“How many times do you have to get hit over the head until you figure out who’s hitting you?”
— President Harry S. Truman
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A few miles down the road from here, due west on 101, is the town of Brattleboro, Vermont. The architecture is a landscape of long brick, blocks and blocks of old mill buildings, a throwback to the days when the textile industry dominated this little corner of the country before the chance to find cheap labor elsewhere motivated a migration. The passing of that industry devastated many local economies for a very long time, and laid waste to many families, businesses and towns, another verse in the scripture of corporate greed.
In Brattleboro, Sen. Bernie Sanders is a household name. The same goes for Burlington, where Sanders served as mayor for four terms in the 1980s, a tenure that catapulted him into the House of Representatives in 1988. He was re-elected to that office by landslide margins until 2006, when Vermont’s Sen. Jim Jeffords announced his retirement. Sanders ran for the seat, and won it handily by about a 2-1 margin. When he ran for re-election in 2012, Senator Sanders won with 71 percent of the vote.
He went back to Burlington to announce his intention to campaign for the Democratic nomination for President at the end of this past May. Five thousand people attended. He pulled in three thousand people in Minnesota, and enjoyed a large crowd when he recently came through Keene, New Hampshire.
When he came through Iowa, he drew the largest crowds of any candidate, regardless of party, so far this year. According to a report on the visit in The New York Times, a Democratic county chairman named Kurt Meyer fired off a text to Hillary Clinton’s Iowa political director. “Objects in your mirror,” he wrote, “are closer than they appear.”
Indeed, but why? Until a very short time ago, he was “Bernie Who?” to many not living under the shadow of the Green Mountains. He is a self-proclaimed socialist, a “social democrat” by his own words, and after many long years of very dedicated trickle-downers hectoring the population via the “news” media they bought, the s-word stands a close second behind “terrorist” in the minds of a great many people.
And yet … and yet.
Time is a funny little bird. It has a way of returning to the roost right on the button. The prosperity of the post-war 1950s has endured a slow, steady and ruthless denuding due to the bottomless greed of the few, witnessed by those Brattleboro textile mills which stood empty for years because profit was more important than people. There was the fear-mongering of the Cold War, 25 years of Vietnam War profiteering, and the final enshrinement of the absolute social and economic power of what Eisenhower named the military-industrial complex.
Then came the rise of trickle-down economics and “free trade” as economic gospel, and the shredding of a meticulously crafted social safety net. Poverty and crime erupted, putting people in prison became an “industry,” and all of a sudden, politicians were getting themselves elected by blaming poor people for being poor, just after voting to send all the jobs overseas … for a fee, of course.
More recently were the 25 years of war in Iraq, another luscious financial boon to the war-making industry and its political supporters. Financial regulations were obliterated, tax rates for the richest were slashed, budget surpluses were given away with a wink and a nod, via “tax cuts,” to a small cadre who absolutely don’t need the money … and all the while, the people boiled in a cauldron of dwindling opportunities, rising prices, falling wages, collapsing hope, dumb schools, potholed roads, and a “news” media that worked hammer and tong to convince them that this is how it is, and so this is how it will be.
Bernie Sanders is preaching a different gospel. He wants to break up the “too big to fail” institutions that burned the economy down to the stumps. He is against the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Keystone XL pipeline. He is a blood enemy of the Patriot Act and the Citizens United Supreme Court decision. He wants Wall Street regulated far more deeply, and believes the wealthy should be taxed to the degree they actually deserve.
Unlike far too many of his congressional colleagues, he actually believes climate change is real, and that it is coming on strong, and is deadly dangerous. He supports breaking up the massive media conglomerates that spend so much time trying to convince people that such bedrock common sense ideas are scandalous, if not treasonous. He is a stout ally of the LGBTQ community, and of veterans, and of the separation of church and state.
Hillary Clinton – former First Lady, Senator and Secretary of State – is in every sense the powerhouse candidate in this race. Lincoln Chafee, former Senator and Governor from Rhode Island, has thrown his hat into the ring, and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley appears prepared to do the same. More contenders may come.
Yet Senator Sanders remains a fascinating candidate. An Independent social democrat from a small state is drawing huge crowds from diverse parts of the nation because maybe, just maybe, he is speaking his heart at a time when – after decades of looking for a job and finding none, of looking at their bank account or savings and finding them barren, of going to the well of this alleged version of “freedom” and finding it dry – people may finally be taking Harry Truman’s advice, and are listening to a guy who has spent a career explaining who, and what, is hitting them.
Time, that funny little bird, may be turning on its wing. Bernie Sanders is the very definition of a long shot. He is campaigning like a cannonball on a shoestring budget against seemingly impossible odds … but objects in your mirror are closer than they appear. The man bears watching, and whatever happens, this promises to be one of the most interesting Democratic campaign seasons since time out of mind.