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Chris Honoré: Bernie Sanders' last windmill

Since Bernie Sanders first stepped forward and announced his candidacy for POTUS I’ve followed his campaign with more than a passing interest. It’s like he walked out of the tall corn in “A Field of Dreams” and unexpectedly brought the heat.

Here he was, this rumpled, sometimes cranky old guy, a head of barely combed white hair, his pate bald, never a Democrat but an independent from the small state of Vermont, and an unabashedly declared democratic socialist. There was no entourage, no war room of in-house pollsters and political handlers plotting and planning, suggesting he not speak his truth lest his views be thought of as too far beyond the political pale. He was the antithesis of that carefully groomed politician, and at first the adjective quixotic came to mind: Bernie, unafraid, charging at windmills. His was an improbable quest, and initially his hat thrown in the presidential ring drew little more than a shrug.

But then a strange and surprising thing happened on the Bernie campaign trail. When he began to speak, crowds of young people — few at first, their numbers barely registering on any seismic scale — began showing up and listening to what he had to say, his ideas delivered in his own style, standing before the podium, hunched forward, his arms and hands constantly moving, his glasses slipping down his nose. But, ultimately, it was what he said that resonated.

He called for a political revolution. For change. Quoting Bernie from a recent op ed in the New York Times, here are some excerpts from his now familiar liturgy.

“In the last 15 years, nearly 60,000 factories in America have closed and 4.8 million well-paying factory jobs vanished — most of those connected to disastrous trade deals that encouraged corporations to move to low-wage countries.

“Despite increased productivity, the median male worker in America today is making $726 less than he did in 1973, while the median female worker is earning $1,154 less than she did in 2007 (adjusting for inflation).

“Nearly 47 million Americans live in poverty. An estimated 28 million have no health insurance. Millions struggle with outrageous student debt and for the first time in American history, our younger generation will likely have a lower standard of living than their parents.

“Millions of poorly educated Americans will have a shorter life span than previous generations as they succumb to despair, drugs and alcohol.

“Some 58 percent of all new income is going to the top 1 percent.

“A worker cannot make it on $8 or $9 an hour; retirees struggle to buy necessary medications; young people cannot afford college.

“We need change — but bigotry and anti-immigrant demagogy are not the answers. Instead we need leadership that rejects hypernationalism and rejects the use of war as a means to an end. We need ‘fair’ trade, not ‘free’ trade. We need to create tens of millions of jobs worldwide by combating climate change and thereby transforming the world’s energy system away from fossil fuels. We need to address the causes of war, poverty, hatred, hopelessness and ignorance ...”

He said all that and more.

And suddenly he found himself standing before crowds of thousands, mostly young, wearing T-shirts that said “Go For the Bern.” “Bernie in 2016.”

Here was this 73-year-old iconic grandfather speaking from the heart who elicited a generational excitement and enthusiasm that was extraordinary. His integrity, his dream, the Bern dream of a future that his followers could believe in, was a stunning phenomenon.

I never thought he could win the nomination. As I mentioned, the word quixotic kept coming to mind. And as the votes were tallied in state after state, it became clear that the math was against Bernie. And so I waited for him to step forward, perhaps after California’s primary, and give a ringing, full-throated endorsement of Hillary. I mean, the Dems needed Bernie’s youth vote. And, of course, there’s The Donald who must be defeated.

I know he’ll yield and give Hillary the win. But Bernie isn’t done, yet. It may take him until the convention to feel that his impact on the Dems’ party platform has been felt and his ideas fully acknowledged. Fine. He’s earned it.

Chris Honoré of Ashland is a Daily Tidings columnist.