Me and my partner took a weekend trip across the southern border, to escape city winter doldrums and indulge a morbid fascination with the political campaign, one week before the Iowa caucus.
We had a fun time. Saw wild turkeys and pheasants, pine trees encrusted in ice, black Amish buggies and white fields barely discernible from grey sky.
In Mason City, Iowa — a border town, off of Highway 35 ,in the flat central plains — there was little indication of the impending caucuses — one comment about the idiocy of Trump, one massive red lawn sign for Cruz. We joined hundreds congregated at the YMCA on Saturday morning. The contest on their minds was playing out by their youngsters on the basketball courts.
But in Decorah — another border town in the hilly east — the masses gathered at Luther College to see Bernie Sanders. The crowd was clearly feeling the Bern; loving talk about single payer health care, free tuition, $15 minimum wage, expanding social security, a trillion dollar investment in infrastructure and renewable energy jobs and a promise to transfer priorities from mass incarceration to education. They also cheered for choice, gay marriage, and equal pay for equal work.
The crowd spanned the age spectrum. The couple in their sixties sitting in front of me shouted out when he talked about people on social security trying to live on 13,000. “That is us!”
Bernie took on his detractors – those who say he can’t win, and the naysayers who claim he is promising the moon but has no way to pay for it. For the latter he cited polls, for the former he promised to tax billionaires and the banks.
My partner was enthusiastic – picking up a lawn sign. I told him it might have to go on his proverbial side of the lawn — for now.
I felt half a Bern. I didn’t hear anything I did not agree with. I shared the relief expressed in people’s faces as they heard real problems and solutions from a politician who — as he said — thinks Americans like it when you don’t treat them like they are dumb. I was grateful not to be pandered to with patriotic pablum about American exceptionalism – rhetoric that Obama has made his own.
I was glad he mentioned race disparities in unemployment – but wished he had showed more courage with this white Iowa audience to push for police accountability. In a state that increasingly relies on immigrant labor for food processing industries, I wished he would taken the opportunity to include undocumented people in his calls for equal rights.
Indeed, it was what he did not say that had me holding back.
Other than his vote against the Iraq war, there was no mention in his address about endless wars or military drones, or U.S. bombing hospitals. Indeed his social programs could all be paid for if we chopped the bloated pentagon budget. Why didn’t he say that? I know the weapons manufacturers and military bases in every state are even more capable than big pharma, oil and the NRA,in cowering politicians. But Sanders could role out a plan for turning weapons factories into water filtration and mass- transit manufacturing, without job loss, reversing FDR’s speedy transformation of domestic plants during World WAR II.
From my experience — talking to students and strangers on my 14 month bicycle trip around the U.S.— I found that across the rural/ urban, left/right spectrum people are sick of war. Heck, Obama knows that. “War weariness,” he calls it.
For the current President war-weariness is a problem, but for the next president, with a vision for a sustainable world, it could be a great asset, something to build on.
Hillary Clinton’s attacks on Bernie’s foreign policy acumen should be seen as an opportunity by his campaign, to shout back that with the former Secretary of State, we get more of what the world can not afford – more American super power bullying.
Look, it is not just that I want more. If so, I’d settle for the half glass. Reform is good for real people. But if Bernie’s domestic revolution stops at our borders, I fear it won’t work . We are one small vulnerable planet. The political borders we erect are not just artificial from a moral perspective. They don’t exist economically, climatificially, militarily. The United States has to adopt a global allegiance as we act locally, or we will all go down, destroyed by inequality, endless war,pollution and rising seas.
Let me repeat. Without a global plan, I fear Bernie’s domestic plan will go down as another beautiful list of empty promises. I fear only a fascist could fill the void that disappoint would elicit.
Unlike me, the crowd at Luther College in Decorah were as wildly enthusiastic about their candidate as midwesterners get. The post-rally conversation at the Water Street Cafe and Java coffee shop, were positively giddy. Given the Democratic and Republican alternatives, that is great news. Indeed the supporters of Bernie Sanders are the best part of his campaign. That is why the corporate -owned media, here in Iowa and nationwide, have accelerated their anti- Sanders vitriol. They know they must put out the Bernie fire.
As Sander’s said, “this is about more than me and my candidacy.”
Amen to that.