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Bernie’s (brief) boom

Austin, TX

The United States is unique in the Western world in that it has only ever mildly flirted with socialism.

Aside from Eugene Debs’ five ill-fated tilts at the White House in the late 1800s, textbook socialism has rarely raised its head above the parapet of mainstream American politics.

Though some hard-line conservatives would use the term to describe Barack Obama – or even the Wall Street-friendly Clintons – true devotees of Marx and Engels around the globe would no doubt vehemently (and accurately) disagree. Instead, the country’s Left has more often been preoccupied with progressive cultural causes than with any real plans to overthrow the capitalist system.

And yet, a self-described (democratic) socialist has now not only broken into the spotlight, but – if you were to listen to the fever pitch squeals of cable news and social media over the past week – is actually a serious contender to take on the best-funded and most well-oiled political machine in history in the form of Hillary and her somehow-still-popular and philandering ‘husband’.

Bernie Sanders not only openly describes himself as a socialist but actually looks like one.

In the ‘Obama Age’ of election campaigns, when smooth-as-silk telegenic performance can outweigh policy or professional experience, Bernie is the most unlikely of success stories: a grumpy and crumpled former Kibbutznik at the head of a million-strong army of fed-up millennials.

From obscurity as a fairly inconsequential senator from a fairly inconsequential state, Sanders has swiftly become a cultural icon, parodied (brilliantly) by doppelganger Larry David on SNL and worshipped on college campuses and, increasingly, at the Democratic primary polls.

He tied with Hillary Clinton in Iowa and defeated her in no uncertain terms in New Hampshire.

And it’s not difficult to see the appeal. With student debt at all-time highs and dissatisfaction with federal politicians even higher, Bernie – who enjoys an ‘outsider’ persona despite his decades in Congress – offers a radical message that many hope will result in a turning tide.

When compared with his opponent, the shine from Bernie’s hairless scalp is illuminated even further.

Hillary Clinton is the ultimate politician, railing against Republicans while lunching with billionaire donors; preaching feminism publicly while privately working to silence and shame the many women who have accused her husband of sexual indiscretion and assault.

By contrast, Bernie is undeniably genuine, with a campaign supported by small individual donations and legions of enthusiastic volunteers, super PACs or superstars.

On the economics, of course, Bernie’s vision is fundamentally flawed.

Wherever socialism has been tried – and versions of it have been attempted almost everywhere – it has resulted more often in oppression and depression than any uplifting of the people.

But before this becomes a rant about the virtues of free markets and limited government, let’s turn back to the realities of the 2016 race.

Regardless of whether you think a Bernie presidency would bankrupt the nation and perpetuate poverty, or whether you think he is the second (or first) coming of the Messiah, either way it is almost certainly destined to be consigned to peoples’ dreams (or nightmares).

True, Bernie did well in New Hampshire, but as a representative of neighbouring Vermont this is perhaps unsurprising. He also exceeded expectations in Iowa, but both of these states are largely white and rural and are a poor reflection of the broader demographics of the Democratic-voting public on which the nomination hinges.

More importantly, the rules of the Democratic Party stack the chips heavily in favour of its Royal Family.

Alarmingly, despite a draw in the first caucus and a resounding victory in the first primary, Bernie’s crucial delegate count for the nomination is just 40. Hillary’s is almost 400.

This tenfold discrepancy – despite the clear preference of the voters thus far – is due to the influence of so-called ‘Super Delegates’, supposedly un-tethered individuals whose votes count for more than others within the so-called ‘Democratic’ party.

Despite the inherent injustice, Bernie Sanders has already had remarkable success. He has engaged young people in the political process and fought back against his party’s corrupt Establishment.

He is an honest, decent and likeable fellow. But he will not be President of the United States.

Then again, that’s what they said about Barack Hussein Obama.

Those ‘feeling the Bern’ should be preparing the egg for my face just in case.

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Published on 12 February 2016.