Friday, January 29, 2016
Bernie Sanders is saying what most Americans believe - and his against-great-odds tie in Iowa shows it
OXFORD, Miss. – Back in 1947, Republican and FBI witch-hunters, led by their Russian-born right-wing guru Ayn Rand, went on the attack against the movie “It’s A Wonderful Life” as Communist propaganda because it depicted powerful banker Henry Potter as the paradigm of vicious, immoral capitalist greed.
The only thing that saved Frank Capra’s Christmas classic was Hollywood screenwriter John Charles Moffitt’s testimony before the U.S. House for Un-American Committee, pointing out that the movie’s hero, played by actor Jimmy Stewart, was himself a small businessman and the local Italian immigrant community’s only hope of owning a home.
The movie “showed that the power of money can be used oppressively and it can be used benevolently,” Moffitt told the committee.
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders took that same message to the Iowa caucuses, and that's what he did successfully in the New Hampshire primary in his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. Now that he won in New Hampshire after scoring a tie in Iowa, expect a lot of ramped-up talk about “socialism” down the road, maybe as much from his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton as from the gaggle of Republicans also wanting to be president.
Sanders calls himself a “Democratic Socialist,” the first major politician in U.S. history since Eugene Debs (way back in 1920) using the term “socialist” in a serious bid for the presidency. What Sanders means by that nebulous word seems to be a literal understanding of Lincoln’s call for a “government of the people, by the people, for the people.”
Polls indicate American voters are no longer scared of the term. Not only has Sanders given Clinton a run for her money, a recent national poll by CBS News/New York Times shows that a strong majority of all Americans:
- Support raising the minimum wage;
- Believe U.S. corporations have too much power;
- Support more even distribution of wealth in the country
- Oppose cuts in Social Security
- Support workers’ right to join a union
In other words, most Americans stand with Bernie Sanders on these issues and in opposition to most Republican politicians.
The big question for Hillary Clinton is: Where does she stand? “No one knows what she really believes,” The Economist once noted. It’s a fair point.
The former secretary of state and U.S. senator once supported the NAFTA-like Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, which promises to further enrich her Wall Street friends but at the expense of workers. Now she opposes it.
On the campaign trail, she has been mildly critical of Wall Street—a reaction to the Amos-like Bernie Sanders’ fiery condemnation of the princes of greed. Yet she remains close to Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, a major financial supporter, and she and her husband benefitted from hundreds of millions of dollars Blankfein’s firm and other financial giants steered their and their foundation’s way.
The Clinton brand has enjoyed strong support among African Americans over the years—at least up until Bill’s attacks against Barack Obama in the 2008 election—and Hillary looks to the South and its Super Tuesday primaries after Iowa and New Hampshire as what has been called her “firewall” because of the powerful black voting block in Southern Democratic primaries.
Yet closer scrutiny of both Clintons shows little substantial support of black communities. Hillary Clinton was a forceful advocate of her husband’s welfare reform measures in the 1990s as a way to get “deadbeats” off the government dole. Bill Clinton’s welfare reform did nothing to alleviate poverty, but it did do something Republicans love: cut the federal deficit.
Hillary Clinton today talks about criminal justice reform, yet she has never acknowledged how Bill Clinton’s Violent Crime and Enforcement Act (VCEA) in 1994 made black communities targets in the “get tough on crime” campaign while marching untold numbers of black males off to prison for minor crimes.
Democrat and economic populist John Bel Edwards’ victory in Louisiana’s recent gubernatorial race may be a harbinger to Clinton that Southerners—like in the nation as a whole—are tired of the status quo. They’re not seeing benefits from Wall Street profits. As important as the social triggers of abortion, gender and gay rights may be to many, the economy is the issue to most in 2016.
Bernie Sanders has made serious inroads into Clinton strongholds like black voters and women voters. And what’s ironical for a 74-year-old politician his strongest constituency is young voters, many of them strapped by college debt and uncertain job prospects.
Hillary Clinton’s biggest weapon in her arsenal remains money, but Sanders’ grassroots fundraising is even challenging her on that front.
In many ways, this is an election about money. Those who have it wield lots of power. However, if this country is still the democracy we’d like to think it is, so do the people who don’t have it.