Early in his campaign, Bernie Sanders supporters often claimed the “corporate media” (including Koch-influenced NPR, according to some tales) portrayed Bernie as an illegitimate candidate or otherwise attempted to undermine his presidential campaign with erroneous information. There was some evidence to support this notion, of course. For instance, last September, Rupert Murdoch’s WSJ cited economist Gerald Friedman, condemning Bernie’s healthcare reform proposal. The only problem? Friedman actually argued Bernie’s proposal would save the U.S. $5 trillion over current healthcare cost projections, a significant difference in policy information. Alternative media and Bernie supporters shared Friedman’s rebuttal across the internet to educate voters, proving just how important supporters and social media are to shaping and maintaining the campaign’s message. This is why it is so important supporters learn to represent the Sanders campaign effectively.
Even as mainstream media coverage has improved, Bernie’s campaign has faced roadblocks within the Democratic Party, which he joined specifically for this election (previously running as an Independent). Many pro-Wall Street Liberals oppose his campaign, supporting Clinton instead. As a result, the Sanders campaign has lost potential allies historically necessary for winning the presidency. In addition, the Clinton camp is aided by pro-Clinton super PACs and possibly even pro-Clinton internet trolls who are paid to spread misinformation online, generating powerful counter-narratives the Bernie Sanders campaign must combat on a daily basis.
Bernie’s presidential campaign also has had the unenviable task of educating voters on Democratic Socialism, countering more than three decades of “free market capitalism” narratives in support of neoliberalism. Most voters understand that the economic system and political process are rigged against them, but many do not understand why. Often, the media and politicians speaking on these issues provide simplistic scapegoats that divert attention from relevant discussion.
Just this week in fact, the media passively covered Rand Paul’s challenge of an “ideological debate” with Bernie Sanders over the merits of “capitalism” versus “socialism”. His announcement acknowledges the popularity of Bernie’s message (the debate would certainly boost Paul’s campaign) and relies on public ignorance about the terms in question. Rand Paul is not a Libertarian and Bernie Sanders is not a Socialist. To be relevant to potential policy, the conversation would have to debate the merits of post-WWII Keynesian economic policy (which grew the middle class) against post-Carter “trickle down” policies (which have favored the wealthy), both of which operate under the umbrella of Capitalism. Instead, the conversation misuses the terms of the debate, something the media has not rectified. It is up to the Sanders campaign and Bernie’s supporters to educate the public, rendering such shallow ploys impotent in the future.
Finally, the Bernie Sanders campaign is plagued by problems from within. We Bernie supporters must keep in mind that all voters, ourselves included, contend with some level of misinformation and ignorance about public policy. Further, no one policy maker has a “magic bullet” solution to the problems we face as a nation. Therefore, Bernie needs all Americans at the table for this discussion. Bernie Sanders has growing support among Conservatives because his narrative speaks to their concerns, and these voters must be welcomed by his supporters. Many Democrats fully support Hillary Clinton, and they must be heard in order to have a productive conversation. Republican candidates are beginning to attack Sanders, yet their supporters must be allowed to speak to us before we can be expect them to listen.
In a society supposedly being shaped by “teach-to-test” education that undermines critical thinking skills, “helicopter parenting” that pushes students to take shortcuts in education, the “new political correctness” campus culture that avoids divergent ideas, the 24-hour cable news “infomania“/”yellow journalism” that generates ideologies, the social issues of the “culture wars” that continually distract from important policy changes, etc., etc., we have a responsibility to askew identity labels and seek common ground where we can find it. The divisive language of our national conversation has distracted from the issues that affect the nation as a whole. As Americans, we’ve all been conditioned to fight tooth and nail over policy scraps, remaining blind to the big picture. It is important that Sanders supporters remain objective and empathetic to those we disagree with, because, as President Obama recently said, we cannot learn and grow as a nation if we do not listen to ideas that counter our own. This is how Bernie leads, and we must be willing to follow.
We must be willing to “be the Bernie.”
Why “Be the Bernie”?
I’m writing this article because rumors persist about caustic Bernie supporters who ostracize anyone outside the “feel the Bern” camp. Certainly, this could be another case of misinformation. I personally have only had positive experiences online and at rallies, but this could be a “social bubble” (or “field“) I live in. Many of us are sheltered from the experiences of those in other social bubbles without even knowing it.
This is an important issue to discuss because some white Bernie supporters dismissed the concerns of Black Lives Matter activists, instead attempting to “educate” them on Bernie’s civil rights record as evidence that the activists should automatically join the campaign. This was a teachable moment for Senator Sanders and his campaign supporters. The BLM movement has a right and a reason to avoid endorsing any candidate, and there is no reason any social movement should move lockstep behind any individual candidate. Bernie supporters must respect that fact before engaging in conversation with any activist. Otherwise, no level of communication can possibly take place.
