Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Berned and Bummed

I’m feeling the Bern.  Honestly, I haven’t been this excited about an election since—well, maybe ever.  When people tell me that this is the most important presidential race in whatever, I tend to think they may be right, though they know not why.  Chances are they think we MUST defeat Donald Trump, that odious slime.  And they’d be right, but, as I assured my students the other day, if the unthinkable happens and that bloviating ass gets elected to the highest office in the land, he’ll probably not last a year.  Being president means working hard, and he is not a hard worker.  He’s just an ego, the unbridled Id of the right wing, a jerk more interested in celebrity than anything else.  He’ll quickly realize that the job he spent so much of his (and other people’s, let’s be honest) money on is not worth it.  Why be president when you can be a reality TV star?  So yeah, he’ll pull a Sarah Palin and quit before his term is over and launch a series of destined-to-fail TV shows and put his name on some ghost written tripe that will sell well in the biscuits and gravy circuit.  And then an adult will take the job.

But here’s the thing: none of the other candidates are much to speak of.  Save for Bernie Sanders, but (honesty time again) he’s likely not going to be the candidate come November.  That will be Hillary Clinton, sadly.  And I write "sadly" because I do not care for her as a politician, though I respect the hell of her, if that makes sense.  She has endured massive amounts of shit in her time as first lady, senator, and Secretary of State.  And she’s tough, tough enough to be president, but still, I see a disturbing similarity between her and Trump: both will say whatever people want to hear.  Hillary evinces a lot more intelligence and restraint in her speeches, but her debates with Sander have made me see red.  When she asked him where he was in 1993 when she was trying to reform health care, implying that Sanders is a newcomer to the scene, her fans probably cheered, ignoring the fact (which five seconds of Googling would confirm) that Bernie was there with her in that fight.  (There's literally a picture of him standing behind her in 1993 as she fought for health care reform.)  But who among her supporters is going to check for that? 

This is slightly better than pandering to the lowest common denominator, à la Trump.  But it’s still manipulating truth to generate enthusiasm.  Granted, Trump’s riling of supporters has resulted in violence and a scary fanaticism that many are comparing to Hitler.  (A bit too easy, I suppose, but if one wants to avoid such comparisons they’d do better than use his slogans and rhetoric.)  But Hillary’s always been a tell-‘em-what-they-want-to-hear politician, and, apparently, what they want to hear is deeply connected to her gender.

Statement of sincere belief: it is completely logical that a woman would assume that Hillary has more awareness of women’s issues than any man, and that this awareness would lead her to take action on issues concerning women.  That makes sense.  But to vote for her out of tribal loyalty seems less defensible.  I have been told that we need to let a woman run things.  No real argument here—I tend to think more highly of women than men—but when some Hillary zealots tell me that any woman would be a more humane leader than a man I have to respond with two words: Margaret Thatcher. 

But as Obama would say, let me clear: I will vote for Hillary Clinton.  I have no real qualms about doing so, even if I am not gaga over her.  And my reasons are the same as all of the Bernie supporters out there: she’s too beholden to big banks and money and I’m sick of that.  But I’m also aware that, in that one capacity, she’s no different than any other politician (save for my guy) and that she’s a hell of a lot better than any of the republican options.  Realizing this, and not being so petty after your guy doesn’t get the nomination (I’m looking at you, Bernie or Busters) is what it means to be a voter in the U. S. of A.  Hold your nose and pull the lever.
My first time voting in a presidential election was in 1992.  I was excited to cast my vote for Bill Clinton.  I was only politically aware thanks to R.E.M. records, but that was a start.  In my mind, this was a chance to undo twelve years of Reagan/Bush policies that had demonized poor people, ignored a plague, advocated for unregulated markets, amped up the military to an unnecessary degree, and started the trend that would eventually bring the economy to the brink of ruin.  Bill was going to fix all of that.  He was cool.  He played the saxophone on the Arsenio Hall Show and rocked Fleetwood Mac at his rallies.  A rock and roll president.  New life in the stuffy oval office.  A guy who would keep the interests of the people in mind always.

