the Democrats, it was supposed to resemble something of a coronation. Yes, there was Bernie Sanders, the elderly statesman from Vermont, but, like Trump, was supposed to be out of the race months ago. As we near the conventions of both parties, each is experiencing an identity crisis of major proportions.
There’s a reason why millions of young people have signed up for the Sander’s campaign. Spotting in him someone who has maintained the ideals of his youth, they see in him as a mentor, a guide into the complex future that surely lies ahead.
The trouble is that the American political establishment, in seeing Sander’s policies as hopelessly naïve, have painted that younger generation with a brush that has turned them against the “politics as usual” camp in droves.
At the root of it all is Sander’s pursuit of a more equitable and just nation. Given the economic and social fallout following the Great Recession, it’s hardly any wonder that citizens are looking for something different, something … fair. To such individuals Sanders appears like the real deal, someone whose entire life was acted out in accordance with the social justice principles he maintains today. Yes, he was thrown into a police paddywagon for demonstrating against racial bigotry decades ago. Yes, when he ran for mayor of Vermont’s largest city, Burlington, he was regarded as naïve and simplistic. Yet he won the contest (by a mere 10 votes), going on to win three more elections. But what’s important here wasn’t his popularity but his social victories in a time of almost universal economic restraint elsewhere. The city advanced in affordable housing, progressive taxation, women’s rights, and environmental reforms.
Does that sound like some unrealistic leader? In many ways he has more political experience that most of the people mocking him. While everyone keeps talking about jobs, jobs, jobs, Sander’s record in Burlington left the city with an unemployment rate of 2.6% – lower than any other place in the United States. His record while in office on women’s rights and advancement has been recognized, as was his ability to bring economic renewal to Burlington.
These kinds of accomplishments, as listed in Wikipedia and his website, say something specific about the man: he speaks with experience and accomplishment. And it’s that authenticity, and not just his words, that cause millions to see in him, his grey hair waving around in all directions at his outdoor rallies, as someone who’s actually done what he’s calling on America to do.
Author May Sarton once wrote that, “We have to dare to be ourselves, however frightening or strange that self may prove to be.” The reality is, of course, that it’s the political establishment, the power brokers, and the financial barons, who label him frightening and strange, not the millions of others who find in Sanders someone with a rugged and transparent authenticity and who respond to him with in commitment, not fear.
Mississippi Senator, Roger Wicker, a Republican, not a Democrat, said of Sanders:
“I learned early on not to be automatically dismissive of a Bernie Sanders initiative or amendment. He’s tenacious and dogged and he has determination, and he not to be underestimated.”
What makes this elder but dynamic statesman so powerful at the moment, however, is not just his experience or courage, but the effect he creates within his listeners. Since when is seeking change a “naïve” quality? Justin Trudeau proved it to be a powerful political dynamic north of the border and Sanders has been battling for the same thing long before our present prime minister was born.
This isn’t a blog post about supporting Bernie Sanders, but about getting “real” people into office and then helping them stay that way. Whether people agree or not, he has kept his character intact and people see through it to a greater world. There probably isn’t a person in Congress right now who wouldn’t give anything to have that level of credibility. Naïve, my foot.