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January 18, 2016

The Authenticity of Bernie Sanders

He can win because of his vision for a caring, sustainable, more just and fairer USA

Bernie Sanders speaking in Des Moines. (Photo by Phil Roeder under a Creative Commons license) 

Jonathan Tasini is author of The Essential Bernie Sanders, a collection of commentary and speeches capsulizing ideas from the Vermont Senator who is changing the national debate in his presidential bid. “This is the most relevant book of 2016,” says Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed.  In this article,Tasini explains how Sanders punctured his skepticism about politicians. 

I’ve been involved in politics my whole life, from stuffing envelopes to knocking on doors in all kinds of weather to working closely with politicians. So, my bullshit alarm is on a hair-trigger alert in the presence of most politicians—and it goes off with regularity, even among politicians who I agree with.

A couple of years ago, something different happened. Over the course of a couple of days in 2013, I spent a number of hours chatting with Bernie Sanders for an interview for Playboy. To be sure, it was a pleasure—unfortunately, too rare an experience—to be with a member of Congress who actually had an informed, complex understanding of the issues facing the people. It’s a deep understanding steeped in a worldview that seeks to represent the regular person, not because it tests well in 2016 polls but because Bernie believes what he says.

When I walked out of Bernie Sanders’ office, aside from the energy one feels from a good policy give-and-take, I was left with an unusually strong sense of something else: authenticity.

Authenticity is hard to manufacture—and, as we all know, politicians of all stripes spend many hours and millions of dollars to painfully, and often comically, try to say to voters, “I’m like you, I’m real.”

But, authenticity is easy to explain. It’s a simple sense: “Here it is. Here is what I believe from deep inside. I don’t need to convene a think-a-thon of consultants and other sycophants to tell me what I should believe. This is me.”

That is the essence of Bernie Sanders. No bullshit. Unvarnished opinions and beliefs.

Now, Bernie is carrying that authenticity into the national arena in his quest to become president of the United States. As I write these words, tens of thousands of people have already swarmed to hear Bernie speak the truth at mass rallies in arenas and halls across the nation.

To be clear: this is an electorally successful politician, winning races for office as an independent to be Mayor of Burlington, Vermont (four times beginning in 1981), serving as the state’s lone member in the House of Representatives (from 1990-2006) and, finally, in 2006, ascending to the United States Senate.

Which elicits a question some have asked about his inspiring campaign for the White House: Why is the longest serving independent in Congress, who describes himself without hesitation as a Democratic Socialist, running for president in the Democratic Party primaries?

To be sure, some of it is practical. Unless you are a billionaire, it’s virtually impossible to win a national election as an independent in the dominant two-party system (and even, as Ross Perot proved, being a billionaire does not make it a cinch). Some of it has to do with branding and the corrupted nature of Super PAC-fueled elections in the post-Citizens United world, a topic Bernie feels passionately about.

But, there is something more here. In an exchange we had back in 2013, I asked Bernie whether he thinks people understand the term class warfare, which is at the heart of his orations about how the historic divide between rich and poor is ripping apart the nation.

He replied: Sometimes people come up to me and say I’m courageous for saying all these things. I say, ‘I’m not courageous. Go look at these guys who want to give more tax breaks to billionaires and cut programs for working families. That is incredibly courageous, because the vast majority of the American people think that’s crazy."

"The polling says: Don’t cut Social Security, don’t cut Medicare, don’t cut Medicaid. Ask the wealthy and large corporations to pay more taxes. The political question is, why have the Republicans not been reduced to a 15 percent marginal third party? [The answer is] most people do not perceive a heck of a lot of difference between either party. The Democrats are too diffuse, and their message is so unclear the American people don’t see the real difference.”

This is the essence of his belief that he can win: he is certain that if he speaks boldly, clearly, honestly, and authentically, that he can win the Democratic nomination for president, and the party he leads can win everywhere—in all fifty states—and relegate a regressive anti-worker, pro-corporate Republican Party to rump status. It would be a party transformed, with a standard bearer who would not hesitate to say exactly what he believes, as this book lays out, whether he is walking the streets of Newark, Tampa, Eugene, Detroit, or, Dallas, trekking from the Deep South to the Midwest, or traveling from sea to shining sea.

The goal of this book is to present to the country, in a succinct way, Bernie’s authenticity and his accomplishments, a vision that be believes is a winning agenda because it exactly reflects the desires and beliefs of a majority of people. No one should underestimate—and Bernie does not—the challenge of winning the White House; it is a steep climb, for a whole set of logistical and organizational reasons.

But his path to victory is possible because, in his authenticity, his views are America’s views.

Bernie Sanders carries with him a hope and vision for a 21st Century caring, sustainable, more just and fairer United States of America.

I aimed to be brief. Each chapter is short. Each chapter can be read on its own, depending on a reader’s interest. I’ve used Bernie’s direct words, mostly from speeches on the floor of the Senate or House or in statements he’s made, because he usually does so with very concrete explanations and descriptions of a problem that any reader can follow. Each chapter has my own very short introduction to give some background, and ends with very specific steps Bernie has taken to implement his views.

It’s important to underscore a point from the title of the book. This is what I think are the essential views of Bernie Sanders, not a complete list. I wanted this book out fast, as a handy organizing tool. It allows readers to read conclusions about Bernie’s worldview and overall philosophy, and seek out additional positions on other issues not covered in the chapters.

Hopefully, the words presented here help individuals make the argument for Bernie’s candidacy to a family member, neighbor, friend or co-worker.

But, ultimately, as Bernie often says, this is not about him. It’s about our chance to ignite a political revolution by exercising collective power to restore democracy and justice.

Feel the Bern.