Despite his remarkably strong start following his candidacy announcement, many pundits are wasting no time branding Bernie Sanders’ presidential bid as hopeless or “quixotic.” I not only disagree with this grim outlook, but also believe strongly that Sanders is exactly the kind of candidate that the Democrats need right now.
Why? It’s pretty simple: he has the nerve to say what no other American politician seems willing to say. And this boldness is already changing the language of the still-early Democratic primary; in Hillary Clinton’s own announcement, she used a number of phrases that would look right at home on BernieSanders.com, like this one: “Americans have fought their way back from tough economic times, but the deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top.”
Sure: Clinton’s candidacy announcement preempted Bernie’s, but she knew as well as the rest of us that he’s been considering it for some time. She knows what she’s doing, and what she’s doing is latching on to Bernie’s unique brand of populism.
But Clinton will soon have to face the music on another issue that’s close to the hearts of the American people: climate change. Sanders is coming out swinging on this issue, and he’s about to push Clinton—and the rest of the Democratic party—even further to the left.
What Bernie Believes
In an interview with the Washington Post, Sanders stated unequivocally that, on the matter of climate change, any Democratic nominee for president would have to go “considerably farther” than what President Obama has done, and that’s pretty far already.
When pressed for specifics on what a strong climate change agenda would look like, Sanders said this:
“It would look like a tax on carbon; a massive investment in solar, wind, geothermal; it would be making sure that every home and building in this country is properly winterized; it would be putting substantial money into rail, both passenger and cargo, so we can move towards breaking our dependency on automobiles. And it would be leading other countries around the world.”
Coming from Sanders, just about every solution to this country’s problems sound simple. He speaks plainly and practically, which is a breath of fresh air when you consider the stunning lack of attention that our GOP-controlled congress is giving to what almost anybody else will tell you is the single biggest threat to human survival.
What (or Who) Stands in the Way?
Unfortunately, it’s Congress—and not the rest of the Democrats—that will stand in Sanders’ way, even if he does manage to become President. Indeed, it’s expected that the Republicans could hang on to their majority for quite some time. Given this inconvenient truth, any Democratic president would have a huge uphill battle in front of him (or her).
Indeed: President Obama and his Democratic colleagues have already tried and failed to sign their climate agenda into law. Thankfully, on the world stage, Obama has made progress in other ways, and has addressed Sanders’ call for the US to “lead other countries around the world.” Following the success of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit, the US- and China-led push for more aggressive climate targets has been hailed as both “historic” and “unprecedented.”
Sanders would be a worthy successor: a group called Climate Hawks Vote recently named Sanders the number one climate advocate currently serving in the Senate. It’s a well-deserved honor, and one that I’m sure he’s going to live up to.
We’re All Part of the Debate
But the rest of us have work to do, too. Every household in America has a long list of things it can do to help reduce our collective dependence on dirty technology and imported fuels. You could buy your heating fuels from companies that offer environmentally-friendly alternatives, you can reuse plastic bags, and you can drive a little less. You can also lend your voice and support to local organizations lobbying for responsible climate policy, as Pennsylvania’s Chamber of Commerce is currently doing. These aren’t solutions for hippies or those on the fringe; these are practical, everyday changes that all of us can make. No effort is too small when the issue is this significant.
And I, for one, look forward to seeing how this issue takes flight in the coming primary and presidential debates. I almost feel sorry for the GOP candidates; they’re going to be sharing a stage with Bernie Sanders, and they’ll have to hold their party’s line about global warming being a myth, not mankind’s fault, or a thing that only God can change: three bankrupt arguments that will soon wear out whatever welcome they still have left.
You can visit Bernie Sanders’ campaign page here.
Image Credit: AFGE (via Creative Commons license)
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