In light of our recent election results (*le sigh*), I decided to continue down my foray of non-fiction for a little while longer, this time with a book written by none other than Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders.
My first concern when reading this book was that it would be ghostwritten, and I’m pretty happy to report that based on my cursory research afterwards, it seems like Bernie Sanders did indeed write this book. I kind of got hints of that while I was reading in the way he said things, but some ghostwriters are really good at matching tone, so I couldn’t be 100% sure.
I didn’t know much going into the book, and mostly expected a recap of his experience running through the democratic primaries. There was definitely some of that, probably about 25% of the book, but most of the book dealt with the issues that were near and dear to his heart. Indeed, now that I’m done, it feels like this was Bernie’s platform in a nutshell. The entire 2nd half of the book goes point my point with what he thinks is wrong and, more importantly, how he would fix it.
It’s sad that in today’s political climate, it seems that complaining is given equal weight to problem solving, so that second part (HOW HE WOULD FIX IT) is especially poignant to me. Do I agree with everything he said? No, but that’s unrealistic to agree with everything. I was impressed with the thought that he had clearly put into his positions and his proposed methods of dealing with them. Honestly, after reading his stances on the current state of the US, and how entrenched those positions are, I don’t know how he gets up every morning. The weight of that would crush me, but it seems to drive him.
Takeaways and things I’ve learned
The Citizens United decision hinges on the absurd notion that money is speech, corporations are people, and giving huge piles of undisclosed cash to politicians in exchange for access and influence does not constitute corruption.
(1) I’ll admit I was not politically active enough to *really* know what Citizens United was all about until I read this book. And damn, is it damning. It is basically legalized corruption and bribery, and allows big donors to basically buy elections.
It allows unlimited money in politics so that way one person with deep pockets can in essence get laws made that are favorable to themselves. Whaaaat? It seems so unabashedly dystopian that I can’t wrap my head around how this is a real thing, in real life, and not something concocted in a fiction book I’m reading.
Bernie went into great detail about how had he become President, his biggest priority was in nominating a Supreme Court Justice that would be against Citizens United, and about the mechanics of just how you can use money to corrupt politics and legislation.
Sigh, what could have been…
(2) Republicans tend to win elections with low voter turnout. I’ve never fully understood why those drives to “get out the vote” seemed so important. Seems like you’d end up with a 50/50 split of people voting for one party or another, but end up with the same proportion. Now I know that’s generally not the case, not only because younger voters tend to skew more liberal / progressive, but because conservative voters tend to vote no matter what whereas younger voters only tend to vote when they are excited and involved in the political process.
He cited the 2014 mid term elections as a strong example, where even though the country was better in every way since 2010, very few people came out to vote (lowest voter turnout since WWII!) and Republicans took several seats in both the Senate and House.
The truth is that when people come into a room, or a gymnasium or an arena, and the look around them and see all the other people in that venue sharing those same views, they come away strengthened and energized. They are not alone.
(3) Rallies actually do matter. Sure, they matter more in smaller states, like Vermont, where there are just straight up fewer people, but they do matter. I’ve always internally wondered why candidates bother with in person rallies instead of just making sure they have a clear and concise message and broadcasting that as well as possible. I’ve personally never made a decision based on a rally, but based on Bernie’s anecdotes, they worked, and they worked really well for his campaign.
Moreover, his point was that they worked not only in persuading people that attended the rallies, but in encouraging them to become more politically active, reaching voters like me that have never attended a rally. Interesting.
Throughout the campaign, from late November to the end of my campaign, I defeated Trump in 28 our of 30 national polls, almost always by double digits.
(4) In the aftermath of the election, one thing I kept reading over and over was that Bernie would have done better against Trump than Hillary had. I originally attributed this to spilled milk revisionist history, but when I delved deeper, I was surprised to see that this claim was backed up with factual data. 28/30? Damn.
Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan were the key democratic states that Clinton lost in her bid for the Presidency, and they were states with an overwhelmingly rural population where I think Sanders message would have come across a lot better, especially in light of the fact that he spent time doing rallies in rural areas, much moreso than either Trump or Clinton did.
Reading more about his experience in the democratic primary makes me further upset about how it all went down, about how the press repeatedly counted Superdelegate votes before they even voted when reporting the lead that Clinton had, disincentive people from even going to vote. By the time that the California primary rolled around, most media outlets had already reported the primaries over. I didn’t realize that at the time, and that sucks.
You could feel the frustration in his tone when he recounts his experience there. Ugh, and now I’m frustrated too. Stupid DNC…I now feel like *you’re* partly responsible for this Trump Presidency.
Look at that ABC number again: 261 minutes devoted to campaign coverage this year, and less than one minute of that has specifically been for Sanders.
In fact, I was gently faulted by some for having excessive “message discipline,” for spending too much time discussing real issues. Boring. Not what a successful modern campaign was about.
(5) I never realized just how biased the media had been in covering his campaign until I saw the numbers laid out. And to see how much more airtime the mainstream media gave Trump vs any more rational candidates, ESPECIALLY SANDERS, is infuriating.
Like the whole “Bernie would have done better than Trump” rhetoric I saw post election, I originally attributed any arguments I saw about Bernie not receiving enough press coverage to spilled milk. And just like that example, I’m proven wrong by specific numbers. How…in the what?!
His political stances
The rest of the book basically went into his political stances:
- How our current political climate is basically an oligarchy where the richest people wield a bigger amount of power than I even thought
- The state of our domestic infrastructure and how he proposed to fix it (and finance said fixes!)
- Climate change is fucking real, and how he would have encouraged further renewable power generation
- A single payer health care system is the best and cheapest long term solution for anyone earning under $500k a year
- The TPP is bad for the middle class, and should be repealed
- Criminal justice and how the disproportionate treatment of minorities vs Caucasian people is bad for society as a whole
- 90% of the media is controlled by 6 companies, and they filter what message gets out to most people. This damages the foundation of democracy.
It’s too bad this book didn’t come out during the democratic primaries. It would have helped his messaging a lot, though I also understand the argument that most voters would not have taken the time to read 450-ish pages of his stances and experiences, perhaps it would have changed the minds of a few people, or some people like me could have made a tl;dr version that circulated on the web equally as well.
As I write this review, I feel frustration/anger at the DNC and the media for trivializing his campaign and focusing on stupid things like emails instead of issues, which Bernie stubbornly insisted on emphasizing. It makes me genuinely angry to read about just how stacked the deck was against him in the democratic primary.
Since inauguration day, I’ve grown so much more angry and bitter than I thought possible at people who voted for Trump (not at conservative voters, but specifically who voted for Trump). I see him dismantling efforts at combating climate change, at seeing him censor censor any agencies that dare say that climate change is real, at seeing him trot out his press secretary to tell bold faced lies (oh, wait, I’m sorry “alternative facts” is the phrase that KellyAnne Conway would prefer) and expecting us to believe it.
And my heart weeps to see what kind of person we could have had instead. Though they were both considered “anti establishment”, you could not set up a more stark foil than Trump and Sanders.
Sanders’s closing message is supposed to be one of hope, one that’s supposed to inspire me and other readers to go out and change things, to be involved, and to make the world a better place with something similar to his vision.
And maybe one day I’ll be able to at least re-read the closing message and feel that way. Because right now I sure don’t feel hopeful.