Bernie Sanders Expands the Cultural Bandwidth

February 10, 2016

Feel The BernI had been living in Seattle for less than a year when I read an article, or maybe an ad in The Nation magazine, that Bernie Sanders, a Socialist from Vermont, was running for Congress. I think I sent $25 and lo and behold he won. He has won a lot of campaigns since then, but surely the current campaign is the most ambitious and with it the real prospects for humans all over the planet.

As astute commentators have pointed out, Sanders is running a campaign to reinstate the New Deal. Brian Leiter points out that FDR’s policies were untouchable until Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980, one that was made possible by treasonous acts.

But the Reagan agenda (astutely ridiculed by Gil Scott-Heron in his 1980 epic B Movie) have been in place since 1981 and with it the decimation of the middle class, union membership (see PATCO), the vast expansion of homelessness, the mining of the harbor in Nicaragua, the support of the terror-training branch of the U.S. government – the School of the Americas, the complete refusal to act for the first few critical years of the AIDS crisis, the deregulation of S&L’s, and many other atrocities.

What did Ronald Reagan interrupt? Benjamin Studebaker says:

As you can see in the chart, between the 1930’s and the 1970’s, the United States drastically reduced economic inequality. It redistributed wealth from the top to the middle and the bottom, resulting in consistent wage increases and consequently consistent consumption increases. This allowed investment to be put to effective use–because the bottom and the middle were rising, they were able to support the additional spending that business owners needed to successfully expand. This was accomplished through a series of policies that if they were proposed today, would strike most Americans as socialist–Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, welfare, strong union rights, high minimum wages, high marginal tax rates on the wealthy (with a 90% top rate under Eisenhower), and strong enforcement of financial regulations and anti-trust laws.

Democratic presidential candidates that can be associated with this ideological tradition include Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Adlai Stevenson, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, and George McGovern. That’s it. Starting with Jimmy Carter in 1976, the Democratic Party became something different, something that was no longer ideologically continuous with this. Even the Republican Party to a large degree acknowledged the need for these policies during this period–Eisenhower and Nixon supported and even extended parts of this system that kept investment and consumption in balance.

Or as someone writing under the pen name of Hollywood says in the Village Voice, we’ve gotten used to “fuckery.” And this is the worst legacy of Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush and Obama, the narrowing of the possible, or the cultural bandwidth. It makes people with humane attributes appear like hopeless dreamers. It makes people think that someone with some of the highest negativity ratings in presidential campaign history, Hillary Clinton, “more electable” than someone advocating what was the status quo for half a century, one that was quite positive for middle class USAmericans. Of course that HRC won two categories in the recent New Hampshire primaries, old voters (65+) and rich voters, you get a sense that the times are a changing and one candidate recognizes this and one thinks Neo-liberalism is just fine. Andrew Levine writes otherwise:

What was not clear until now is potentially as important. In Iowa it was demonstrated, beyond a reasonable doubt, that it is possible, here and now, to stave off a Clintonite Restoration – possible, that is, to free the country and the world from the thrall of neoliberal-neoconservative politics.

For anyone who cares about economic, racial and gender equality, and about restoring basic rights and liberties and establishing a just and humane social order – and for anyone who wants to diminish murder and mayhem and terrorism around the world, and to protect the earth and everything in it from the ravages of capitalist greed – getting the United States off the neoliberal-neoconservative track that it has been on since at least the late 1970s should be Priority Number One.

And Aaron Bastani in the London Review of Books points out:

The transformation in American politics since George W. Bush won a second term in 2004 is remarkable. Changing social attitudes on a range of issues, from race to gay rights, are remaking the country. Non-medical use of cannabis has been decriminalised in several states, and same-sex marriage has been legal nationwide since last June. Barack Obama arrived in office heralded as a liberal, but he has been repeatedly outflanked by movements to his left, in particular on income inequality and police violence against people of colour. The most important social movement of his presidency wasn’t the Tea Party; it was Black Lives Matter. Ask anyone who watched the half-time break at Super Bowl 50.

US Military basesTo my friends that support Hillary Clinton, check your privilege and vote with your heart and soul. The first woman president will face AT LEAST the kind of 24/7 opposition Barack Obama has faced. Let’s make sure we get the right woman for the job. Elizabeth Warren comes to mind. For those who understand the cultural possibilities Bernie Sanders brings to this nation, this is just the beginning, as Sanders says nothing on the presidential campaign trail about the evil U.S. empire and we will need to hold him accountable for its dismantling and liquidation to fund human-centric programs.

Diane di Prima continues to be prophetic: “The only war that matters is the war against the imagination. All other wars are subsumed in it.”


  1. hadiyahcarlyle

    Sorry Paul. I lived through McGovern, I lived through Nadar. I don’t have an answer but Bernie won’t win the big election and then where will we be. I’m not being pessimistic, just realistic at my age. I was so excited for McGovern. Ha! Nixon instead.

    • Splabman

      Hillary Milhaus Clinton. You’re proving my point Hadiyah.

  2. joe

    Yes Paul, I hear people clinging to their bleeding heart “fuckery,” thinking this is the only way to beat the GOP fuckery. Only good way to defeat a Republican with a gun is with a Democrat with a gun? Really? Anyone looking at the clown car that is the opposition these days should get out their squirt gun. You want to live in a world where their kind of shit scares you? You’re not ready for peace and justice then. If all you want to do is vote for someone who will do the work for you so you can go back to sleep, yes, she’s your gal. Good night. Before Bernic (BB) you had Hilary stuffed into position to be presumptions candidate 4 years ago, long before we cast any ballot, but the money had been put into her pocket while you slept …’re not outraged about that? I lived through Mc Govern and Nader and Reagan and two rounds of Baby Bush and a shit load of Clinton types doing just what she want to do again today ….I’m ready to try truth to power for a change, we have a guy who is telling the truth about a few things…not just fuckery.Not just a closet of old school ghouls to do the dirty work. Hilary’s artful smears about Bernie’s supposive artful smears only leaves art smeared. Watch her over the next two months, how she handles the loyal opposition, and see what she is capable of doing to decent discourse and how she twists pressing issues into “being realistic” nothingness. She is the friendly snake you put in your pocket you thinking she will protect you, if it was not for Bernie, she woluld already be pulling the Annie Oakley routine (Obama said that ) she did in 2008. Hey, Hilary, after Bernie is out of your way, Joe Liberman is tan and rested and ready to run for vice president again! Kissinger’s already waiting in state department bathroom. Jesus, does anyone want to have to listen to James Carvil again? It means his wife comes to dinner too. Mary Madlin, remember her? She will not be the only unwelcome spouse at the dinner table.

  3. cashka

    Such a great analysis of what’s been happening in the US for so many years and why the system is leaving most people out on the streets, and globalization has made it worse. Most of the 5 multinationals ( just a guess) that run everything,including our governments, I believe, pay no taxes because there are no real international police, are there?
    Bernie is such a wonderful breath of fresh air. people say he’s too old, but i don;t think so.
    Thanks for the brilliant article, Paul.
    Cath M.


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