By Arthur Z. Schwartz
Last Sunday, I ran into a neighbor who I hadn’t seen in a while, and she said: “Are you really for Bernie Sanders? Do you think he can win?” I responded: “Yes, I am for Sanders. I actually think that Hillary Clinton has peaked, is headed for big trouble with her email business, and is the Democrat most likely to lose the election.” She was elated. “Wow, I can’t wait to start talking to people about Bernie Sanders. It’s so exciting!”
The Sanders campaign asked its generally amorphous and mostly web-site networked base of supporters (see https://berniesanders.com) to hold living room meetings on July 29th. Over one-thousand meetings took place, and in NYC most gatherings had to turn people away. A meeting scheduled for Brooklyn Heights in a two-hundred seat meeting room had to move to a five-hundred seat venue, and still folks were shut out. The largest rallies of any of the twenty some-odd candidates for President (and some are very odd) have been Bernie Sanders rallies, and in mid-July the Sanders campaign touted 284,000 donors with an average contribution of just about $33. President Obama had about 180,000 donors at this point in 2007.
And when CNN did a poll on July 22, Sanders was the only candidate who had more favorable numbers than unfavorable.
Hillary’s favorable ratings peaked in 2009; she has been on a steady downhill slide since then, despite running a $100 million campaign operation with staff and supporters all over the country. Her campaign is not whipping up anything near the enthusiasm of Sander’s campaign.
The Corruption of Government is, I think, the central issue of the 2016 campaign (and why Trump, the anti-politician candidate is running so well on the right). It is the biggest problem facing our country. It’s the reason other problems never get solved. Corruption, not the mess we call “partisan gridlock”, is what makes our government so inefficient and ineffectual and our politics so vacuous. It’s also why Democrats lose elections, though you wouldn’t know it to talk to most Democratic leaders.
Most Americans agree with the Democratic Party on issues, by margins often exceeding 60/40. The list includes not just progressive economic policies like raising the minimum wage and paid family leave, but climate change, gun safety, gay marriage, all of the President’s immigration reforms, every tax proposal and nearly every budget priority.
But Democrats preach the importance of government, while Republicans preach “less government”. If Democrats call for more government, and don’t show people how to eliminate the influence of big money on government, and rein in corruption, both illegal and legal (called taking campaign contributions) people won’t vote for them.
A majority of Americans presently being polled see Hillary as just another dishonest politician. And her actions with her e-mail account, and the inconsistent explanations, haven’t helped. I am not saying that Hillary is dishonest. I think she manifests not only great empathy and intelligence but also personal integrity. But I also believe that she fails to grasp either the intellectual bankruptcy of the economic policy put into place by her husband (the lessening of government regulation of big-business and the banking/finance sector) or the moral bankruptcy of pay-to-play politics. On top of that, her evasive and insular style may prove her undoing.
People don’t just care about corruption, they hate it. Clinton’s instinct, and that of many of her supporters, is to suppress the debate. They say a Republican victory in 2016 would be a catastrophe. I wholeheartedly agree, but the argument cuts both ways. The worst possible result would be for Clinton to be brought down in the general election. The time for full, fierce, open debate about how to win this election, and build a Democratic majority in Congress, perhaps the only time, is right now.
Bernie Sanders’ remarkable campaign continues to shed the most light on issues and offer the country the most hope. His continued success is essential. He says: break up the big banks. He says “cancel all student debt.” He says to give all new parents twelve weeks of paid leave, and he wants a single payer health care system, not one enriching insurance companies. He is not perfect, and he has yet to win much support in Black and Hispanic America, folks who are key to a Democratic victory. But his continued surge—and his call for an end to politics as we know it—is a galvanizing force, just like the Zephyr Teachout campaign was when she ran against Andrew Cuomo last year.
I want to be part of that effort to galvanize a new approach to politics. Bernie Sanders may force the Democrats to embrace real change and even lead them to victory. If he wins in Iowa and New Hampshire, Hillary may run away. And with Bernie Sanders we know that what he says, is what he will do.
I invite all of my neighbors to join me.
Arthur Z. Schwartz is the Male Democratic District Leader in Greenwich Village.