Oh, to be so young and stupid.

By 1996 I was done with politics.  Actually, I was done with a lot of things: school, work, maintaining my health and hygiene.  My brother joked that I would’ve made the perfect OJ Simpson juror since I hadn’t watched a second of the trial and didn’t know who Judge Ito was.  Part of my disengagement had to do with Bill Clinton.  He’d done what any politician will always do: he made promises, speeches, and proclamations; he planted seeds that could never bear significant fruit once he moved to 1600 Pennsylvania.  I was soured when nothing really changed.  So I understand the slacktivists and the Bernie or Bust camp that will avoid voting in the name of disenchantment or cynicism.  But as I told one friend who proudly boasts his political apathy, I tried that in the 1990s and it didn’t work. 

Part of being an adult is realizing that we do not always get the choices we want.  So yes, please do vote even if doing so seems futile.  To misrepresent a little of E. E. Cummings, “An intelligent person fights for lost causes, realizing that others are merely effects.” Aside from that philosophic justification, not voting ensures that someone will take office you will surely not approve of, someone with the power to nominate Supreme Court justices and further push the culture toward division and fear.

The best way to keep things the same is to do nothing. 
Why do I like Bernie?  People ask me that a lot lately.  Most of the people I am in contact with are students, and they love Bernie.  Why not?  He’s advocating free college and they are a few years from facing debt my grandparents never dreamed of.  Anyone can understand their enthusiasm.  But why me?  Well, I guess for the same reason the Trump folks love that blowhard: he’s changing the conversation.  Where Donald’s dunderheads celebrate his lack of political correctness the way assholes will always follow up rude comments with, “I’m just being honest,” Bernie’s smartest advocates will see how our culture can be moved away from Cold War era fears of all things socialist and closer to a European model.  Sanders has rightly discussed Scandinavian societies that have successfully blended capitalism with social programs many of us droll over.  What new parent wouldn’t want a long stretch of paid maternity leave?  Who would turn down government subsidized education and health care?  Of course, that does require raising taxes, but, as many have pointed out, if we change the conversation and stop referring to taxes as punishment and start seeing them as an investment, then we might understand how paying more collectively nets us more individually. 

Of course, that’ll kill incentive, right?  Well, not from what I’ve read.  It seems a hell of a lot easier to start a business in Finland than in the United States.  With all of our bluster about small business and entrepreneurship, we’ve created a wall of red tape sending most innovators toward the cubicle.  And there are ample examples of business that have been started in Scandinavian countries to rival all of ours.  No, there’s no reason, in theory, why democratic socialism wouldn’t work here.  But there’s a reason why it will never happen: to quote Hillary Clinton, “We are not Denmark.”  She’s right, but her rejection of Sanders's ideas reveals the larger problem with her and Trump and Cruz and majority of the country: we think we can’t be anything other than what we are.  So long as we continue to stay inflexibly loyal to questionable narratives about our past, we’ll never break out of failed paradigms. 

Second grand thesis statement of this essay: The United States of America is too far gone for what Bernie Sanders is proposing.  There’s too much money in politics, too many influences, too much corruption, too much waste, and way too much partisan bickering.  When congress refuses to meet with Obama’s Supreme Court nominee—when it goes so far as to fabricate nonsense about a tradition that blocks sitting presidents from doing that part of their job in their last year of office—then it is clear that the division in our country is too deep.  The system is likely never going to be reformed in a way that would allow for the sort of changes Sanders is proposing. 

But why not propose them anyway?  Why not push the culture toward different ideas?  Maybe if we do we can begin to have a real conversation about implementing socialist policies alongside our free market.  But the conversation needs to start for the change to ever occur.  That is why I like Bernie Sanders.  He’s lasted longer in this fight and more noise than other disrupters before him like Ralph Nader or Ross Perort.  Only Trump is his equal in that regard, but Bernie’s noise—love it or hate it—requires serious contemplation. 

So let’s enjoy the Bern before it flames out.  And let's start having a real conversation that sheds bullshit talking parts and party loyalties.  Let's grow up, already.