Looks like it’s deja vu all over again…Shades of 2008. Remember, Hillary had the primaries and nomination all locked up? Then a funny thing happened on the way to the convention: Iowa. And a guy came from virtually nowhere to win. That was about the time I began supporting Barack Obama. From Iowa, though it was a long, hard road–he hardly looked back.
I’m not going to tell you that Bernie Sanders has much in common with Obama. He’s not as smooth. He’s not as gifted an orator. He’s just plain Bernie. He’s awkward. He shouts. He bellows. Sometimes he even plods. But he’s genuine. He stands for something. What he stands for makes some Democrats mad as hell. As for Republicans, let’s not even go there.
That’s why Bernie’s symbolic victory in Iowa (the results are a virtual dead-heat) tonight has to make Hillary shiver in her boots. Because Bernie will win New Hampshire big-time (since he represents the next-door state of Vermont). Then it’s on to Super Tuesday. That is the big test. The primary states in that contest are concentrated in the Deep South. Most people think of the South as not being Bernie country. Too conservative.
But I’ll bet that’s what Hillary’s folks thought about Obama eight years ago: he’s too much of an outlier. He’s too radical. They’ll say that about Bernie too. How can a New York Jew representing Vermont do well in the South?
What this sentiment neglects to take into account is that Hillary doesn’t represent anything. She’s a candidate constructed on an assembly-line with parts provided by the Democratic establishment and her 1% donors. That makes Bernie authentic. He doesn’t represent anyone but himself and values honed over decades of engagement in the struggle for social and economic justice. He’s not anyone else’s man.
Watch for all the junk journalism that will now be thrown at Bernie. They’ll question his Jewishness. How can an atheist win the White House (anyone making such a claim forgets that at least five U.S. presidents belonged to no church or denomination…voters didn’t seem to mind)? They’ll question his seriousness (“a Democratic Socialist, really?”). They’ll point out Bernie’s not even a real Democrat since he only joined the Party formally last year. The truth is that Democrat or no, it’s Bernie who’s been true to Democratic principles for decades. He’s the real Democrat, while those who question his allegiance are the imposters.
The naysayers do everything but question his authenticity. Because you can’t do that. Authenticity is something you can’t manufacture or buy. If you could, Hillary would have it in spades.
So let the word go forth from here that I support Bernie Sanders, and proudly. I don’t know if he’ll win the nomination. If he does, I don’t know if he’ll win the presidency. If he does, I don’t know what kind of president he’ll be. I don’t know if he’ll trim his sails or moderate his positions as Obama did, in order to govern. I don’t know if he’ll remain so intractable that he turns himself into an political irrelevancy. After all, governing requires a great deal of finesse, which isn’t always Bernie’s strong suit.
But whatever happens, this is a bet I’m willing to take. I believe in Bernie. It’s not the belief of an acolyte or the devotion of a disciple. It’s something tougher than that. Something more skeptical, more nuanced, more real.
There are some strange dichotomies evident in this election cycle. It is the first presidential election since Citizens United. Under its rubric we were slated to become a country bought and paid for by billionaires like Adelson the the Koch Brothers. Don’t get me wrong: with the Kochs prepared to spend $900-million in this election and Adelson prepared to spend well over $100-million (I’m going to go out on a limb and predict he spends $200-million), the oligarchs will throw their weight around.
But a strange thing has happened: the Occupied movement and Black Lives Matter showed that politics can arise from the grassroots. Though many of us have wondered whether these movements had staying power, whether they could impact our politics in the long-term, I think the answer is a resounding, Yes. They may not influence them in the conventional ways one expects. They may not elect a Congressmember or senator. But they have crept into the body politic in more subtle ways.
They’ve proven there is power in an idea. And that the idea can be transformed into a candidacy. And that such a candidacy has staying power. It has roots. It even has money. A candidate who represents some pretty radical ideas can appeal to the average citizen and raise millions. Bernie proved that. And that is nothing short of a minor miracle. The Kochs and Adelsons don’t own us (yet).
Before closing, let’s get a few things out of the way: Bernie’s not the perfect candidate. He’s not mellifluous. He’s not ingratiating. He’s stubborn as a horse. He won’t change his stripes regardless of how much he should on certain subjects.
I will never make the mistake I did with Obama, believing him capable of great things. I will never believe a presidential candidate can take us over the rainbow. Nor will I saddle Bernie with such unrealistic expectations. He doesn’t have to be another FDR. He just has to be Bernie. He has to remain true to himself and his bedrock values. That will be sufficient.
So let’s talk about the bad stuff: his positions on Israel and Palestine were formed in the 1960s when Israel represented the underdog and a liberal could be proud to support the struggling Jewish state. He hasn’t adapted to changing conditions as many of us have. I don’t know if he will change his positions on Israel as the campaign progresses. I wish he would. But if he doesn’t I have only to look at the horrible foreign policies of Hillary Clinton to remind myself overall which would be a better president.
Let’s not forget gun control. He doesn’t have a good position on this issue either. I know the reasons for this, but they don’t sit well with me. I oppose Bernie on this issue. But I’ve seen enough presidential elections to know you never get a perfect candidate. You always get a candidate who’s the best of the lot. Sometimes, in a really bad election cycle, you get one who is the least worst of the bunch. That’s not the 2016 race. Bernie is not quite the best. But he’s damn good.
As an aside: an Israeli Likud (tourism) minister used Chelsea Clinton’s marriage to Mark Mezvinsky as Exhibit A in his argument that American Jewry is doomed. Imagine the tourism minister tells Israel’s largest tourism constituency that they’re doomed!
According to Yariv Levin’s theory, we can’t be authentic because we’re all marrying goyim. We’ll disappear in three generations or so he claims. As anyone knows, Judaism is a pure religion. Jews are a pure bloodline stretching from Adam to Bibi. Real Jews don’t intermarry. Real Jews are steadfast.
Obviously, Levin has never met the hundreds of thousands of converts to Judaism. He’s never heard of the Khazars, though Yehuda HaLevi welcomed them to Judaism all the way back in the Middle Ages. Don’t disturb Levin’s fantasy world. Let him sleep undisturbed.