Point of View Columns

Is Bernie Sanders Ralph Nader on Steroids?

Historical comparisons are often a dangerous game. Every time is different. Every era is different. But there is something about the potential worst case scenario impact of the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign that is eerily reminiscent of Ralph Nader’s quixotic/kamikaze presidential campaign in 2000 which launched the Bush-Cheney era into the 21st century. The entire planet is still paying the price for Nader’s exercise in self-indulgence. The question may be what will be the ultimate cost of Sanders’ windmill tilting.

To be clear, on his best day Bernie Sanders will never have the resume of accomplishment that defines Ralph Nader. Being the avatar of the modern era of consumer advocacy, Nader literally changed lives and saved lives that were at risk of being the victim of various corporate cost-benefit analyses in which human lives were just another cost factor.

And just as clearly, on his best day Ralph Nader was never able to harness the energy born of frustration and the hunger for sociopolitical change that will be the ultimate legacy of Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign. Whether Sanders will be able to ride the whirlwind that he has sown is a completely different story.

What we do know is that against all odds, logic and laws of American political nature, Donald J. Trump is one election away from being President of the United States. What we also know is that President Trump will not only bring bombast, braggadocio and free-style insulting to the White House, he will also bring racism, sexism and white nationalism out of the collective American closet. Not just America, but the entire world will be thrust into the perfect storm of America First crashing into every other competing world view.

This apocalyptic view of a Trump presidency should be enough for even the most progressive advocates for change and political revolution to think long and hard about the risk of eschewing pragmatic politics. The fact that Hillary Clinton has mastered a system which has created insuperable obstacles to the Sanders campaign means that the system is in need of a serious overhaul.

But if that overhaul comes at the expense of degrading and ultimately derailing not only the Clinton candidacy, but the entire Democratic Party, then Donald Trump, not Bernie Sanders, will be the winner. And the moral and political desolation that would be the inheritance of over a third of a billion Americans is simply not worth making political points.

Ralph Nader was warned on multiple occasions that by taking votes away from Al Gore he was enabling the election of the Bush-Cheney tag team. Nader ignored those warnings and many of his supporters felt that there wasn’t enough difference between Gore and Bush-Cheney to matter in any event.

It should be apparent that the difference between President Hillary Clinton and President Donald Trump is stark and stunning. It should be apparent to Bernie Sanders that, in continuing to attack Hillary Clinton he is contributing to the corrosive vitriol that has been spewed her way by Republicans for over twenty years.

On November 9th Bernie Sanders will still be a United States Senator and can live a very comfortable life in Vermont. He will be able to live his life just as Ralph Nader continues to live a very comfortable life after being complicit in the election of George W. Bush.

One can only hope that Bernie Sanders and his supporters will mix political pragmatism with their revolutionary vigor. There is simply too much at stake this time around.

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Point of View Columns

The Teapublican Road to Perdition

Since January 20, 2009, the Teapublicans in Congress and throughout this country have pursued a constant and consistent strategy of endeavoring to delegitimize the presidency of Barack Obama. It is the stuff of legend, but it is undeniably true that on the evening of Inauguration Day Senator Mitch McConnell and Congressman John Boehner and other leading Republicans (that had yet to evolve into Teapublicans) met and decided on a strategy that could be summarized as “Just Say No to Obama”. And they have spent the better part of seven years doing just that – and only that.

It is nothing short of remarkable, indeed it is miraculous that the Obama Administration has been able to achieve anything, much less the historic accomplishments that will be remembered long after names like McConnell and Boehner are mere footnotes written in italics in the narrative of American history. Salvation of the automobile industry, a Stimulus Program that helped to rescue the American economy, record job growth, record corporate profits, institutional change in the financial services industry; historic appointments to the Supreme Court and this country’s first national healthcare system are part of the real “change” that Senator Obama promised during his first campaign for president.

The Republican/Teapublican response has been, channeling their inner Nancy Reagan, to just say “no”. And that nihilist response has gone so far as to justify shutting down the government of the United States and coming close to seriously damaging the international credit of this country by taking all of us to the brink of default.

And it should be clear that a great deal of the Teapublican opposition to Barack Obama is not based on some great philosophical divide. President Obama was twice elected President of the United States by margins that dwarf the victory margins of George W. Bush or John F. Kennedy. Obamacare is largely based upon a healthcare plan devised by a Republican think tank. The bailout of the financial industry began with legislation passed during the presidency of George W. Bush.

Nevertheless, there has been a concerted effort to delegitimize the presidency of Barack Obama. Whether it has been calling him a liar during his speech to Congress (that would be Congressman Joe Wilson, another living breathing footnote to a footnote) or refusing invitations to attend state dinners at the White House, many Teapublicans have refused to accept the reality of an Obama presidency. The question is why?

The answer is a matter of race.

