To win the Democratic Presidential nomination, Bernie Sanders must take a reasonable portion of the African American and Hispanic vote away from Hillary Clinton.
And the best way for him to do so is to follow the example of Pope Francis (and the civil rights movement that Bernie grew up with as a college student) and bring a moral, spiritual, and even prophetic dimension to his message about economic inequality, and, yes, even his commitment to racial justice.
While Republican candidates spew anger and hatred, and Hillary Clinton murmurs focus-group tested bromides, Bernie Sanders can preach justice and righteousness.
The Democratic Presidential debate on Tuesday night, when he will be introduced to millions of Americans for the first time, is a good place to begin.
Bernie showed he knows how to do this in his speech to conservative evangelical Christian students at Jerry Fallwell’s Liberty University. As Bernie preached there,
“There is no justice when so few have so much and so many have so little.
There is no justice…when the top 1/10 of 1%…in American owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90%…
There is no justice when, in recent years, we have seen a proliferation of millionaires and billionaires, while at the same time the United States of America has the highest rate of childhood poverty of any major country on earth…
There is no justice, and morality suffers when in our wealthy country, millions of children go to bed hungry…
There is no justice when thousands of Americans die every single year because they do not have any health insurance and do not go to a doctor when they should.
That is not justice. That is not morality.”
And when Bernie turned to mass incarceration and youth unemployment, particularly African American youth unemployment, his voice rang with the tones of the Rev. Martin Luther King, quoting Amos 5:24:
“‘But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream.’ Justice treating others the way we want to be treated, treating all people, no matter their race, their color, their stature in life, with respect and with dignity…
There is no justice in our country when youth unemployment exists at tragically high levels…51 percent of African American high school graduates between the ages of 17 and 20 are unemployed or underemployed–51 percent.
We have in this country sufficient amounts of money to put more people in jail than in any other country on earth. The United States has more people in jail.
But apparently we do not have enough money to provide jobs and education to our young people. I believe that’s wrong.”
Despite the fact that Bernie Sanders began his political activism in college in the Civil Rights Movement, it’s mostly White folks so far who are “feeling the Bern” and Bernie is significant trailing Hillary Clinton among African-American and Hispanic voters at this stage of the campaign. For Bernie to win the nomination, that has to change.
Bernie could conceivably win both the Iowa Caucuses and the New Hampshire Primary and then be crushed by Hillary a few weeks later in the Nevada caucuses, with a large number of Hispanic voters, and in the South Carolina primary, where a majority of Democratic voters are African-American. A few days later in the largely Southern “Super Tuesday”, Hillary Clinton could all but sow up the Democratic nomination by racking up huge wins in red Southern states.
Indeed, the Democratic National Committee has put its thumb on the scales to insure that progressive insurgent candidates like Bernie Sanders and Howard Dean must overcome a wave of front-loaded Southern primaries to overcome the Party’s establishment candidate like Hillary Clinton. A few days after the South Carolina Primary, 8 Southern states with 795 Convention delegates vote March 1 on Super Tuesday–Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia (along with a handful of Non-Southern states). None of these states (except perhaps Virginia) is likely to vote Democratic in the general election. But their primaries could determine the Democratic nominee
Bernie Sanders has raised enough small donor contributions to campaign and set up organizations in those states.
But to make an impact, particularly among African-American voters who comprise a large proportion of Democratic voters in those states, he needs to change his somewhat dry and academic tone that has brought tens of thousands of largely white, educated and progressive supporters to campaign rallies in places like Portland, Seattle, and Los Angeles.
For Bernie to succeed beyond his largely white progressive base, it’s not his substance–which has been consistent for over 30 years–that needs to change, but his tone.
Bernie needs to channel Martin Luther King’s speech at the end of the Selma to Montgomery civil rights march:
“Let us march on poverty until no American parent has to skip a meal so that their children may eat. March on poverty until no starving man walks the streets of our cities and towns in search of jobs that do not exist. Let us march on poverty until wrinkled stomachs in Mississippi are filled, and the idle industries of Appalachia are realized and revitalized, and broken lives in sweltering ghettos are mended and remolded.
Let us march on ballot boxes until race-baiters disappear from the political arena.
The only normalcy that we will settle for is the normalcy that recognizes the dignity and worth of all of God’s children. The only normalcy that we will settle for is the normalcy that allows judgment to run down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream. The only normalcy that we will settle for is the normalcy of brotherhood, the normalcy of true peace, the normalcy of justice.”
Bernie needs to channel Pope Francis:
“Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.”
And though he’s a secular Jew and not a Baptist preacher or a Catholic priest, Bernie showed at Liberty University that he knows how to do it:
“I am far, far from being a perfect human being, but I am motivated by a vision, which exists in all of the great religions, in Christianity, in Judaism, in Islam and Buddhism, and other religions…
I agree with Pope Francis when he says, ‘The current financial crisis originated in a profound human crisis, the denial of the primacy of the human person,’ and this is what he writes: ‘We have created new idols. The worship of the ancient calf has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking in a truly human purpose.’
Now these are profound words, which I hope we will all think about. In the Pope’s view, and I agree with him, we are living in a nation and in a world, and the Bible speaks to this issue, in a nation and a world which worships not love of brothers and sisters, not love of the poor and the sick, but worships the acquisition of money and great wealth. I do not believe that is the country we should be living in…
If we are honest in striving to be a moral and just society, it is imperative that we have the courage to stand with the poor, to stand with working people, and when necessary, take on powerful and wealthy people whose greed, in my view is doing this country enormous harm.”
Preach, Bernie, Preach! And if you do, then maybe, just maybe, you can Win, Bernie, Win!
(To see all of Bernie’s speech at Liberty University, click here.)
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