On Memorial Day weekend last year, a few compatriots and I, for the first time, put together a small booth and sign-up list to find volunteers for Kentucky for Bernie Sanders. People wished us well, but few had any faith in the movement. That movement has now led to this Democratic socialist challenging the darling of the Democratic establishment to win state after state and potentially forcing a contested convention.
There are those among the Democratic establishment who play to fear in a much more subtle way than do Republicans, but for the same effect. The argument that they make to the Democratic base — and make rather well — basically hinges on the electability of a socialist Jew. Ignoring that he polls better against Donald Trump than does Hillary, there are some other very important facts to note.
In Bernie Sanders, America finally has a candidate who has truly eschewed the smoke-filled rooms and traditional power-brokering that has been the norm. He is a wildfire that has raged out of control, from the least likely source. In massive rallies, upwards of 30,000 people, the firebrand liberal has spoken truth to power with the zeal of a Pentecostal revival. With the same fervor, his supporters have opened their wallets to the only candidate who has refused the support of the unlimited corporate money through Super PACs, setting records for money raised by individual contributions from common citizens. This is in stark contrast to Clinton, whose high-dollar fundraisers held by special interests have been closed to the public. Although Sanders supporters may not care about Hillary’s emails, we are deeply interested in the transcripts of the speeches that earned her millions of dollars from the banks that ran our economy aground in 2008 — transcripts she refuses to release. In this light, the word socialist doesn’t sound quite so scary, especially if you consider the social democracies that enjoy the highest standard of living and well-being in the world.
Clinton’s strongest performance has been in poorly-educated, socially-conservative Southern states. These are states the Democrats will most likely lose anyway, with Nixon’s Southern Strategy still running the show after almost 50 years. South Carolina, Alabama, Louisiana and Georgia hardly represent the Democratic base and have been lost to the GOP in the past three presidential elections.
Another Democratic establishment argument has to do with Sanders’ religion. His Jewishness may be off-putting to some, and that he is not significantly devout may raise concerns for others. This is not the first presidential election in which such a question has been raised. In 1960, John F. Kennedy had to quell fears that as a Catholic, he would defer to the Pope and could not serve as a truly American President. In 2012, Mitt Romney captured the white evangelical vote and enough of the GOP base for their nomination, despite Mormons’ status as outsiders within the spheres of Christian influence. Probably the most convincing example of overcoming voter doubt regarding faith is Barack Obama’s Christianity. After all, a man with a Muslim name won the two elections, only seven years after 9/11. Sanders’ Jewishness is not a problem.
The Sanders movement has been castigated as a youth movement, and understandably so. The so-called Millennials, and Generation X before them, have not seen the opportunities that generations before us enjoyed, and they are definitely a vocal portion of our group. Being told time and again that college was the route to success, we took on student debt that now outweighs the total amount of credit-card debt in the U.S. The last job interview that I had related to my education was for a $12-per-hour, 20 hour-per-week paralegal position that I didn’t get due to lack of experience. I made more on Oaks day by working as a server in fine dining than that job would have paid in a week. Sanders wants free tuition for students, which is often criticized as unrealistic. With the $3 trillion we spent on Iraq (which Sanders voted against, and Clinton voted for) we could have paid the higher education tuition bills of every student in America for 40 years. That’s all democratic socialism is: just investing in your country.
Another argument is made that Sanders won’t be able to deal with a Republican Congress. For one, I think that the energetic support you see for Sanders would carry into down-ticket races, even for the milquetoast non-personalities that the DNC often runs. In the event that Congress is still run by Republicans in January, I suggest that Sanders would be much more fierce in calling out GOP shenanigans and rent-seeking for their donors, changing the conversation for the rest of the country from the bully pulpit. Why else would you see donors that were behind Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz now donating to Hillary?
This election is only the beginning. The massive working-class wave of unrest will not go away soon. The question that the Democratic Party has before it is whether it will kowtow to Big Pharma, the health-insurance lobby, the bundlers of the financial sector and the rest of the oligarchy that want to buy America piecemeal. This is not so much a revolution as it is a revolt, and for the Democratic Party to avoid future irrelevance it must return to the ideals that made it so great in the first place.
Daniel Sherrill is a food-service industry worker, University of Louisville student and volunteer with Kentucky for Bernie Sanders.