This misstep was not the end of the world, of course. Let us be humble and grow from this and similar mistakes, as Bernie himself did, admitting recently that he had initially mishandled his campaign’s response to BLM. In an interview, he said, “I plead guilty — I should have been more sensitive at the beginning of this campaign to talk about this issue. …The issues these young people raised are enormously important.”
To support Bernie’s campaign, then, we must be willing to be wrong. We must be humble and empathetic. Like Bernie, we must be well informed and respectful in all discussions, and always willing to learn more. In other words, we, his supporters, must learn to “be the Bernie.”
How to “Be the Bernie”
A recent brainpickings.org blog explores the words of various intellectuals on the art of “How to Criticize with Kindness”. (If you’ve never heard of this wonderful website, you’re about to lose the next two months or so of your life falling down a wonderful rabbit hole of knowledge and experience).
In Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking, Philosopher Daniel Dennett explained that “the best antidote [for the] tendency to caricature one’s opponent” is “a list of rules formulated decades ago by the legendary social psychologist and game theorist Anatol Rapoport.”
Dennett summarizes Rapoport:
- You should attempt to re-express your target’s position so clearly, vividly, and fairly that your target says, “Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.
- You should list any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement).
- You should mention anything you have learned from your target.
- Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism.
The purpose of such a strategy is to transform “your opponent into a more receptive audience for your criticism or dissent, which in turn helps advance the discussion.”
Bernie demonstrated this tactic very effectively at Liberty University when he addressed the obvious differences of belief between the two sides of the “culture wars” and then carefully laid out an objective view of commonality among them. Bernie quoted Matthew 7:12, commenting that this sentiment, the “Golden Rule”, is the foundation of his morality and at the core of Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist and other religious systems: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.” He then laid out his economic plan as a moral mandate based on this universal Rule.
The result was that many students were receptive to his message even though they had expected to disagree. Liberty University junior Emily Murphy said, “I think he said what he believes in, but he didn’t put us down, so I respected that”. Joseph Pappas, a sophomore nursing student, said he may vote for Sanders, although he considers himself a conservative. A former student of Liberty expressed his support of Sanders in his blog, explaining that Bernie’s words came like John the Baptist, striking like “lightning” to his heart.
“Do to others what you would have them do to you.”
We must keep this truth in our hearts as we campaign for Bernie. It is quite acceptable to be passionate or angry, because there is much to be angry about. However, we must direct that anger at the policies that are destroying the middle class, not at our fellow middle class voters who are caught up in this political game with us. There is much to learn, because, as diverse as Sanders’ supporters are, there is far more diversity to be found among those who do not support him. We must learn to listen before we allow ourselves to talk. The issues are the message, and we must deliver that message with humility, compassion and understanding, just like Bernie Sanders.
“Be the Bernie!”
For more information on Bernie Sanders, his platform and an explanation of his policies:
Here is a video produced by the campaign to easily explain why income inequality is such an important issue:
Here are some of the policy issues important to Bernie Sanders:
-Bernie seeks campaign finance reform, ending Citizen’s United, to return our democracy to one person, one vote with publicly funded elections.
-Bernie believes that publicly funded universities must be tuition-free for all citizens regardless of economic standing, and existing student loan debt should be affordable.
-Bernie supports expanded veterans programs to take care of the men and women and their families who have served in the U.S. armed forces.
-While most Republican Presidential candidates seek to end or privatize Social Security, Bernie intends to expand it, making it solvent for decades with greater benefits for those who rely on it.
-Bernie seeks to expand Medicare to provide a single-payer system, a reform that economics Gerald Friedman says will save the economy $5 trillion over ten years compared to the current system.
-Bernie supports a new federal jobs program, including a broad investment in infrastructure.
-Bernie seeks to enact police reform that improves training, ends militarization of police forces and holds police accountable for wrong behavior.
-Bernie will end the drug war.
-Bernie is targeting private prisons and seeking to greatly lower the incarceration rate, which is by far the highest in the industrialized world.
-Bernie has been meeting with BLM organizers to expand his civil rights policies in order to combat systemic racism.
-Bernie promotes LGBTQ equality and always has, throughout his entire career.
-Bernie supports a reasonable path to citizenship.
-Bernie recommends breaking up the “too big to fail” banks so Main Street will never again have to bail out Wall Street, preventing the trend toward consolidation and monopolization.
-Bernie seeks to close tax loopholes and tax breaks for corporations and the wealthiest 1%, as well as focusing on tax havens that will return tax money to the United States.
-Bernie seeks to raise the minimum wage to $15 a year over several years, so that anyone who works 40 hours a week can earn a living wage.
-Bernie supports equal pay for women.
-Bernie acknowledges the reality of human-caused climate change and his energy policy will reflect the importance of treating climate change as a foreign policy issue of great importance.
“Be the Bernie”!
Jamie A. Duncan is author of the forthcoming fantasy series Fire of Norea.