In 1988 Rev. Jesse L. Jackson galvanized the progressive movement and much of the Democratic Party as he campaigned for President on the slogan: “Bold Leadership and a New Direction.” The 1988 campaign was the sequel to the electrifying campaign of 1984 in which he popularized the notion of a Rainbow Coalition as a multiracial, multi-constituency force to advance a progressive agenda. Rev. Jackson challenged the Democratic Party to hold true to and fight for its principles by unapologetically articulating a vision to improve the quality of life for the majority of Blacks, people of color, the poor, working people and the struggling middle class. His slogan and platform was proclaiming that vision matters! As a result, millions of people flocked to the Jackson campaign, large numbers of whom were young people who had never voted or participated in electoral politics before.
I believe it is “the vision thing” that is producing stunning results as surprising numbers of people, particularly young people, are enthusiastically joining a movement fueled by their feel of and affection for the “Bern.” Let me be clear, Hillary Clinton is a far better choice for President than any of the extremist candidates from a Republican Party whose views on some issues border on atavistic. Bernie Sanders made it clear in his victory speech in New Hampshire that it is absolutely imperative that these rightwing, retrograde forces be stopped. However, having said that, for decades there has been a pent-up yearning for a truly progressive candidate like Bernie Sanders who could stretch the imagination to envision and articulate what should be rather than what’s “practical.”
Under fierce assault from reactionary forces on the right, for decades the Democratic Party has retreated from the hard-fought gains secured over generations of struggle, a culture of rights for poor and working people, much of which is reflected in Roosevelt’s New Deal. At the heart of this culture of rights is the notion that the “public space,” public education, housing, health care, transportation, jobs and other government provided services and opportunities function as an “equalizer” to ameliorate the harsh edges, the negative outcomes for ordinary people in a Capitalist political-economy. For decades the “public space” has been withering away as Democrats have largely capitulated to the conservative onslaught, demanding smaller government, privatization of public services, elimination or drastic reductions in social programs, tax cuts for the wealthy and reduced regulations to ensure unfettered, free markets — free rein for corporations and financial interests, “freedom” for Wall Street!
A good case can be made that this capitulation was aided and abetted by the Democratic Leadership Conference (DLC), an organization within the Democratic Party led by former President William Jefferson Clinton. The DLC never claimed to be “progressive.” It was a self-avowed moderate/centrist organization whose claim to fame was its opposition to the liberal-progressive wing of the Party. The DLC’s formula for success was to achieve electoral victories, including winning the White House,by minimizing discussion of the traditional values and policies of the Democratic Party. The DLC advocated coopting aspects of the Republic Party’s platform and message on policies like defense, the size of government, welfare, social programs and trade. They essentially favored an incremental, pro-business, “Republican light,” pragmaticagenda!
The consequences of the DLC led capitulation has been disastrous, particularly in terms of dramatically increased inequality, the downward spiral or stagnation of wages/incomes for working people and marginalization of the poor. Indeed, the working class and the poor became virtually invisible in the public discourse on public policy as Democrats, no doubt influenced by the “consultant class,” increasingly focused on the “middle class.”
There is also a State of Emergency in America’s “dark ghettos,” Black communities/neighborhoods in cities like Ferguson and Baltimore which is the product of decades of disinvestment, deindustrialization and blatant neglect. Clinton abandoned urban policy and responded to the crises in Black communities by proposing the Omnibus Crime Bill of 1994 which opened the flood gates to staggering levels of incarceration of Black people. The Clinton’s are not progressives; they consciously/deliberately, calculatingly chose to be moderate/centrists.
The Sanders’ Campaign matters because he is audaciously declaring that workers, the poor and people on the margins and the struggling middle class, the vast majority of people in this nation, matter. His relentless popular education of the electorate about the utter unfairness and injustice of the insatiable greed and obscene accumulation of wealth on Wall Street, as brilliantly exposed by the Occupy Wall Street Movement, is resoundingly resonating on Main Street. Sanders is not only excoriating the greed of the 1%, he is exposing and condemning the corrosive effect of the death grip of “billionaire classes’” on the electoral political process through lobbyists and superpacs.
One year before his death Dr. Martin Luther King mounted the Podium at Riverside Church and proclaimed: “True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that the edifice that produces beggars needs restructuring.” Dr. King also called for a “radical revolution of values,” stating that “when machines, computers, profit motives, and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered.” In that spirit Bernie Sanders, in a manner reminiscent of Dr. King’s call for an Economic Bill of Rights, is calling for a “revolution” to loosen the grip of Wall Street, the billionaire class, on the political system in this country by articulating a vision of what should be rather than drowning hope,dwelling on what is and what’s practical/realistic. As Dr. Maulana Karenga, the creator of Kwanzaa, once said, “we are realistic but as for reality we have come to change it!”
Why should the richest and most technologically endowed nation on the face of the earth accept the fact that 25 million human beings in this society suffer without health insurance while millions more are under-insured? This despite the passage of the Affordable Care Act which was/is an important incremental victory. Why is it that every western industrialized nation in the world has universal health care “except” the United States? This is not the kind of “exceptionalism” Americans should be proud of or have to endure. Bernie Sanders would have us envision a society where health care is a basic human right, not a privilege. Therefore, he advocates a Medicare-for-all, Single Payer health care system that would cover every American and drastically reduce costs; a system based on health care for people not profits for the giant insurance and pharmaceutical companies.