Vox Populi: A Public Sphere for Politics and Poetry
I am on my way to vote in the Missouri Primary. I’ll cast my ballot for Bernie Sanders. I’ll cast my vote, and, in a sense, I’ll also cast my father’s virtual vote.
A few years before he passed, my father at breakfast mentioned how he thought everyone should have free health care, and “a free education to the extent of their abilities.” That afternoon, he spoke with admiration of a communist he knew in the army, a man who gave his life in the South Pacific during World War II. My dad was always proud of his Uncle Roy, president of the railroad conductor’s union. So I asked, “Dad, are you a socialist?” Forty years later, I still recall his shock, his denial, his protests of loyalty and allegiance. Given his era, I might have asked, “Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Communist Party?” My father was a socialist and didn’t know it. Or, perhaps more precisely, the anti-communism of his era prevented him from exploring democratic socialism.
Finally, there is good news. Joseph McCarthy is dead. And Bernie Sanders drove the stake through his heart.
I’m a democratic socialist. I’m totally with Senator Sanders. However, I see the nomination as Secretary Clinton’s to lose. That’s not a bad thing. She is qualified perhaps beyond all other candidates. The bad news is that I had my hopes, for just a moment, that The Bern could win. As I write, Clinton appears to have a lock on the nomination.
Hillary has an inerrant political weather vane. If the breeze is from the left, she’ll turn left. Like the Democratic Party itself, I don’t see her as being ideologically fixed. I’ve hoped all along that Sanders would take her to the left. The results have been beyond my imagining.
Secretary Clinton has turned to the left on, as just a few examples, the living wage, campaign finance, Black Lives Matter, the Keystone XL pipeline, social security, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and the irresponsibility of Wall Street. By running a clean campaign, Sanders has forced Clinton to stick to issues, lest she come across as a desperate bully. (Clinton is perfectly capable of vicious attack ads.) Sanders is shrewd. When he keeps the focus on leftist issues, Clinton is forced to address her left. In this matter is she reminded of two things, that there is a left, that she needs to incorporate those concerns.
But we owe The Bern a more profound debt, in that he has made democratic socialism a part of the national dialogue. In this regard, we are only beginning to catch up with much of the rest of the world. Indeed, we are so new at this dialogue that we haven’t even gotten to the kinds of arguments that typify capitalist vs. socialist elections in, say, the United Kingdom. Nonetheless, we have come to accept the democratic vs. authoritarianism divide as part of the social landscape, the widespread need for economic reform as part of our national dialogue, and democratic socialism as one possible vehicle towards a solution to these concerns. It’s the start, hopefully, of a national dialogue.
That dialogue could include the demise of the Republican Party. Political parties come and go. Consider the Whigs. As of this writing, Donald Trump has certainly splintered, and perhaps shattered, his own party. Given that, it is possible to consider the Democratic Party becoming the party of the right. Beyond its support for capitalism and representative democracy, it has no fixed ideology. In recent decades, it has shifted, on an as needed basis, between the right and the far right. This leaves the left ripe for systemic organizing. In other words, the demise of the Republican Party could offer the possibility of reframing the political dynamic into a socialist vs. capitalist dialogue. The capitalist Democratic Party vs. a socialist American Labor Party? It’s possible. It certainly would align us politically with the social dynamics of other nations.
In the immediate, however, I’d like to see Bernie get two rewards for his efforts. First, I would like to see socialistic policies in the party platform. Second, I would wish Sanders a cabinet position, perhaps Secretary Of Labor. Or Health And Human Resources. Maybe Interior. In any case, something sweet in the Hillary cabinet. He deserves that and more.
One other interesting possibility would be the appointment of Bernie Sanders to head the Environmental Protection Agency. Climate change is now a crisis. The latest examples of climate catastrophe are the reports of a possible mass die-off of bees and butterflies, all of which could lead to a lack of pollination, all of which could lead to starvation on a cataclysmic scale. The next head of the E. P. A. will be in a position fundamental to our global future. Most importantly, Bernie is capable of taking a political stance that says, bluntly, I am here to work for the environment, not the ignorant and the ill informed.
I’m an old socialist. I never thought I’d live to see the day, this day, when I’d cast my ballot for my generation’s Eugene Debs. Senator Sanders has given us a gift. I am grateful. But the question remains. Will we squander the gift of The Bern? I want to see a Bernie legacy. I don’t want to witness his last hurrah.
Copyright 2016 John Samuel Tieman