This article is about Bernie Sanders. Though it isn’t, for a change, one that tries to make an argument for his electability over Hillary Clinton. If you want to read about how Sanders is more likely to beat the GOP in an election than Clinton, how Sanders has broken records in terms of whipping up public support, or how the stories about superdelegates blocking Sanders’ path to the Democratic nomination are complete bullshit, other articles have more to say on those subjects than this one.
Neither does this article make the argument for dumping Clinton and stumping for Sanders based on what the pair individually offer. If you want to hear about how the two compare on ‘progressiveness, or who’s accepted what money and from whom, again you’ll find more detail in other articles. There are also plenty of pieces out there that clear up just how much of a ‘communist Sanders is, for those still uncertain. (Hint: he’s barely even a socialist.)
This article, rather, is about optimism. More specifically, how some Democrats are currently determined to kill it for Sanders supporters. Look to social media and to the press commentariat, and you’ll be met with a deluge of ‘observations’ and thinkpieces on how being a Bernie Sanders supporter is to be a foolish, hopeless optimist. The general argument being that a vote for Sanders is a vote not just for defeat in the presidential election, but for policies and ideas that could never possibly come to fruition anyway.
When, as Seth Ackerman has pointed out, professional media commentators are ridiculing ‘ludicrous’ Sanders policies they actually endorsed prior to him gaining ground on Clinton, you maybe ought to be suspicious of what their intentions are. The anti-Sanders social media brigade, however, seem genuinely hell-bent on telling Sanders supporters to ‘get real,’ vote Clinton, and accept her plan of continuing where Obama left off. Some of Sanders’ platform proposals? They’ll never work, these people insist, so let’s not even try.
Let’s, for a moment, take on board what these people are saying. They’re certainly right that Bernie Sanders’ plans are incredibly ambitious. Just imagine having to martial an entire nation in order to carry some of his proposals out, never mind getting any of them to pass through congress. And what’s the point in even attempting to break out of the destructive boom-and-bust economic cycle when Wall Street has such a grip on the political process?
You know what? Let’s listen to these pessimists: let’s all just give up.
Let’s give up on universal health care, even though in other major countries like Germany, Canada and the UK (oh, and don’t forget Rwanda) this system has been running just fine for decades. Let’s give up on free public college, even though this, again, is something already a fact of life in places like Finland, Brazil and Estonia. Let’s give up on that pipe dream of raising the minimum wage, even though the money is there (increasingly so for CEOs) for workers to get a pay rise. Let’s give up on really reforming the prison system, rebuilding American infrastructure or vigorously tackling climate change, even though those are things that respectively could happen, have happened before and literally need to happen now.
Hillary Clinton has positioned herself in this campaign as the realist’s Democratic candidate, someone who’ll keep the US chugging along without attempting to make too many sweeping changes. Sanders supporters argue real change needs to happen, soon, to combat the long list of issues facing America. On the other hand, a lot of Democratic voters have responded to Clinton’s commitment to pragmatism and slow-and-steady change. The problem is that so many of these Clintonistas have turned to lambasting the Sanders crowd for supporting policies which have already been practically enacted around the world, and which experts (not all of them – even the experts tend to disagree over the areas they’re experts on) say could be enacted in the US.
A CNN Money report based on findings by UMass economics professor Gerald Friedman and released last week appeared to smash any misconceptions about Sanders being a bad or ineffective president—at least economically. In fact, the report stated that a Sanders presidency would raise median income by $22,000, create 26 million jobs and drop the unemployment rate to 3.8%. This should have been enough to convince the Sanders detractors to go easy. It wasn’t. Perhaps so ground down after years of being told to accept their crumbs while the wealth of the one percent suspiciously balloons, some continue to spread the message of the downtrodden to Sanders voters: just give up.
The word ‘naive’ keeps coming up, as though Sanders supporters are just pie in the sky dreamers that haven’t done their research first. (The press are more than happy to perpetuate this myth.) Not only are some of Sanders’ highest-profile supporters some of the finest contemporary minds—Noam Chomsky, Steve Wozniak, Ta-Nehisi Coates (voting for Sanders, if not officially endorsing him)—but the very idea that believing in change is inherently naive is an insult to the likes of those icons that achieved it, such as two heroes of both the Clinton and Sanders campaigns, MLK and FDR.
A belief that things can change for the better is—as history has proven—not naive, and yet this word keeps being used to describe Sanders’ supporters. The pessimists say it’s naive to believe universal health care is achievable, that public college can be free, that the minimum wage could go up to 15 bucks an hour. They say private health care, high student debts, and $7.25 per hour are the best to hope for right now. Is it not more naive, though, to blindly assume that there aren’t any alternatives on the table?
The issue today is that people are angry, and desperate for radical change. That’s why both Sanders and Donald Trump have proven so popular with voters. One camp thinks a modification in how wealth is distributed is the solution, while the other believes cutting ties with China and kicking out immigrants is the answer. After Sanders and Trump dominated in New Hampshire, and with the pair of them surging in the polls, it currently feels like the voters who want things to remain the same are increasingly in the minority.
Of course, that may change going into Nevada and South Carolina, as Sanders and Trump face a more diverse, less predominantly white electorate. But for now, let’s not dismiss Bernie Sanders or his supporters. Let’s not dismiss the idea of change when change is a constant fact of life; when history is full of men and women who affected the world’s course despite being regularly told their idealism was futile.
Bernie Sanders is an idealist, yes, and his plans are ambitious. Nothing of this scale has been proposed since the days of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. But what harm would come to the naysayers if Sanders’ supporters voted to at least aim for his something better? What would be wrong with attempting to steer the country towards greater income equality, if there’s a chance even half of Gerald Friedman’s findings coming true? (An 11 grand salary increase still isn’t bad.) And hey, if the Sanders plan fails after four years, we can always just go back to this other system. You know, the one that isn’t working.