In the clip from Rachel Maddow’s show below, Bernie asks and answers this all important question, one which we all have to ask of ourselves. Why do we keep voting for people who drive our country further into the hole? Our political process, much like society itself, has devolved into a stream of vacuous soundbites, personality cults, fear mongering and knee-jerk responses to what are more often than not, the wrong questions. And from that, we somehow are expected to find our leaders?
While Bernie’s response in the clip below is focused primarily on the phenomenon that has become Donald Trump, it really is a plain spoken assessment of what we as receptors have allowed the senders to accomplish as a means to their own ends. We are afraid of the now and even more so of the future. We have become powerless against the demons under the bed, monsters which most likely would vanish in the light of day. But the curtains are held closed, the light extinguished, and those who profess to hold the answers keep pulling the covers over our heads.
The American people, the real people of this country, are indeed in trouble. This has become the first generation who will undoubtedly be providing their children with a lower quality of life than they had, themselves. It is hard to be all you can be when you are just barely hanging on. We are working harder, and for increasingly less, but never quite for nothing. And that is significant. For, as the old song goes, if we had nothing, we’d have nothing to lose. Instead, the power brokers and institutions who benefit from the rest of us following blindly like sheep are sure to leave us with just enough that we fear that someone will come and take it. Why do we keep voting for these guys? We have been conditioned to respond to that fear by electing, time and again, the man with the plan, the candidate with the answer to the very fear he or she has been spreading across the countryside. It is as though the knight in shining armor has arrived in our town, bringing his own dragon, just in case we don’t have one of our own.
It is easy to blame the far right for their calculated use of fear as motivator for their brand of conservatism. They taught us to be afraid of women taking men’s jobs, blacks moving into white neighborhoods, gays becoming teachers in our schools, the government coming to take our guns and drive our religious beliefs out of our culture, Mexican rapists crossing our borders with drugs, and Muslim terror cells waltzing into the country on refugee visas. But the Democrats are as much to blame in the dispensation of fear, teaching us to be afraid of conservative Supreme Court justices taking away women’s rights to control their own bodies, the imposition of an Evangelical belief system upon our laws, and a government of the corporation, by the corporation and for the corporation. In short, both sides have taught us to fear the other.
These architects of fear have become the builders of our modern political system. I’ve said this part before, but I believe it bears repeating. We need to understand that in America, our politics have come to function as a form of religion. And it is an Old Testament style of religion, built on fear from a house of cards. Our politics are like a religion in that increasingly, they are built upon assumptions that are unproven or unprovable. Candidates from each party rail against perceived injustices and Machiavellian designs of the other party, but seldom, if ever, is any injustice really probed, does any design really come to fruition.
Without the pudding, we never experience the proof. But there is reason for that, as well. Just like a religion, if any of our unprovable assumptions were to become provable and demonstrated to be unfounded, that part of the house of cards collapses and possibly takes the rest of the structure with it. Here we have two churches, Republican and Democrat, and each holds their congregants in large part through fear of the other. But each instructs those congregants not to look too closely at those fears, not to test the waters of their fear to judge the depth. As a result, Washington is more devoted to posturing than a Vogue runway. Very little of substance is attempted or accomplished for fear that if it works, the party that suggested it is validated and the party that feared and opposed it has another wall removed from its own house of cards. Similarly, if a bill is passed and the results of it merit a failing grade, we pull a card from the stack of the party that suggested it in the first place. Thus we have replaced bustle with monolith.
An interesting manifestation of this development of the “immovable object” as government can be found in the candidates running for President. If you dare not risk validating the ideology of the other church, you do not want to run a candidate who has had much experience mingling with its congregation. And so we see many candidates for office who have very little real experience of government, very little experience of real political compromise, very little experience of getting legislation passed into law. The one thing they know is that the fault lies somewhere in the other party.
By way of example, here are the political tenures, at a national level, of the major candidates we have seen thus far (with a couple of ringers thrown in for good measure):
Marco Rubio – one term in the Senate
Ted Cruz – one term in the Senate
Donald Trump – zero political experience
Ben Carson – zero political experience
Carly Fiorina – zero political experience
Rand Paul – one term in the Senate
Interestingly enough, we used to elect former governors to the Presidency, in large part because we found them to have had a great deal of relevant administrative experience and of having worked across the aisles in their own states to get things done. Aside from John Kasich, who is still trying to get a leg up in the Republican party, three others have run during this election cycle. All three washed out fairly early on:
Jeb Bush – two terms as governor
Chris Christie – two terms as governor
Martin O’Malley – two terms as governor
Beyond Martin O’Malley, the Democrats present a somewhat different resumé:
Hillary Clinton – one and a half terms in the Senate, four years as Secretary of State
Bernie Sanders – sixteen years in the House, two terms in the Senate
Jim Webb – one term in the Senate
Barack Obama (remember him?) – one term in the senate
John F. Kennedy (remember him??) – one term in the House, one term in the Senate
Why would either political party want to run candidates with little to no demonstrable experience of government? Perhaps they fear that experience makes agnostics of us all.
Now we are down to five candidates. On the Republican side, the front-runner has no experience of government, though he does have numerous bankruptcies and a track record of failed business schemes to his credit. The two candidates chasing him each have one term in the Senate to their credit. What did they actually manage to accomplish? Not a whole lot. Ted Cruz sponsored fifty-seven pieces of legislation and Marco Rubio one hundred and six. Each has had only one piece of legislation passed into law.
On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton proposed seven hundred and thirteen pieces of legislation, but only three were passed into law. And those three were fairly nondescript, the Kate Mullany National Historic Site (Troy, NY), the renaming of a post office in New York City (Major George Quamo Post Office Building) and the renaming of a section of State Route 20A as the Timothy J. Russert Highway. Her tenure as Secretary of State has been the ongoing focus for much of the political discourse in both parties this cycle, and we may have to wait for numerous shoes to drop before we make a final assessment of it. That being said, she did preside over the mess that has become Libya, Syria and the rise of ISIS.
The lone outlier in this election cycle and the only independent who also possesses a proven track record in government of working across the aisles and passing legislation is Bernie Sanders, whose accomplishments in some twenty-five years on Capitol Hill are too numerous to mention (so they are attached via a link below).
Perhaps it becomes a little easier to understand the level of enthusiasm people have felt for Sanders (due to his accomplishments) and Trump (due to his lack of political failures), the resignation to practicality which has greeted much of the Clinton campaign, and the vitriol from both Cruz and Rubio, who really do not have much of a record on which to run.
Each of the candidates has introduced a level of fear into their respective campaigns, often directed at the candidates of the other party. The Republicans would have us fear immigrants, Muslim extremists, Socialist governmental programs, and the chance that the balance of power in the Supreme Court might switch, meaning the end of gun ownership and Christianity itself. The Democrats are less unified in their expression of fear (aren’t they always). Bernie Sanders fears the continued erosion of the middle and working classes and widening economic inequality in the country, while Hillary Clinton seems to fear that the nation will not settle for incremental progress toward hazy aspirations.
What should we fear? From my vantage point, we should fear exactly what we now have, a society and a government so polarized that we cannot come together, compromise, and seek mutually beneficial solutions to stop the downward slide of the American Dream. We may choose to imagine it differently, but in the end, we all have the same monster under the bed. Fear, itself.
Rachel Maddow’s interview with Bernie Sanders:
Bernie’s record of accomplishment as member of the House and Senator: