I’ve been meaning to write about Bernie Sanders for a few weeks now. I’ve been tracking him for about 6 months as he’s emerged as a credible challenger to Hillary Clinton as the Democrat’s pick . He’s the sort of character I’m sympathetic too, but wary of in a political context.
At first I thought of him as a kind of American Jeremy Corbyn, who was recently elected the leader of the English Labor party. They have very different styles, but both idealistic. Ideals are great, but irrelevant if there’s never the opportunity to apply them. I suspect that will be the fate of Corbyn, who from afar (and seemingly from up close) seems crippled by an ideology that is arcane and out of step, though mostly well intended.
Corbyn seems a purist, the sort of man who will never compromise, and so will never get up. Sanders is a warmer, earthier character. He’s a believer, but without the dour intractability of a Corbyn. He’s a left wing egalitarian with a homespun manner. He may get up. In any case, I hope he does.
Whatever I hoped to write about Sanders had been fermenting in my head when last night I sat down and watched a movie. Dalton Trumbo is a small hero of mine. He’s a guy most people won’t ever have heard of, but he has a great claim to fame, which is what the movie in his name explored. He stood up and opposed the House Un-American Activities Committee – McCarthy and his evil cronies.
I remember it must be 15-20 years ago I flicked the TV onto the ABC on a Sunday and caught a documentary on Trumbo. I sat and watched, fascinated by the story and taken by the witty, slightly eccentric, and very plucky Trumbo. He was a very great screenwriter, who also happened to join the American Communist party in the middle of WW2. At that time the brave Russian communists were allies to America. After the war they became enemies, as did anyone who supported them.
In so many ways it seems utterly ridiculous. Across America the odd American citizen exercised their right to become affiliated with a political movement. While I’m not sympathetic to communism, I’m all for political freedom. This is what these individuals did. In the hysterical aftermath of the war and through the cold war they were demonised as traitors to America. It was claimed they were working directly for the Russians, reporting to them, seeking to undermine and betray the American way of life. These were normal, average people for the most part, but now they were wrapped in conspiracy. Like most conspiracies it seems faintly ridiculous from this distance – and yet it was a serious business back in the day.
It’s common to look back at such moments and shake your head at the naivety of it. Couldn’t happen now, you think, but then you look around, and see that it does happen now, just in different ways, with different people picked on these days. Political opportunism never dates, only the excuse for it.
Dalton Trumbo went to prison for his alleged beliefs, as did many of his colleagues. He was blacklisted, his contract torn up, and was unable to find work under his own name. He survived by writing under assumed names, and won two Oscars for his work – though he couldn’t claim them. I suspect this is the most shameful period of American history, but he defied it, and ultimately survived it. Finally the political wheel turned and he returned to the industry to write and become a respected, even legendary member of the screenwriting industry.
Bernie Sanders is famous for proclaiming that he wants to represent the 99% who don’t get a voice. Yesterday I watched a new ad of his which supported the notion that we are all one people, regardless of colour or creed or sexual persuasion. He stands in stark contrast to Trump on the other side, and indeed most of the Republican candidates. In many ways he stands alone on the Democratic side of politics – the anti-establishment, unconventional candidate who threatens to spoil Hillary Clinton’s party.
I thought of Sanders last night as I watched the Trumbo movie because the principals portrayed in the movie are so alike to the principals that Bernie Sanders espouses every day. It’s the true liberal perspective which has been lost and watered down over the years. I look at Bernie Sanders and wish we had one here to shake things up, and hope that the ALP are watching – because Sanders rising popularity tells a great tale. The people are clamouring for a voice they can believe in, and a vision that includes them in it.
I admire Sanders, and find little to disagree with. If I was an American voter I might be moderately wary of what he doesn’t tell me, but ultimately I think he would get my vote – because the world needs a Sanders.
More likely than not Clinton will beat him to the nomination, but nothing will surprise now. Hillary Clinton is much better than anything on the Republican side (who are all horrid), but I’m still not sold on her. Like a lot of people I’ve never found myself trusting her completely. She’s very capable and has a powerful intellect, but she seems infected by overweening ambition, and I don’t know where that will lead. Every chance will find out – but till then, I’m rooting for Bernie.