Commentary: A hopeful sign on the American political scene
There’s been some news that I think both liberals and conservatives should find encouraging. It has to do with the unexpectedly large crowds that have been turning out for Bernie Sanders’ appearances in Iowa, Minnesota, and Vermont.
The news media have wondered what this might mean. Here’s what I think it means: Americans want their country back, and they are excited by a politician who is speaking truth about what’s being taken from them.
A poll just out from the New York Times and CBS found that a huge majority of Americans – 84 percent – feel that money plays too big a role in our politics and that a major overhaul of our system is needed.
The poll also says a majority of these feel helpless about the problem, believing nothing will change. But the crowds turning out for Bernie Sanders – who has made returning America to the principles of our democracy a major theme of his campaign – show that there’s something in the American people that hasn’t given up and is ready to join the battle against the Big Money that’s been taking over the country.
I expect that’s true here in Virginia, too, as it surely needs to be. Virginia ranks a shocking 47th among the 50 states in government integrity, as assessed by the nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity. And we’ve seen just in the past two years that Dominion Power can get the Virginia General Assembly – including legislators from both parties — to do its bidding, taking hundreds of millions of dollars away from average Virginians to fill the corporate coffers.
Americans are upset, too, by the way the American middle class is getting hollowed out, as virtually all the gains in our national wealth have been going to the richest fraction of 1 percent, and all the gains in the productivity of American workers have gone to corporate profits, while wages have stagnated, and the median income of American families has actually declined.
No wonder Bernie Sanders’ message – that this widening inequality of wealth and income is the central moral, economic, and political issue of our times – has sparked what looks like it could be the beginnings of a movement.
This widening inequality and this hollowing out of the middle class are not separate from the issue of Big Money taking over our government. In no other advanced democracy has the gulf between the richest and the rest widened as it has here in the United States, and the reason why the problem is worst here is that our national policies have increasingly stacked the deck against the many in favor of the few. And that, in turn, has been possible only because Big Money – rather than the will of the people — has become increasingly able to dictate what our national policies are.
We Americans are in jeopardy of losing that great gift our founders gave us — a government for and by the people, wielding its powers with “the consent of the governed.”
Indeed, it is not just a threat. We are already far down that dangerous road. A recent study conducted by researchers at Princeton and Northwestern universities looked at 20 years worth of data to see what it is that determines the decisions our political system makes. Their findings were that the desires of roughly 90 percent of the American people have no impact on political outcomes. It is only the wealthy and the organized whose wishes get considered.
This is not what our founders had in mind. The essence of what they envisioned for America is now under attack, and rising to its defense is the first duty of a patriot.
These are issues that should concern all Americans, liberals and conservatives alike.
On the evening after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, in her regularly scheduled radio show, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt said, as the nation reeled from the attack, “We are the free and unconquerable people of the United States of America.”
The crowds rallying to hear the message of restoring our democracy and restoring justice to average Americans gives some hope that we can prove ourselves unconquerable once again.
April Moore is running for the Virginia State Senate in the 26th District, which includes Shenandoah, Warren, Page, and Rappahannock Counties, as well as northern Rockingham County and the city of Harrisonburg.