National Commentary

OK, Thank You, Bernie Sanders

nfbenton-mugFollowing Tuesday’s New York primary, everybody knows it’s now all over but the shouting in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. Hillary Clinton will make history as the first woman to win the party’s nomination for president in Philadelphia this summer. Meanwhile, we remain uncertain who her GOP rival will be.

Clinton’s still-standing Democratic rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders, was, barring a miracle, never a serious contender to win the nomination, although of course he doesn’t believe that. The questions around Sanders were, and in a sense remain, two: How well can he energize the young progressive spirit he helped to catalyze in the country, and, how much damage will he refrain from inflicting on Clinton in the process.

There is no doubt that there are enemies of the progressive values held by both Clinton and Sanders that are embedded in those campaigns, and they tend to sew division, doubt and dissension wherever they can. But the forces of good have considerable work to do, work which Sanders has helped to kick off.

Sanders didn’t expect to be the big deal he became but just like no one expected the sudden rise of Donald Trump on the other side, no one really thought that Sanders’ New Deal-style message would resonate so well with young America.

But it’s a sign of the times we’re in, riddled with both promise and caution. The masses are restless and are surging at the barricades carrying both red (progressive) and black (reactionary) banners.

It’s hard to fathom that only eight years later we’re still living with the effects of the George W. Bush years, very possibly the worst cascade of man-made fiascoes in American history, starting with the corruption of the U.S. Supreme Court to install Bush as president.

The mess in the Middle East is the result of what he unleashed with the unprovoked invasion of Iraq there, the failed response to Hurricane Katrina has left a indelible scar on that wider region still, and the crescendo was the global financial collapse triggered by immoral and corrupt mortgage and banking practices.

Is it any wonder that it would take more than one successor administration to try to clean up this monstrous mess? President Obama has done a lot of highly commendable things, but 300 million Americans remain on edge, anxiety ridden and filled with distrust and doubt. They have good reason to be.

The grass-tops organizers of the GOP under Dick Armey’s lead sought to exploit this anxiety as soon as Obama was sworn in, in 2009 with racist and conspiratorial theories about Obama’s health care initiative, given the name of Tea Party by a Wall Street flunky in the first months and whipping the Tea Party masses into frenzies that they rode into Congressional town hall meetings that summer.

Obama’s race also fueled that anger and fear as right wing Republicans and their talk show mouthpieces became fully sanctioned to incite them more.

Meanwhile, the so-called “recovery” has indeed been very tepid, though Democrats are not supposed to focus on that. Still, an unwillingness to be more frank about this has hurt Democrats because those willing to take to the streets know better.

It is no time for anyone to be cloaked or cagey about the grim economic realities that are facing so many of us, and that’s where Sanders provided a genuine service to this year’s presidential election.

His candor and willingness to be labeled all kinds of bad things, especially as a “socialist,” has been refreshing and cause for hope in a world where no one seems to be telling the truth.
This has pushed, or made it possible, for Clinton to show more candor, and to embrace more fully the plight of a disenfranchised middle America that is in far worse shape now than when she was in the White House with Bill.

Sanders needs to keep lighting this spark, and Hillary needs to keep heeding its flame to reposition the Democratic Party roughly to where it became under FDR. The party will enjoy an unprecedented opportunity to become the party of multi-racial, multi-ethnic and multi-cultural political majorities for a long time to come.