It’s a pleasant spring day in Central Florida, temperatures in the low 80s. Everything from azaleas to maple trees is blooming today, a riot of color against the pastel green of the oak trees bearing new leaves. The pollen count is off the charts. A warm breeze blows across the field to which we have been directed by the local sheriff’s deputies, then on foot through the gauntlet of local police security, past the row of portable toilets to the area where a stage has been set up. There are two raised platforms on either side, one for the local press and the other for the band whose rock music pounds the crowd as it arrives.
There will be no seating at this event. We will stand for two hours in the direct sunlight at this place about 45 minutes south of our home, just off US 192 and the Florida Turnpike called the Osceola Heritage Park. The famed Silver Spurs Rodeo and the spring training grounds for the Houston Astros loom just to the west of this open space that not too long ago was the home of Black Angus cows and cattle egrets.
We have come to this spot between what used to be small towns, Kissimmee and St. Cloud, along with an estimated 5,000 of our fellow Central Floridians to hear a presidential candidate give a stump speech. Bernie Sanders was an unknown name here in Florida until he began to win primaries, casting a modicum of doubt on the sure victory of Hillary Clinton in her path to the Democratic nomination.
Sanders had come to Florida for a debate with Clinton, crisscrossing the state on the days before and after the debate. He was also coming on the heels of a surprise upset victory in Michigan a couple of days earlier, a state that, like Florida, had been forecast by pollsters to go to Clinton by double digits.
Andy and I are among the older members of the crowd this day. All around us are young people bearing black “Feel the Bern” tee-shirts and periodically interrupting Sanders’ speech with chants of “Ber-nie, Ber-nie.” But more importantly, this is a crowd that reflects the incredibly diverse place Central Florida has come to be.
One of the organizers of the event spoke to the crowd in Spanish as we awaited the candidate’s arrival, telling the crowd that it was important for Puerto Rican, Colombian, Venezuelan and Dominican voters to get out the vote. “Sanders is the only one who really cares about our children,” the woman said, a theme echoed by Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard who warmed up the crowd for the candidate.
To our left stood a mother and adult child of Indian heritage who smiled broadly when I noted the sign bearing the OM symbol a group held in front of us reading “Hindus for Sander.” A number of Muslim women in hijab stood in front of us, erupting each time Sanders spoke of the shamefulness of a campaign in which a religion and its adherents had become targeted as scapegoats.
Preaching to the Choir…..
Of course we weren’t there to be convinced by Sanders to vote for him. Both Andy and I had already cast our ballots for him in early voting. As in years past, my support for the candidate for whom I vote in the primary is always strong, something that may well not be the case for the candidate for whom I vote in the general election. There are several reasons I voted for Bernie and hope against hope he will be the Democratic nominee.
One of the analyses of the difference between Sanders and Clinton described it as a choice between a revolution and an evolutionary process. Sanders is speaking of major changes in the status quo, Clinton boasts of her ability to work within it. Another analysis notes the number of times that Clinton speaks in first person, primarily of her capabilities and her track record as a leader; Sanders speaks largely in second person: we, us and what our country is about and how we should manifest those values. This day I wear a tee-shirt bearing that message: Not Me. US! Bernie 2016.
Bernie comes by that collective focus honestly. He is the child of a Polish immigrant family who learned early on the need to work together to succeed in early 20th New York. Bernie later spent some time on a kibbutz, the communal agrarian communities that built Israel over the last century and instilled values of community and social responsibility.
One of those values, no doubt forged in the wake of the Holocaust, is the call for justice for all peoples, particularly those oppressed by the powerful. Sanders was an early participant in the US Civil Rights movement and a forceful speaker in the more recent struggle for gay rights. Today much of his speech will decry the scapegoating of immigrants and religious minorities that has dominated the present campaign.
