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Herb Rothschild Jr: Sanders is the real thing

Not being a pundit, I haven’t felt obliged to swell the ceaseless commentary on the presidential primaries. Would the campaign season were half as long! There is a world elsewhere that merits our attention.

But something has emerged that strikes me as noteworthy. Early calculations about how the contests in both parties would take shape have been overthrown, on the GOP side by Donald Trump, on the Democratic side by Bernie Sanders.

What Trump and Sanders share is a refusal to serve the oligarchs who control the entire Republican Party and many incumbent Democrats at the national level, including the president.

Admittedly, it’s harder to attribute Trump’s success than that of Sanders to his anti-oligarchical stance. Trump leapt to the lead by seizing right away the immigration issue, making radical proposals such as abolishing birth-right citizenship and defaming the character of those whom our trade policies and our hypocrisy about recreational drugs drive across our southern border. He beat his rivals to the Anglo paranoia payoff, a jackpot that has been building since Obama first won the presidency.

But Trump’s appeal to racist-based xenophobia doesn’t fully account for his success. People delight in his thumbing his nose at anyone and anything he chooses. For him there are no sacred cows, including the moneyed class that controls U.S. politics. He doesn’t want its approval or need its money. He convinces audiences that he has sat across the bargaining table from the plutocrats and found them, not immorally greedy (how could he?), but contemptibly inept.

Trump has been outspoken about the corrupting influence of big money in politics and called for increased taxes on the rich. These don’t suggest a commitment to broad-based relief for working people and the poor, much less a halt to our galloping economic inequality. So the mainstream media doesn’t hesitate to give Trump air time. He doesn’t pose a real threat to their corporate owners. Nonetheless, it’s encouraging that his more populist positions, wrapped though they may be in a tedious egotism, seem to solidify his grassroots support.

Sanders is the real thing, which is why his meteoric ascent has merited the sparsest attention possible by the mainstream media. What he proposes is major change. The insurance companies will take a big hit if the nation adopts single payer health coverage. The pharmaceutical industry will take a big hit if government health programs can negotiate drug costs. Wall Street profits will take a big hit if Glass-Steagall is re-enacted, once again separating commercial from investment banks. Corporations will not be able to run the global economy unconstrained by fair labor and environmental laws if U.S. trade policy is revamped. The transition from fossil fuels to renewables will mean an enormous shift in economic power. And all employers will have to pay a livable wage.

In my column on May 16 I wrote, “Too many Democrats serve the interests of the wealthy, but none of them make war on the poor.” Bill Clinton was no exception. While abetting the trend towards gross economic inequality, including the repeal of Glass-Steagall and the enactment of NAFTA, he mostly protected safety net programs from a Gingrich-led Republican onslaught, and modestly raised the federal minimum wage and the top marginal income tax. If elected president, Hilary will act in that same vein.

Much of the Democratic base gets all that, and thus the Bernie phenomenon. Hilary may tell women “Our time has come,” but the human race has no time for what she espouses.

Herb Rothschild Jr. is chairman of the board of Peace House.