The American public are a cheerful and hard-working lot. A country that will wish you to “have a nice day!” at every opportunity, their optimism glosses over the fact that as many as one-in-five of them are living in poverty.
It’s the kind of demographic that you would assume would fall in love with Bernie Sanders. He’s offering a smorgasbord of goodies for the average hard-working American. Healthcare, college tuition and a $15 minimum wage is just the beginning. Just the ticket for the predominantly working-class country, right?
There is a long way to go for the wild haired democratic socialist, not least in convincing the American public that they deserve what he is offering. His policies have been derided as too good to be true. His promise of healthcare and college for every American has been rejected in a knee-jerk reaction by the general public as “unaffordable.”
Fact is, Bernie is the only one on either side of the fence that is transparently offering a costed budget policy, and 170 top economists have weighed in saying that it will work. So the evidence is there that he is the real deal, and what he is offering is there for the taking.
And this is where it gets sticky.
“In order for Bernie Sanders to get elected, he must attack the very heart of the American Dream.”
The American Dream is a hard-wired belief in American culture that if you work hard, you will become rich.
If you think about it, it’s kind of like the idea of heaven. The American Dream is all about working hard right now for a far-off goal that may or may not happen.
But logic says that if you’re not rich, then you’re not working hard enough. If you’re poor, you’re lazy.
“All you have to do to be rich is work hard, right? So the poor people must be lazy.”
What that means is that in the States now, you have hundreds of millions of people feeling deeply and secretly ashamed that they are still poor, because logically, that means they simply haven’t worked hard enough. In the U.S., the minimum wage is not enough to live on, so people are working two and three jobs just to survive, while still bearing the stigma of “not working hard enough.”
This is why poor people vote against their own interests in the States. Of course, the working class would benefit so much from universal healthcare, their kids would actually have a chance at a fulfilling life if they could go to college, and they desperately need a $15 minimum wage – but they don’t think they deserve it. According to the American Dream, you have to work hard to get ahead. Having it handed to you on a platter is an entitlement they don’t think they deserve.
It’s a really interesting psychology, and it’s one that Bernie has had an uphill battle with since day one. But there is hope. Back when he was a pup sitting at the feet of Martin Luther King, he didn’t have the internet and he didn’t have access to the skills and creativity of the thousands of people who understand what he’s offering and are willing to bang on about it. He didn’t have thousands of people mobilized to educating themselves on his policies, talking to people daily about them, creating memes explaining where the money is coming from, and willing people to let themselves believe that they were worth more than an 80 hour week just making ends meet. The political landscape has changed in his favor. If Bernie Sanders lands in the White House, it won’t be the work of a highly-paid and seasoned press-management team like Hillary’s, it will be on the tip of a tsunami of normal Facebook users who have fallen in love with what he stands for.
Bernie talks of a revolution, and what most people take that to mean is a revolution in the way politics is run. Bernie’s taking on the one-percenters, literally, in that Hilary Clinton herself has climbed into their ranks by way of corporate speaking gigs that have netted her and her husband $153 million dollars, pushing them into the one percent.
But the real revolution will be in the hearts and minds of the American public, especially if Bernie wins the nomination. Do they have enough self-love and self-worth to accept what he is offering? Do they consider their lives important enough to make themselves more comfortable? Are they ready to give up the rat-race of competition and enter a new age of collaboration where everyone gets enough?
The facts are there. Bernie’s offering is costed and do-able. A good life for every American is on the table, if they are willing to want it. If they are willing to lay down their American Dream and admit they are tired and they just want food on the table and a future for their kids, and not live off the promise of far-off riches that will probably never happen. If they are willing to admit that you can’t eat dreams. If they are willing to admit that you can’t live in a fantasy house.
Maybe the riches are right here, for the taking. Maybe heaven is here already in the policies of a wild-haired Jewish ex-carpenter who just wants to help the poor, the sick and the vulnerable, and to remind everyone that they are worthy of their place in the United States of America.
One very important meme did die on Monday though, in that as much as people liked him, Bernie Sanders was dogged by the word “un-electable”. “The good guy never wins,” people sighed. And the inertia of cynicism was feared to become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
But in Iowa on Monday, the “unelectable” Bernie raked in 50 per cent of the vote. That’s a very electable “unelectable” margin. That’s an “oh, maybe if I voted, he’d win next time!” margin. That’s a margin which will galvanise the cynical come next caucus, and then the next. That’s the kind of energy that has momentum, and may even take him to the White House. Which is exactly what his astute wife Jane Sanders predicts will happen.
So, we’ll see. It’s a test for the politics of a nation that is often described as corrupted beyond repair. It’s a test for the internet versus the traditional media. But most importantly, it’s a test of the American Dream. Will the promise of riches in the future win over the offer of real wealth now?
What do you think?
[Photo by Matthew Cavanaugh/Getty Images]