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Don’t Believe The Cynics: Why We Should Still 'Feel The Bern'

In this Jan. 21, 2016, file photo, Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks during a campaign stop in Peterborough, N.H. (Matt Rourke/AP)
In this Jan. 21, 2016, file photo, Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks during a campaign stop in Peterborough, N.H. (Matt Rourke/AP)
This article is more than 3 years old.

Try this on for an electoral hypothetical: Two outsider candidates announce their intention to run for president. They’re both older. They both shout a lot. Their ideas are well outside the mainstream of American political discourse. And they are both widely dismissed by the media and political insiders.

But the candidates defy expectations. Their message — meant to appeal to voters who feel alienated from establishment politics — resonates with more than a third of the electorate, who pack arenas and stadiums to hear them orate.

On Super Tuesday — the biggest voting day in the primary calendar — both candidates claim about 40 percent of the vote, and wind up with not quite half the total delegates awarded.

The only way for the progressive agenda to remain in the political discourse ... is for him to remain in the running.

But then something strange happens.

One of these candidates — let’s call him Donald Drumpf — is essentially anointed as the party nominee, even though he has barely a quarter of the delegates necessary, and far less than his rivals combined.

The other candidate, Crazy Bernie, is told that his run is effectively over, even by media outlets sympathetic to his policies.

How’s that for rough electoral justice?

There’s plenty of math that helps explain this bizarre dichotomy, including the fact that Drumpf is running against several candidates, and that 457 unelected “superdelegates” have — rather undemocratically — pledged to nominate Crazy Bernie’s opponent.

The larger point here is fairly obvious: There’s a massive double standard being applied. One insurgent candidate is receiving around-the-clock coverage while the other struggles to be taken seriously.

Much of this has to do with what makes for good TV. Drumpf’s adolescent ad hominems are a safer bet for the sponsors than Crazy Bernie’s sober declamations of our rigged economy.

But the salient point here is that Crazy Bernie has over-performed. If someone had told you a year ago — or six months ago — that he was going to win four states on Super Tuesday, and nearly take Massachusetts from the Clinton political machine, you would have said they were nuts.

A significant portion of the electorate has recognized that our current political system will not be repaired by one politician or one election. As Crazy Bernie has emphasized, over and over again, it will take a political revolution to effect real change, one in which working and middle class citizens rise up to demand a more government that is more compassionate and responsive.

Just because Bernie’s opponent is likely win the nomination is no reason for him to obediently surrender his cause. Because the central mission of his campaign isn’t just electoral. It’s a war of ideas, as well.

Crazy Bernie is the only candidate running in 2016 with a consistent and defined moral agenda. He wants to address the inequality of income and opportunity that has ravaged the 99 Percent in our new gilded age.

Without Bernie in the race, this mission will get little to no oxygen. Because Bernie’s opponent — for whatever her other virtues may be — is essentially running for Obama’s third term.

Just because Bernie’s opponent is likely win the nomination is no reason for him to obediently surrender his cause. Because the central mission of his campaign isn’t just electoral. It’s a war of ideas, as well.

The only way for the progressive agenda to remain in the political discourse, in other words, is for him to remain in the running. Amid the endless ravings about penis size and the vague bromides about “making America whole,” Bernie is setting out a concrete policy agenda. It includes:

Shutting down a corrupt campaign finance system in which politicians are bought and sold by a corporate donor class.

Regulating Wall Street and breaking up the big banks that tanked the economy a few short years ago.

Raising taxes on the wealthy, and the minimum wage.

Allocating the consequent tax revenues to make higher education free and to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure.

Making national health care a right, rather than a privilege.

If you agree with any of these aims, you should be rooting for Crazy Bernie to stick around and to remain a part of the conversation for as long as he’s willing and able.

Over the weekend, Democrats in three more states — Kansas, Nebraska and Maine --offered a resounding endorsement of Bernie’s agenda.

Isn’t it about time that he, and his ideas, be taken seriously?

Related:

Steve Almond Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Steve Almond's new book, "Bad Stories: What the Hell Just Happened to Our Country," is now available. He hosts the Dear Sugars podcast with Cheryl Strayed.

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