By Maxine Nodel
The first time I heard Bernie speak was when he wiped the proverbial floor with Alan Greenspan on C-Span in 2003. Greenspan had just testified before the House Financial Services Committee that the U.S. economy was improving. This set Bernie on fire, and he unleashed an unapologetic proletariat attack against Greenspan, accusing Greenspan of not living in reality. “The country clubs and cocktail parties are not real America!” Bernie bellowed. “The millionaires and billionaires are the exception!”
I was in love. At that moment, I experienced the same level of infatuation I had for David Cassidy in 1971, three years after Richard Nixon had been voted into office. In 1968, progressives voted their conscience by not voting for Hubert Humphrey, the democratic nominee who they declared as being a too-far-to-the-right-industrialist-capitalist.
So Bernie was now my David against corporate Goliath. The fact that Bernie was also a Jew, like me, rendered me even more inspired. When Bernie decided to run for president, I nearly had an orgasm and declared Bernie a super Jew who had morphed into the poor man’s David, ready to hurl a socialist stone into the mighty Goliath profit beast.
I felt close to Bernie. He could have been a friend of my left of left family, sitting on our sofa on a Sunday with a Noam Chomsky book in one pocket and Facts and Fascism by George Seldes in the other. If my father was alive, he’d adore Bernie; he would imagine the two of them being buddies and having endless discussions about the reverberating splinters of McCarthyism while sharing their plans for the proper redistribution of wealth.
But if my father was alive today, he would be ostracized and condemned by the diehard “Bernie or Bust” supporters. This is because he would vote his conscience and vote for Hillary in the general election -regardless of her real and imagined ‘high negatives’. Even though he, like Bernie, believed that republicans and democrats are the same sides of the same military industrial complex coin, my father would vote for Hillary, perhaps, because he experienced fascism more than Bernie did. While Bernie walked around in diapers in 1944, my father witnessed fascism firsthand while helping to liberate hundreds of thousands of people from concentration camps during WWII. His firsthand exposure to genocide, the pinnacle of the hate spectrum, tainted his idealistic purity.
In the late 1920s, in Hampton Roads Virginia, years before Bernie was born, my father, the son of a Rabbi, witnessed the KKK lynch his neighbors. Whenever he heard his neighbors sing the spiritual, “look down that lonesome road,” he knew it was code for the KKK coming. Everyone hid, but not everyone was able to avoid getting hung from a tree. – In essence, my father would know that not voting for Hillary would be a vote for Trump, a neo-Fascist who is ardently supported by the KKK. My father would know that not voting for Hillary would be a vote for more lynching- not only of African-Americans, but Muslims, Mexicans, homosexuals and transgender people trying to use the bathroom.
The “Bernie or Bust” ilk are varied in their experience, education and core beliefs. For the millennials, many of whom come from middle-class to modest means, their idealistic purity is rooted in legitimate fear coupled with youthful anti-establishment angst. “How will I pay for college?” “Will there be a job waiting for me even if I do complete college?” “Will I be able to leave my parents’ basement?” – Sadly, many of these young Bernie supporters will paradoxically elect Trump, because they refuse to vote for Hillary who they simplistically perceive as being solely Goliath establishment. They don’t know history- deep complex Howard Zinn history; nor do they know the world beyond their angst and Bernie speech bullets. It is as if they aren’t fully aware of what life is like for those who are marginalized to the point of dying from poverty and/or hate- even if a few of them are marginalized themselves. They also do not have the luxury not to vote for Hillary. Hopefully, they will realize the gargantuan social, civil and human rights issues centering on the empty Supreme Court seat. Hopefully, they will have an epiphany about the ramifications of a conservative filling that empty seat and vote for in the interest of the greater good..
The other significant “Bernie or Bust” diehards consist of educated middle to upper-middle-class former flower children of the sixties (AKA Hippies). For them, Bernie is a tie-dye rebirth of their sixties idealism- a resurrection of their youth and utopian dreams of a war-free world. On the surface, these pacifist folks appear to be the epitome of human rights advocacy; however, they spend hours supporting Trump to become President by promising/threatening to vote “their conscience” in the general election by not voting for Hillary and encouraging others to follow suit.
In this regard, this group’s idealistic purity is not really rooted in voting one’s conscience; it’s about voting ego under the umbrella of selfishness. These self-proclaimed progressives are selfish, because they are using their luxury of not having to vote to indirectly vote against the needs of the downtrodden they proclaim to defend. Many have comfy pensions and life-time health insurance; so allowing Trump to destroy unions, pensions and healthcare doesn’t really affect them. They aren’t concerned with women’s reproductive rights as much; although they say they are if you’re chatting with them over a latte or fresh glass of wheat grass juice. They’re not so concerned, since they are now been-there-done-that post-menopausal women who can visit Rome, Tibetan monasteries, take retiree cruises, and afford expensive lox in Zabars upon their return to Manhattan.
I finalized my decision to vote for Hillary in the general election if Bernie didn’t win the party nomination when I recently met a young Muslim waitress in a restaurant. We had gotten into a political discussion, and she expressed her visceral fear of Trump getting in. As a Muslim-American woman, she fears getting physically assaulted because she is Muslim. She fears that her fiancé, who is sick and who is finally able to have health insurance for the first time, will lose his coverage when Trump repeals Obamacare. When she said, “I don’t understand why Bernie supporters won’t support Hillary in the general election,” I realized that she doesn’t have the luxury of not voting for Hillary. I told her that, although I love Bernie, that I will be supporting Hillary, because I didn’t want her to be lynched and because I didn’t want her fiancé not to have the health insurance he needs.
There are other groups of citizens who don’t have the luxury of not voting for Hillary. They include women who seek abortions after getting raped either through incest or stranger assault. For example, if I choose not to vote for Hillary, because I want to “vote my conscience,” then I will be contributing to the increase in mortality rates when Roe vs Wade is overturned- when poor women will have to resort to back alley hanger abortions again. –
Women across the land, who want to be able to have a say over their bodies, don’t have the luxury of not voting for Hillary. Since I want to support these women, I will vote my conscience and support Hillary.
Any person in America who is the victim of xenophobia, homophobia, religious or non-religious phobia, etc. does not have the luxury of not voting for Hillary. Since I want to support honest, hard-working people who live in fear of persecution, I will vote my conscience and support Hillary.
And my vote for Hillary is not, as the “Bernie or Bust” diehards call, a hold–your-nose-vote,” it’s a vote for the candidate who will protect the Supreme Court. It’s a vote for a candidate who has much of the same idealism as my love, Bernie, has but who is realistic to know that change is a process, not an event- that incrementalism is the reality of a labyrinthine political machine.
For Bernie’s changes to occur, so must the following: 1) Bernie must unify the party to ensure that a democrat wins the next presidential election and 2) Democrats MUST come out and vote during midterm elections in order for ‘us’ to regain control of Congress, so that more progressive plans can eventually be brought to fruition. – In the interim, any “Bernie or Bust” folks who refuse to vote for Hillary in the general election will be credited for allowing fascism to rise and thrive in this country until human rights will become the new luxury.
Maxine Nodel has been an urban educator for 30 years and is a former Columbia Teachers College Cahn Fellow Distinguished Principal and college professor.