Thursday, September 17, 2015

GOP Debate, Bernie Sanders, Barack Obama & the Power of Integrity

Last night I switched on CNN before the Republican ‘debate’ and listened to Anderson Cooper and a couple of other CNN bods discussing the GOP candidates as if they were expecting a real, live, politically authentic debate to happen. I felt a sense of unreality cloud my vision and my mental processes. Lethargy enveloped my body.

After a couple of minutes I switched channels. I had intended to watch the debate but I couldn’t stomach it. This morning, reading the NYT account of it, I’m glad I didn’t. As it happens, The Good Wife had more political heft to it than the GOP reality show.

A good antidote to the circus that would be entertaining if it wasn’t so scary is to read or listen to somebody who actually is engaged intelligently in the political process. Like Bernie Sanders. I still don’t like that he teamed up with Cornell West, or that he said he wouldn’t make the big mistake Obama made, but he’s a good courageous man and his words are such a relief in a world where so many manipulate to get an angle, to grab a bit—or a lot—of power.

I think he’ll win the Presidency, because he’s galvanizing the middle class, just as Barack Obama did. But whether he can continue to galvanize them once he’s in, and especially when everybody realizes that they need to be consistently galvanized, especially for the mid-terms, is anybody’s guess.

I hope he can. But that’s a long way ahead. For now what’s true and clear about him is that at age 74 he’s found his voice; he’s got a lot to say and all of it relevant and that’s the only reason he’s doing so well. Nothing got handed to him on a silver platter. He’s not a billionaire, he doesn’t lust after money. He hasn’t been elevated by anything that’s plastic in this world. He hasn’t pushed other people out the way to get ahead, hasn’t been a bully, has refused to insult other candidates. Hasn’t had clever PR agents with degrees in psychology and mass manipulation paving the way for him.

It’s funny, how easily we fall for the plastic stuff and for what glitters but isn’t gold. But when the real thing comes along we can still recognize it. It makes me think of when I worked for the city orchestra. I used to go to all the concerts, and they always brought in international soloists and conductors whose standard was always brilliant. Sometimes the soloists played note perfect; made no mistakes at all. That in itself was mind boggling and delicious to hear and watch. They’d always get standing ovations.

But one night the soloist was a violinist. I don’t remember his name but the conductor was Victor Yampolsky. Russian, I believe. I also don’t remember what concerto they played but I still remember my heart catching fire.

The music wasn’t note perfect. But it was enthralling, heart-stopping. And the audience leaped to their feet, exploding in applause. I realized kind of viscerally that people can recognize technical brilliance when they see it but aren’t always conscious of how much they crave the pure heart stuff.  But when they get it they respond to it, without everybody necessarily even understanding what has moved them.

It feels like that’s how it is with Bernie Sanders. As a soloist he’s not note-perfect. His appearance isn’t plasticized, he’s not rehearsed or polished in the way he speaks. But he’s getting a standing ovation that is straight from the heart. And people are definitely very consciously responding to the content of his message so I’m not saying there’s no conscious appreciation of that.

But I think there’s something more, something less easily definable. He defies the terrifying culture that is driven by the idea that the better you can con people the more likely you are to be successful. Not to mention the idea that by the time you’re 74 your life is over, Jack, and you’ll have to just roll on down the hill towards a quality of life that’s less and less rewarding, becoming more disempowered and increasingly inarticulate until you fade into sad oblivion.

Bernie Sanders has gained a lot of wisdom in his life and now is exactly the right time and the right age for him to be sharing it. Mazel tov to you Mr. Sanders.

I still feel sad that right in our midst is another man of the same kind of towering integrity, who has laid the foundation for much of what Sanders might be able to achieve as President, whose message is and always has been the same, and who has achieved a huge amount for Americans but who isn’t getting the recognition I think he deserves. 

He's also up against something more sinister than Bernie Sanders will ever have to deal with. 

The overt racism is awful enough but the stuff that flows under the surface is still a very powerful river. It's sinister, it's ugly, it's soul destroying. Yet Obama, and Michelle, have not just remained intact but they've grown in every way despite it. Or because of it. They've remained committed and clear in their hearts, minds and souls. Obama has achieved great things as a President in spite of it. That takes remarkable strength of character. 

But that’s no reason why Sanders shouldn’t get his.