Consider that opposition to the Obama Administration’s support of a nuclear energy limitation agreement with Iran was legitimate. But the unprecedented act of 47 United States Senators sending a letter to Iran’s Ayatollah cannot be explained by a simple matter of policy differences. Those 47 senators simply cannot bring themselves to truly accept the Obama presidency. The question is why?

The answer is a matter of race.

Although Barack Obama’s mother was born in Kansas and there has always been a Hawaiian birth certificate to further confirm his citizenship, the “birther” controversy has surrounding the 44th president has never died. Although Bernie Sanders father was born in Poland, Donald Trump’s mother was born in Scotland and the fathers of Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz were born in Cuba, no one has ever uttered a word about the birth certificates of these men. The question is why?

The answer is a matter of race.

And now, with the death of Antonin Scalia we hear the Teapublicans claim that President Obama should not be able to even nominate a replacement on the Supreme Court because……………it appears the rationale is that seven years of Barack Obama as president is enough. The call for “letting the people decide” on the choice of the next Supreme Court justice is a straw man, the people never have decided who should sit on the Court.

The people have always decided on who nominates Supreme Court justices, and right now that person is Barack Obama. Sixty five million American citizens elected Barack Obama to a four year term, not a three year term. Why would the Teapublicans seek to nullify sixty five million votes?

The answer is a matter of race.

The danger in the Teapublican strategy, in addition to the corrosive effect of racist behavior, is that in trying to delegitimize the Obama presidency they will delegitimize the presidency itself. Barack Obama’s legacy will be secured in history. The damage that the Teapublicans are doing to the institution of the presidency may turn out to be irreparable. It is very difficult to unbreak an egg.

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Point of View Columns

Obama in Africa and Unfinished Business

When President Obama visited Africa he took the opportunity of being in Africa to speak to the truths about Africa. He correctly stated that the African continent is overflowing with potential for progress and growth. He also correctly stated that until Africa confronts its challenges with respect to women, governance and human rights that it will never reach that potential. In other words, there is unfinished business in Africa.

When he spoke before the leadership of the African Union, President Obama said things that it would have been difficult for an African leader to say. As President of the United States he is cloaked with the power and prestige of his office. As the son of an African, as the grandson of Africans, as the brother of African brothers and sisters, Barack Hussein Obama has family ties that remove the possibility of him being considered a disinterested outsider lecturing the “natives”.

It is difficult to imagine President Mitt Romney giving Barack Obama’s speech in front of the African Union. It is virtually impossible to envision President John McCain, or President Donald Trump or President Scott Walker at the podium delivering that message. For that matter, it is difficult to envision President Hillary Clinton or President Bernie Sanders standing in that place – it had to be Obama.

And President Obama told the truth about the role and status of women in Africa – it must change. He said that the African traditions that oppress women and mutilate the genitals of girls and bind women with the chains of ignorance are bad traditions. He told the truth when he said that Africa will never, can never, reach anywhere near its true potential while half of its population is entrapped in the rickety cages of “tradition”.

President Obama was faithful to the truth when he pointed out that in a democracy there can be no “presidents for life”. He told the leaders of the fifty four countries on the continent that the peaceful transfer of power ensures peace just as holding on to power indefinitely ensures that there will never be peace. And, just as importantly, the peaceful transfer of power guarantees that the energy and genius of the youth of Africa will be encouraged to stay in Africa rather than taking their talents elsewhere.

President Obama also took the occasion to point out that respect for the human rights and dignity of all persons is necessary, otherwise no one will have their human rights and dignity respected. Marginalizing or imprisoning or murdering someone because they are from a different country or a different tribe, or because they love a man instead of a woman or a woman instead of a man are practices that keep Africa mired in the past. And marginalizing, imprisoning or murdering in the name of tradition can only mean that the tradition is wrong – as President Obama put it, “it is a bad tradition”.

What was so interesting about his address is that President Obama ultimately spoke in terms of unfinished business in Africa. But he alluded to the fact that there is also unfinished business in the United States. He could have pointed out that while American women have made major strides during the past fifty years, women still earn less than men and women are the majority population of the poor in this country.

He could have said that while this country has been governed by a democracy for over two hundred years, and at this very moment there are cadres of lawyers and activists all over this country who celebrated the demolition of the Voting Rights Act in 2013. He could have mentioned that voter suppression has now become a political tactic and that thanks to the Citizens United and McCullough Supreme Court decisions, obscene amounts of money flood and pollute the political process like never before.

President Obama could have mentioned that while there have been major advances in respecting the rights of individuals in this country, there are still states that fly the Confederate flag and there are legislatures considering bills that will somehow outlaw same sex marriage and constrain a woman’s right to choose.

He could have said all of those things. There is unfinished business in Africa. And there is also unfinished business in these United States.

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