Feel the Bern for a Healthier American Political System

Feb 1, 2016 | Greggory Moore | Moore Lowdown
Feel the Bern for a Healthier American Political System

image by: Michael Vadon

If the political system is broken—a popular notion these days—shouldn't the Americans vote for candidates who fall outside the status quo? Luckily there's someone running for president who can lead us somewhere better.

Now is not the time for the same-old, same-old establishment politics and stale inside-the-Beltway ideas - Bernie Sanders

For years on end poll after poll has shown that Americans are disgusted with politics as usual in the United States. The entirety of these politics boil down to Democrats vs. Republicans, with each side seemingly more interested in triumphing over the other than serving the American public.

The Honorable Sen. Bernie Sanders has never played that game. He's the longest-serving independent in Congressional history, and his combination of honesty, progressiveness, dedication, and lack of obligation to either political parties or corporate interests have created a voting record and a career unlike any other in Washington.

Now Sanders is running for the highest office in the land. If you're among the historically high percentage of Americans who think both Democrats and Republicans are failing us, you should do everything you can to support him. Aside from the fact that the man would make a fine, perhaps revolutionary president, a Sanders presidency might just translate into the end of the two-party stranglehold on American politics that is choking off so much meaningful change in this country.

If you want a sense of just how the Democratic and Republican Parties can walk in lockstep to maintain the status quo, consider the "War on Drugs." Declared by President Richard Nixon in 1971, the so-called war has been unrelentingly waged by every president—whether Democrat or Republican—since then, costing an estimated $51 billion annually, disproportionally targeting minority populations, and treating the addiction as a crime to be punished rather than as a medical condition to be treated. The punchline? For all expenditure and injustice, the "War on Drugs" has not only failed to make a dent in either the supply or usage of illicit drugs, but it's actually fueled the black market.

Nonetheless, during the three 2012 presidential debates between Democratic President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney, there was not a single question related to the "War on Drugs." The reason is simple: neither of the two parties differed appreciably in their approach to the issue, so there wasn't much to talk about.

Four years later, the issue can't be ignored on the debate stage, in part because of Sanders's unequivocal stance against the "War on Drugs." "We have a large number of lives that have been destroyed because of this 'War on Drugs' and because people were caught smoking marijuana and so forth," he told Jimmy Kimmel in October. "I think we have got to end the 'War on Drugs.'"

Even though nearly 60% of Americans now support complete marijuana legalization, Sanders is also the only major presidential candidate to do so, a position he owned during the first Democratic presidential debate.

It would be disingenuous to say that there are not distinct differences between the Democratic and Republican Parties. But it's the large overlap in that particular Venn diagram—and how far it is out of step with the stated desires of the American people—that offers a window into why a healthier American political system would be graphically represented by more than two circles.

Front and center in that overlap is the influence of money. According to a recent New York Times/CBS News poll, 84% of Americans feel money has too much influence in political campaigns, with 85% of that number believing the system for funding political campaigns needs either fundamental changes or to be completely rebuilt. Moreover, 58% of respondents believe both the Democrats and Republicans benefit equally from the current system.

Nonetheless, both parties are trending in the opposite direction. As James Bennet noted in the Atlantic Monthly in 2012, between 2000 and 2008 spending on all federal political races increased by 70%—and this was before both the Citizens United decision and the rise of super PACs. In 2011–'12 President Barack Obama held 194 fundraisers, more than Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and Bush pere and fils combined during the third and fourth years of their presidencies.

And it's only getting worse, with spending on the 2016 presidential campaign alone projected to be as high as $10 billion—roughly double the amount spent on all federal campaigns in 2008—with a single source, the Koch brothers, likely to contribute approximately 10% of that total.

"The need for real campaign finance reform is not a progressive issue[, and i]t is not a conservative issue: it is an American issue,” Sanders said in August as he announced plans to introduce in the Senate a bill to make elections publicly funded. “Let us be frank, let us be honest: the current political campaign finance system is corrupt and amounts to legalized bribery […] ‘I’m sponsored by the Koch brothers’ or ‘I’m sponsored by Big Oil.’ It’s a really sad state of affairs.“

And as Politico reported in June, by refusing to have a super PAC of his own, Sanders is walking the walk so steadfastly that he puts himself at a disadvantage to the likes of Hillary Clinton and the Republican field (except for Donald Trump, whose billionaire status helps him swing free of outside financial influence—just about the only good thing that can be said about him), all of whom talk the talk against Citizens United while getting fat on its fruit.

By running a presidential campaign so unlike business as usual, Sanders is demonstrating what politics can be like when the usual suspects—the Democrats and Republicans—aren't the only game in town. That Sanders is running as a Democrat is merely a savvy strategic move (although certainly he is philosophically closer to the Democrats than to the Republicans), considering that in our current political milieu most Americans will vote for only a Republicans or Democrat, no matter how much they have to hold their nose to pull the lever.

A Sanders presidency may change all that. Not only would Sanders serve the country well in his capacity as president, but it would not be lost on people that Sanders is neither a Democrat nor a Republican, which might open people up to the idea of third-party candidates as electable, which could lead to the end of the Democrat/Republican political stranglehold that in many ways has been choking the life from our country. And considering that ours is the third-most populous country on Earth and by far the most diverse, perpetuating a system that allows us to be represented by just one more party than rules nations like Russia, China, and North Korea probably does not serve our best interests.

So feel the Bern! Because Sanders has to win the Democratic Party Primary first—which is very possibly a bigger challenge than his winning the general election—check out voteforbernie.org to see whether/how you can vote for Sanders in your state's primary.

About the Author:

Except for a four-month sojourn in Comoros (a small island nation near the northwest of Madagascar), Greggory Moore has lived his entire life in Southern California.  Currently he resides in Long Beach, CA, where he engages in a variety of activities, including playing in the band MOVE, performing as a member of RIOTstage, and, of course, writing. 

His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, OC Weekly, Daily Kos, the Long Beach Post, Random Lengths News, The District Weekly, GreaterLongBeach.com, and a variety of academic and literary journals.  HIs first novel, The Use of Regret, was published in 2011, and he is currently at work on his follow-up.  For more information:  greggorymoore.com


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