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Debate dissection: Dems, Sanders come away big winners

MARQUETTE – I had an unfamiliar feeling as the Democratic debate wrapped up last week. It wasn’t nausea, disappointment or the ocean of hopelessness I’ve come to associate with politics, which has so many citizens dangerously disengaged from our democratic process in general.

Instead, I felt elation that it’s still possible in our political sphere to discuss issues of substance instead of emotionally charged rhetoric, that politicians running for the highest office in our country can debate with intelligence and mutual respect, and that the interests of working Americans can still be legitimately addressed in this strange era of corruption, greed and propaganda.

However you may feel about the electability of a democratic socialist – a legitimate concern – we have Bernie Sanders to thank for the rare breath of fresh air that was our first Democratic debate. He set the talking points following his unprecedented success early in his campaign and drastically altered the national conversation.

And while pundits across the country were hailing Secretary Hillary Clinton the winner (despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary) for her poise, humor and admittedly impressive performance, all I could think was how inconsistent and disingenuous she ultimately seems.

Whether it’s her sudden rejection of the Trans-Pacific Partnership – a transparent attempt to pander to union interests only after the unpopular trade deal passed; or her apparently blind support for the Iraq war, which cost us trillions of dollars in debt, thousands of lives and any stability that was left in the Middle East; or her questionable commitment to reforming the financial industry that grows bigger and more powerful by the day; in the end, Clinton’s emails are just the tip of the iceberg of her trust issues.

Jim Webb – who, as one of my friends commented, seemed to be running for president of the Vietnam War – has impressive credentials, but made a poor showing. And, though I felt sorry for Lincoln Chafee, nobody was “feeling the Chafe” that night, the way Sanders’s supporters seem to enjoy “feeling the Bern.”

Martin O’Malley’s platform, however informed by Sanders’s success, was impressively progressive and on point. His cool, eloquent delivery and stately composure inspired confidence. Only time will tell if he is truly a viable candidate, but he certainly looks and sounds the part.

But in the final analysis, only Bernie Sanders has the record to back up every policy and opinion he stands by, which is informed by four decades of honest consistency, untiring commitment to his ideals and unparalleled resistance to special interests.

He is the only candidate running without the aid of a super PAC, unheard of in our post-Citizens United political climate. He has raised unprecedented millions from contributions averaging $30 apiece.

His unconventional fundraising was just one of a many reasons, including his hair, that made pundits’ dismissal of him border on mockery in every major news organization in the country.

But those pundits are eating their words now, apparently bewildered as to how Americans could vote in their own interest or defy 60 years of anti-socialist propaganda.

Actually, I’d vote single-mindedly for any candidate committed to reforming our disgustingly corrupt political system. Our federal government, an oligarchy of frightening power, is bought (though not-paid-for) by tax-evading, profit-bewitched, monolithic corporations. And they, according to the 2013 Supreme Court Citizens United decision, are “people” too, even if they are therefore by definition psychopathic megalomaniacs.

Sanders is running to repeal Citizens United, rebuild our crumbling infrastructure, create millions of high-paying jobs, break up the banks, close tax loopholes, regulate the abhorrent pharmaceutical industry, reinstate living wages, improve education and health care, reform our broken criminal justice system, care for our veterans and oppose needless war – and if that makes him a socialist, then I say maybe it’s time for a little socialism.

Pressure from socialists are the reason the weekend and the middle class were invented, it’s the reason we have Social Security, the post office, public education, roads, parks and countless other aspects of our society we now enjoy.

Sure, he’ll face checks and balances by the right wing, and as president, he’d only be able to do so much. But I say, good. That’s democracy.

But whatever the outcome, I’m just happy Bernie’s in the race, raising the ethical bar and the quality of our political dialogue. Most importantly,

I’m savoring the optimism and hope that maybe, just maybe, we can tackle the giant issues that face this nation, and as Bernie said, bring back a vibrant democracy for our children.

Editor’s note: Mary Wardell can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248.

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