Of the last seven presidential terms, only Barack Obama’s two have not been held by a Bush or Clinton. Preliminary media coverage is already predicting the 2016 ticket will be Jeb Bush vs. Hillary Clinton, keeping the dynastic tradition intact. A more depressing – not to mention less democratic – prospect is difficult to imagine. But Americans are lucky to have a candidate who promises to shake up our lesser-of-two-evils politics in 2016: Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.
The earliest inklings of what would become Sanders’s political career began in the 1960s, when he was a young radical and civil rights activist at the University of Chicago. After college, during his early years in Vermont, Sanders emerged as an important player in the progressive Liberty Union Party. Electoral success came in 1981 when Sanders was elected mayor of Burlington, the largest city in Vermont. He’s been a congressional representative in the state since 1991 and is now seeking the Democratic nomination for president.
Sanders is an anomaly – a man who describes himself as a socialist and runs as an independent, yet achieves electoral success in a two-party system where the official religion is capitalism. While most politicians, including frontrunner Hillary Clinton, speak so cautiously as to never actually say anything of substance, Sanders is eager to get his policy positions out to the public. He appears somewhat regularly on Real Time with Bill Maher, FOX News programs, and just about any broadcast that’ll have him. Despite her overwhelming media attention and longer-running campaign, Sanders fielded more media questions than Clinton immediately.
Take a look at him debating Michelle Bachmann on Wolf Blitzer’s Situation Room in 2014. It’s not the greatest appearance, thanks to Bachmann’s inane interruptions and Blitzer’s clueless questions, but when asked whether or not he’d raise taxes on the wealthy to help repair our crumbling infrastructure and dismal education system, Sanders says, “Yes, my goodness,” as though the answer is so obvious that the question is embarrassing. It may seem like a minor moment, but it truly sets Sanders apart from the rest of the political pack.
In order to be successful in American politics, one must usually tiptoe around sacred cows like Christianity, nationalism, the military and capitalism. To talk negatively of any of these, to even approach the outside vicinity of criticism of them, is political suicide – talk of raising taxes especially so. But Sanders has no qualms about calling out the wealthiest Americans for not paying their share. He’s brazen in pledging to raise taxes on them. It’s refreshing to hear such talk, particularly from a presidential candidate on a primetime CNN program.
Best of all, it’s resonating. Crowds at recent Sanders campaign stops in the Midwest have overflowed. It’s really not so surprising – a century ago, the Socialist Party was a viable force in American politics. As the rich run away with more and more money and the poor and middle class are squeezed tighter and tighter, Sanders is proving that the populist, progressive message still has the power to attract voters. Far from being an unelectable radical, a majority of Americans actually agree with Sanders on taxing the wealthy, providing free education, taking dramatic action on climate change and other important issues.
And it’s the issues that Sanders hopes will dominate the race. On climate change, his website says the following: “The United States must lead the world in tackling climate change to make certain that this planet is habitable for our children and grandchildren. We must transform our energy system away from polluting fossil fuels and towards energy efficiency and sustainability. Millions of homes and buildings need to be weatherized and we need to greatly accelerate technological progress in wind and solar power generation.”
This is about a dozen times more forceful than anything else on offer from mainstream Democrats. It’s somewhat broad, but it’s just a blurb – at least it lets you know where his priorities are and what his thinking is. By contrast, Hillary Clinton’s website does very little beyond solicit donations. It’s tough to even find a single definitive policy position stated. Instead, there is the embarrassing declaration, “Everyday Americans need a champion. I want to be that champion.” Clearly, Clinton wants to coast into office on a cult of personality.
Sanders possesses intellectual courage, more than 50 years of speaking a progressive message, and plausible electability. It’ll be tough to beat Hillary Clinton, but he’ll be a shoe-in if, by some miracle, the election is decided on issues. The resonance of his campaign and his regular media appearances are all exciting prospects for American politics. Voting for Bernie Sanders will be a rare pleasure: not a vote cast in the hopes of minimizing damage, but a vote that actually has the potential to bring about some good.