Bernie Sanders really is a revolutionary figure in politics — but not in a way that anybody’s talking about.
Bernie Sanders is not going to be president. His chances to be the Democratic nominee appear to have faded.
But that said: Please keep on running, Bernie.
I doubt I would vote for the Vermont senator — he’s too pie-in-the-sky liberal for me. But still I hope he ignores all the establishment calls for him to drop out.
Why? Because he’s refreshing to our hidebound politics in multiple ways. Including one major one that has gotten virtually no attention.
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For starters, Sanders is barnstorming the state this weekend, from Vancouver to Seattle to Spokane. Who does that anymore? I guess Donald Trump does, in his Trump Force One. But Sanders is the first Democratic presidential candidate to hold events in this state that are open to the public since 2008 (he also held one last summer).
I remember traveling with Bill Clinton’s campaign for president in 1992 when he wandered down the streets of Belltown, doing his thumbs-up, I-feel-your-pain routine direct to the people. So to the extent Sanders is forcing, say, Hillary Clinton to open up her cloistered campaign a bit, then he’s doing politics some good.
But without much talk about it, Sanders has also broken through a ceiling — or crashed through the floor — of one of the most rigid superstructures of American politics.
No, I’m not talking about campaign finance. Even more revolutionary is that he’s the first non-Christian to ever win a state primary or caucus.
He’s won nine states so far. What’s remarkable isn’t just how rare it is to have a major contender who doesn’t share the dominant religious beliefs of the nation. It’s that few seem to care, or even to have noticed.
This is a sea change. In 2007 I wrote a column headlined “Politicians wield faith as weapon,” about the omnipresent role religion had come to play in national politics. It featured a University of Washington professor, David Domke, and his book called “The God Strategy: How Religion Became a Political Weapon in America.”
Domke had analyzed more than 15,000 presidential political messages dating back to 1932, such as speeches and debates. He found that the 2000s were “as far into the realm of religion as American politics has ever gone.”
It wasn’t just mentions of God or nods to a higher power. Candidates began describing their campaigns as active instruments of God’s will. It was done to attract voters, but also to attack enemies and solidify power.
Beyond all that, Christian belief has just been an unquestioned requirement for the job. The winner of the last two elections, Barack Obama, went out of his way (with mixed success) to try to prove he was a real Christian. The notion that church and state might be separate was slipping.
Now just a short time later, we not only have a non-Christian winning some primaries. But his non-Christian-ness is, to date, a complete nonissue. That’s a huge, and to me, very welcome shift.
Sanders is Jewish (with the emphasis on the “ish,” as he says). He talks about his belief in God, so he’s no atheist. But his candidacy means it’s no longer impossible to imagine other non-Christian candidates. Perhaps even someone from the least-represented minority group in America, the nonbelievers.
The existence of Sanders — and even Trump, who appears to worship mostly Trump — may also signal that the God strategy as a weapon in politics may be running its course.
So Bernie should keep running. His plan to break up the banks, that’s probably not going to happen. But this is bigger than that. He’s begun to break up one of the nation’s most enduring monopolies.