But it is his commentary on the disappearing middle class that most speaks to me. I watch with trepidation as the middle class has disappeared around me, the American Dream of a better life than one’s parents now available to only a few. Like Bernie, I recognize the danger of an increasingly inequitable society where the top 1% rig the system to divert more and more of the material resources and the power that goes along with that wealth to themselves.
The writer of the Proverbs was clear that “without a vision the people perish.” America seems to have lost its way over the past 35 years of trickle-down economics (consider the liquid most often associated with that verb to get a full picture of how the working poor have fared under free market fundamentalism) and an increasing consolidation of power at the top of the economic scale. In the process, America has become a contentious, fractured people less prone to honor its heritage of “Give me your tired, your poor” than to scapegoat those we construct in gruesome caricatures beginning with our own working poor. Ideals of “liberty and justice for all” seem far away these days.
A Green Yellow Dog Democrat
I believe our nation needs a new vision, not a reshuffling of chairs on the deck of the Titanic. And I believe Bernie Sanders is the only one articulating such a vision. There is no shortage of technocrats and economists who can put such ideals into practice. But the time for a new vision is here and now. The need for a new direction is urgent.
Truth be told, though I have always been a registered Democrat in this closed primary state, I’m a fair weather Democrat on a good day. My politics are decidedly Green beginning with my values: non-violence (including a draw down of an enormously expensive military we can no longer afford), a citizenry fully engaged in a democratic system that reflects the average citizen, a just society with equal opportunity for all, and a focus on sustainability that honors the good Creation of which we human animals are a part but only a part.
I am a Green Yellow Dog Democrat for two reasons. First, the Green Party too often dissolves into bitter in-fighting and self-focus to mount an effective campaign, one of the scourges of left of center politics. I wish it were not so, but this is America where the force of the law reflecting the vested interests of the country has been brought to bear against third parties. This essentially guarantees dualistic decision making between very low level cognitive and moral choices. Far too often our elections boil down to what the public sees as the lesser of two evils.
Second, while the Democrats often offer what is simply the lesser of those two evils, that does translate to less evil with power. Having spent a good chunk of my life in both the legislative and judicial processes of our country’s governance, I am enough of a political realist to recognize that sometimes that’s the best one can do in a winner-take-all system rigged to protect the interests of two parties and the wealthy and powerful interests who control them.
And that’s where the Yellow Dog comes in. With the sale of the Republican Party soul to the unabashed interests of the corporations and the wealthy at the expense of the middle and working classes as well as to what is increasingly a radical religious right, it really does make more sense to vote for a Yellow Dog if s/he’s a Democrat than for anyone the Republicans field.
A Capable Woman and the Clown Car
What that means for me this election year is simple. I have voted for Bernie Sanders in the primary and hope against hope he’ll be the nominee. Current polling indicates he could defeat any of the potential Republican nominees. But the odds are against this plain spoken self-described Democratic Socialist from Vermont. If the current trends hold, the Democratic nominee will be Hillary Clinton. Should that be the case, she will have my vote this fall.
The prospect of having a woman in the White House (and not just as accoutrements to the male POTUS) is not only exciting, it is LONG overdue. Women leaders bring a whole new range of decision making to bear when they govern. I have seen the very positive effect women leadership has had on my beloved Episcopal Church and the US Supreme Court. I believe a woman president would be a very healthy thing for the country (though if I could choose, that woman would be Elizabeth Warren).
So why am I not voting for Hillary in the primary? One reason already cited, she offers Americans the possibility of an evolving status quo, not a revolution. That’s good news for the beneficiaries of the status quo (and this includes both liberals and conservatives) but probably not such good news for those currently left out. The needs of an America on the brink of unraveling would best be served by a new status quo, thus a revolution is what we need.
I also am not happy with Hillary’s close ties to Wall Street and the military-industrial-technological complex. It will also be harder for a beneficiary of a post-Citizens United campaign spend-a-thon to address the fundamental threat to democracy that elections which have devolved into auctions to the highest bidders represent.
