Bernie Sanders reminds me of an elderly, eccentric uncle. Many families have one. He is the kindly, but odd, uncle that you see only at occasional family gatherings. Otherwise, he is kept tucked away at a safe distance from the rest of the family. He likes to “hold court” on various matters in his strong, assured, blustery voice. He has strange, embarrassing views that make little sense, but, so what, after all, its just Uncle Bernie being Uncle Bernie. Just be sure to warn the kids in advance. (Full disclosure: I actually have an Uncle Bernie. He is nothing like Bernie Sanders, and I like him a lot.)
That, I believe, is how many of us, professional politicians, media personnel, and just ordinary voters, view Bernie. The so-called “conventional wisdom” is that he is just keeping us entertained until the professional politicians take over. In this odd Presidential election cycle, however, where many of the voters are frustrated, angry and ready for anything and anyone, that would be a mistake. His political views may be far out of the mainstream, but they appear to be resonating with a lot of people.
Bernie Sanders was born in Brooklyn, NY on September 8, 1941 to Jewish immigrant parents. He characterizes himself as “proud to be Jewish” but “not particularly religious.” He graduated from the University of Chicago in 1964 at the dawn of the turbulent 60s.
Bernie has always been forthright and proud to identify himself as a socialist. For example, as a college student, he was an active protest organizer for CORE and SNCC. In addition, he was a member of the Young People’s Socialist League, and he participated in the March on Washington where he witnessed MLK’s “I Have a Dream Speech,” among other civil rights speeches. He was very active in the anti-war movement of the 60s and 70s. He was against the Viet Nam War, and he managed to avoid service by applying for conscientious objector status.
Bernie claims he got his inspiration to enter politics from, Adolph Hitler, of all people. He denotes that as a result of Hitler’s winning an election (in 1932) 50 million people eventually died in WWII, among them 6 million Jews. That demonstrated the power of politics to him. Sounds extreme, but, again, that’s Bernie.
Bernie began his political career in 1981 winning election as mayor of Burlington as an Independent by only TEN votes. Apparently, he did a good job as he was re-elected three times by increasingly larger majorities. Bernie moved up to the House in 1990 and the Senate in 2006. Political trivia buffs will appreciate that in his Senate run Bernie was endorsed by Senator Chuck Schumer, and one of his ardent campaign supporters was a little-known Senator from Illinois named Barack Obama.
During his years in Congress Bernie has been identified as an Independent, but he has caucused and voted with the Democrats. Even his harshest critics acknowledge that he has been consistent throughout his career. For example:
- He supports the extreme social democratic approach of the Nordic countries and other liberal European countries.
- He favors economic policies such as income equality (proposing a punitive maximum tax rate as high as 90%), raising the minimum wage, mandatory parental leave, sick leave and vacations, and expanded universal healthcare (more comprehensive than Obamacare).
- He has been an outspoken critic of the Patriot Act, the NSA and the police.
- He voted against NAFTA (an agreement among the US, Canada and Mexico, which curtailed or eliminated various trade barriers between those countries) and CAFTA (which extended the agreement to include several Central American countries).
- He identifies global warming as the greatest threat to national security (ahead of terrorism).
Bernie is wise to run as a Democrat, rather than as the Socialist he really is. The term “Socialist” is radioactive in American politics. The last Socialist Presidential candidate, the forgettable Darlington Hoopes, garnered less than 6,000 votes in 1956.
My intent is not to be critical of Bernie or his views. They are what they are, and he is entitled to them. At least he is being honest; he says what he thinks and thinks what he says. I am merely stating that Bernie’s supporters should be cognizant of them before they vote for him. I believe that about half of the potential voters in the country are either uninformed or don’t care about the issues and the various candidates’ positions on them. Sad, but true.
Like Donald Trump on the GOP side, Bernie has tapped into the extreme frustration and disaffection of many American voters. Many voters are supporting them not because they agree with their policies, but because they are totally alienated from politics and all conventional politicians. For example, the latest CNN/ORC poll gives President Obama a 47 percent approval rating. Not good, but terrific compared to Congress’ approval rating. Congress’ average approval rating in all the major polls (Gallop, Quinnipiac, Rasmussen, etal.) is 14 percent. Based upon the situation in the country and the world today, I can’t really blame the voters.