A small indication of trustworthiness for a national leader is to be widely known by an affectionate first name, Bernie in this case. Polls indicate Bernie is the most trusted politician in the country. I hasten to add that this is, in itself, not enough. Stalin was known as Joe or Uncle Joe by many, who like tRump supporters somehow managed to maintain a mighty delusion despite ready facts, believing that if only Uncle Joe had known about the purges and killing he would have stopped them. Put another way, they became quite adept at avoiding or denying ready facts. But the appellation holds for Bernie. Not that there aren’t hordes of the properly indoctrinated who dismiss the guy with tags like, socialist/communist, needing for some psychological reason a “strong leader” (like Joe). Both sides of this equation use words like freedom, democracy, justice but it isn’t hard to decipher which side is serious and which side is seriously misusing the language.
Bernie begins his book with an account of the negotiations, for the Democratic Convention in 2016, which produced what he calls the most progressive political platform in U.S. history. When he recognized that Hillary had the delegates to win the nomination, by hook or by crook, he used his leverage to get 5 of his supporters on the 12 person platform committee. Climate specialist Bill McKibben and philosopher-activist Cornel West, notably. Included in the platform were commitments to make college tuition free, reduce student loan debt, funding of community health centers, a public option to allow citizens to opt into medicare at age 55 (a compromise since Bernie favored single payer, medicare for all), a $15 dollar an hour minimum wage, a tax on greenhouse gases, massive investments in solar, wind and other renewable energy (not nukes), a path toward legalization of marijuana, abolishing the death penalty, attacking the problem of corporations and the wealthy avoiding taxes by stashing cash off-shore, union-friendly measures, automatic voter registration… and other progressive items, achieving 80% of Sander’s goals.
Recognizing that either Hillary or Trump was going to be president, Bernie set out to get that across to his troops, at the convention and across the country. Supreme Court appointments alone, as we have seen, was issue enough to back Clinton. Obstacles to preventing the disaster of a Trump victory were serious Republican cheating, gerrymandering, and deception, including probably collusion with Russian hacking and dirty tricks. Democratic victory required a huge win, to win. As we know, 200 million (or was it 3?) wasn’t a big enough win to overcome these obstacles. But try he did. His book chronicles some of the speeches he made on his tour to support Hillary, a tour which was formidable for a man some considered too old to run. One could question whether the book has a lot of filler in the form of speeches Bernie made on this and other tours but, since they’re good, important speeches, they justify themselves. Questioning U.S. foreign policy with its over-reliance on force, the massive military budget and corruption, subservience to Israeli intransigence and apartheid, collusion with dictators (right wing only if you please) highlights Bernie as one of the very few elected officials with the courage to go down those roads.
Asking the question how do we revitalize U.S. democracy and create a government that represents all the people, not just the few? How do we bring millions of new people into the political process and raise political consciousness? Bernie’s answer is Our Revolution, an organization aimed to do just that. This section talks about the many who fail to vote, the disenfranchised, the demoralized and the uninspired. That last quality is understandable when a citizen can feel, if not articulate, that political life is largely controlled by a handful of billionaires and corporations. The Sanders presidential campaign netted millions of small donations and, for Our Revolution, millions of contacts that could be used to further the goals of the organization, which includ electoral activity, resulting in many victories, ranging from local state school superintendent to U.S. senator. The democratic party split is represented by the Hillary/Bernie campaigns, an establishment figure and a revolutionary, and it runs across the party nationwide. Those comfortable with the status quo and who believe only “moderate” (read republican-lite) candidates can win versus those who believe, and have shown, that progressive candidates speaking to the general malaise can win. These candidates, naturally, coming out of the grass roots, express the diversity of the population in race, religion and gender, even sexual orientation.
The path to U.S. senator and presidential candidate was unique to Bernie and he lays that out for the reader, from his civil rights, anti-war activist days, his failed runs for senate and other offices, his successful bid for major of Burlington, Vermont, house of representatives and finally senate. Throughout this career, it is remarkable how consistent, from day one, has been his critique and understanding of the extent to which a wealthy elite runs this country for their own benefit. No one person has done more to further this understanding across the country. His determined optimism runs through this book and should help inspire many to join the fray.
Image credit: the Fair and Balanced illustration was created by the author, © Tom Ferguson