Immunity For Bernie
Some years ago, at the age of four and seventy, Bernie Sanders was an unmitigated novelty. Of course, as anyone with eyes could see, even then he was aged beyond what might be considered politically ripe. His hair, where still defiantly entrenched, was receding from his parietal to his temporal lobe. In other words, it was balding and it was doing so in haste. His posture, painfully evident whenever he stood on stage, was no more attractive. He was incorrigibly kyphotic, with arms forced by gravity and anatomy into an unnatural hunch. His idiolect, distinctive of the Brooklyn from which he comes, wasn’t exactly melodious, but rough, notorious, and unpliant as is that concrete city.
To put it mildly, he wasn’t the most prepossessing of politicians, but still he garnered attention. More than that, he incited attraction. Though obviously aged, he was vivacious. Closer than most to death, he was full of irrepressible life. He introduced himself to America as a pugnacious candidate willing endlessly to fight for the people—be they blue-collar workers or millennial malingerers. Attempting to succeed a Democratic president, someone not far from his ideological ken, he was articulate in his explanation of the shortcomings he perceived in American life, and truculent in response to those who doubted him. Finally, he was seen as the progressive’s next natural step along its progression to the further reaches of the left, beyond the early bi-partisan pretensions of Obama and toward a verily leftist government.
Granted, then as now it was rather unusual to label a man so late in the twilight of his overwhelmingly public life “novel” in any meaningful way, but Sanders was just that. To Americans outside of his adopted state of Vermont, he was very new and therefore very exciting. He struck for the first time in the hearts of disillusioned liberals and aimless youngsters (who are, admittedly, quite often one in the same) a spark of hope by promulgating an openly socialist agenda. Heretofore, we may have had in our uppermost echelons of government something along the lines of crypto-communists, but none had been so open, prominent, nor compelling in their advocacy of top-down statism. He put flesh on the bones of what a Socialist America could be and put his stern, dour face behind it.
Now, accelerating forward in time three short years, Bernie Sanders is no longer the novelty upon whom we looked back then with a mix of suspicion and excitement—ignoring, of course, the failures of his physiognomy. Nor is he, for that matter, the mysterious and fleeting curiosity that he once was. Rather, he’s a presidential candidate of redoubtable force. Considering him in any less serious a way would be fatuous and probably injurious to any other Democratic primary candidate or eventual Republican campaign. As of this writing, Sanders’ campaign for president has raised upwards of $18 million. This far eclipses any other sum raised by anyone else in the field. Aside from the money, though, the personality is gaining as well. Among all polling democrats, his favorability numbers are most auspicious (excluding, as we safely might for the nonce, the avuncular, amorous Joe Biden). Sanders’ popularity, assuming no scandal of his own arises between this day and that on which the primary votes are cast, will likely continue its rise.
It’s not infrequent, in a world with bars set so extraordinarily low, that success is measured not by victory, but by the absence of failure. Aside from one past allegation in recent memory of sexual misconduct levied against a Sanders campaign aide and the controversy in which his wife, Jane Sanders, was found to be conducting some dubious business as the president of the now extinct Burlington College, Bernie’s record on these matters is largely unblemished. This, of course, speaks nothing to the agenda items on which he’s currently running or the positions he’s previously held (including a bewildering defense for the existence of bread lines and a staunch avowal of support for regimes like those of Castro, Chavez, the Sandinistas, and the USSR), but it shows an at least marginally disciplined man who can control his atavistic sexual urge. Again, it’s a woefully low bar, but one over which such figures as Al Franken, Roy Moore, Joe Biden, Donald Trump, etc. couldn’t leap.
What’s curious, though, is the fact that Bernie Sanders hasn’t yet been assailed for his most visible and inextricable sin: that of his being a white male. Other equally white men who are vying for the Democratic candidacy (of whom we count at the latest tally Michael Bloomberg, Joe Biden, Beto O’Rourke, Howard Schultz, Pete Buttigieg, John Hickenlooper, Jay Inslee, and John Delaney) have all been made to answer or apologize for the translucency of their skin. I suppose this does speak to the progressivism of our age, when one’s lack of melanin rather than one’s excess is a politically inhibitory problem to have. We’d do well to remember that the Democratic Party, however loathe it may to reflect upon this unseemly past, was born in the antebellum, highly racially-enthused American South. It was the party against which Lincoln’s ragtag coalition of Republicans fought and the party at whose core sat a “peculiar” institution for which it was willing to die if only to preserve. No doubt history and an evolved morality have improved the Party from that day till this, but it may be swinging toward a new type of “reverse” racism (a fatuous and meaningless term) as evidenced by what’s happening to these and other white men.
That being said, Sanders seems largely to have evaded the criticism piled upon this once oppressive, now strangely victimized class. Unlike the rest in this coterie of white men (of which, last I checked, Sanders is most definitely a part) he appears to be immune to the attacks from within his own party. How is it, then, that Sanders is able to sidestep the intersectional scorn? How is it that he’s able to dodge the leftist commentariat’s contempt? How is it that he’s not being impugned for his “white male privilege”, the fault for which everyone else is roundly castigated and made to repent?
Truthfully, I’m not sure. Venturing a guess, though, a viable answer could be that he’s the most socialist of the crew.
Marx and Engels, when penning their 1848 manifesto, famously called upon the workers of the world to unite. The London-based Communist League, the organization for whom this document was written at the outset of the “Springtime of the Peoples” in the aforementioned year, agreed with that great German radical and his moneyed (though mentally inferior) sidekick that the spread of communism was to be international in scope. The proletariat wasn’t to be provincial, but rather universal. Skin color was to be rather an accident than an impediment and every wretch was to be involved. Eventually, this colorless fraternity of international proles was to become a communistic world without states.
The artificial frontiers of nations were to be torn down. After all, they were the mere vestigial arms of an exploitative way of life that had pushed along history’s slow and onerous wheel. Taking his cues from Hegel, this wheel was spinning to a more just, glorious, and equitable end of whose imminence Marx was fully convinced. So far as the economy was concerned, it was turning from slavery, to feudalism, to capitalism, and inexorably toward the communistic ideal. At its apotheosis, there would be no concern for color. But the wheel was bumpy and the path askew, and each “-ism” was ultimately held together by the common thread of repression. Colonialism threw a wrench in this manner of thinking, but it was upon this heap of rubble that class consciousness was to be built. No person—or, rather, no prole—no matter his or her color, was to be excluded from its construction.
Blushing at the audacity of Marx’s ecumenical proposal, the Leninists and his Bolsheviks decided to focus on domestic affairs. The first state to invoke the philosophy of Marx as the basis upon which the government would be run, Lenin’s successor Stalin and company recognized in their own country a nucleus from whose core socialism could be universally spread. And so it was, from the Baltic to the Balkans, Eastern Europe to Asia, thither to South America and the tropical Caribbean. Yet in all cases, the voyage of this ideology seemed to care little for the color of its recipients’ skin.
Perhaps this is the reason that Sanders isn’t being assailed for being just another white man: he exudes the spirit of a classless, colorless doctrine around which his socialist supporters (defenders, all of them, of the downtrodden and ethnically diverse) flock. Indeed, socialism may be the antidote to white male privilege.