Even so, I have no doubts about Clinton’s capacities to lead. And if she is the Democratic nominee this fall, I will vote for her if for no other reason than the complete lack of even plausible leaders from the Clown Car on the Republican side of the ledger.
Like Bernie Sanders, Mr. Trump has drawn a large and loyal following of people who are angry at the devastating effects of the current status quo. They have reason to be angry – I’m angry, too - but while electing a narcissistic demagogue may be a feel good exercise in democracy it will ultimately only exacerbate the problems these very voters seek to address. An America addicted to “reality TV” will wake up with a major hangover should this high stakes hotel magnate prove to be the only candidate not to hear “You’re Fired!” from the voters.
Mr. Cruz actually scares me more than Trump. While Trump is the consummate showman with his Jerry Springer rallies and middle school locker room humor, Cruz actually believes all the crazy stuff he says. Son of a Baptist minister, this is a true believer unable to escape his Christian Dominionist background. This could prove a clear and present danger to many groups of people should this glazed over ideologue ever get close to holding any more power than the people of Texas - whose judgment in elected officials has long since become more than a little questionable (think W, Perry, Abbot) - have invested in him as senator.
Speaking of questionable judgment, our own Senator Rubio has proven himself too immature to hold office of any kind, much less the presidency. Marco has been an overly ambitious, opportunistic politician from the very beginning. His record in the Florida legislature was dismal and largely non-productive. His performance in the circus of the Republican debates was childish. Glibness and cunning simply cannot make up for what he lacks in mature judgment and the ability to think of anyone other than Marco. He is, as the press has labeled him, an empty suit. His only redeeming quality is his ability to openly admit that his middle school penis jokes embarrassed his own children and to apologize to them. Maybe there’s hope for his humanity yet.
Finally, there is Mr. Kasich of Ohio. Reconstructed as a “moderate” by the party rank and file fearing a Trump nomination, Kasich is the wet dream of the very business interests on whom Bernie Sanders has taken aim. As a member of the US House Kasich sought to reduce medicare benefits to retirees and as Governor sought to eliminate collective bargaining of public servants while insuring tax cuts to the wealthy. It is precisely the predatory politics of a war on the elderly and the working and middle classes of America that has brought America to this place of unprecedented inequity and polarization. The last thing we need to do as this bus called America approaches the ravine is to step on the gas.
Until the Republicans offer reasonable, sane candidates who can serve all Americans without question, they simply will not be getting my vote and should not get yours. Sadly, it’s been a long time since that was the case.
Amazing I could get my very introverted husband out for this!
A Luxury We Cannot Afford
I know that a Bernie Sanders upset is unlikely tonight even as I hold out hope nonetheless. But, should that not come to pass, I will not engage in the all-or-nothing mentality articulated by some Sanders’ supporters and vow not to vote in the general election. Indeed, I would strongly urge them to reconsider that stance.
I admire the passion of the youthful voters who are supporting Bernie and I was delighted to share that passion at the rally last week. We need to encourage their participation. The future of our country and world is in their hands.
But with youth comes naiveté. I know. I’ve been there. I’ve had my heart broken and found myself deeply disillusioned by US politics more times than I can count. Should the presidential election be as close as every election since 1984 has been, a holier-than-thou purity which would prompt self-righteous Sanders voters not to get their hands dirty with the lesser of two evils will not accomplish ANY of the goals that the Sanders campaign has sought to address. If anything, it will insure the perpetuation of the very things he has rightly decried for the foreseeable future.
Tonight I will watch with bated breath as the results come in from this latest round of primaries. I hold no illusions about the outcome. But I continue to hope against hope that before the night is over, Andy and I can take up the refrain from that high energy rally in the middle of a converted cow pasture last week:
“Ber-nie! Ber-nie! Ber-nie!”
Harry Scott Coverston
If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.
Most things worth considering do not come in sound bites.
For what does G-d require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your G-d? (Micah 6:8, Hebrew Scriptures)