The Political Case for Bernie Sanders


You’re probably wondering why I titled this post the way I did.  It’s pretty simple, actually.  Please allow me to illustrate.

Back in 2008, the last time there was an open Democratic field running for the party’s presidential nomination, I took a couple of those quizzes on Facebook that purport to tell you which candidate most represents your views. I’m sure you’ve seen them, or even taken them.  Invariably, the candidate that I most agreed with would come up as Dennis Kucinich, and you know, that was probably accurate.  I never voted for Kucinich because I never considered him electable.  He was far left.  He had no record of success outside the liberal enclave that elected him, and some of his ideas, like the Department of Peace, sounded like nice ideas that had no practical weight behind them.  In short, the quiz only addressed policy and not politics, and as much as many people consider politics a dirty word, it is a critically important factor in elections.  Go figure.

This brings us to 2016.  I’m willing to stipulate that Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton are both strong, if not identical, progressives.  I believe that either would make an excellent president, both objectively, and certainly in comparison to whoever is the last man (sorry…it’s not going to be Carly Fiorina) standing when the GOP Clown Bus pulls into Cleveland next summer.

So the case for Bernie is not about policy, although I do side with him in most areas where he and Hillary differ.  It’s all about political strategy.

First, we need to look at the big picture.  It’s not about the White House.  It’s about Congress.  A Democratic president needs a Democratic Congress. That much is obvious from the experience of the Obama administration.  If the Republicans have any power, even just to filibuster, they will use it to derail any policy that they do not support, and even some that they do because a Democrat can’t be allowed credit for a successful policy.  Don’t believe me? Look up the origins of the key points of Obamacare.  Their genesis was with the Heritage foundation and the individual mandate was first proposed by Nixon before being implemented in Massachusetts by Mitt Romney.

Without a Democratic Congress, a Clinton presidency or a Sanders presidency would meet with the same level of obstruction as Obama’s presidency. So Democrats need a wave, and big one.

Where are Democrats going to that kind of groundswell of support?  It’s not in the center among swing voters.  It’s in the Democratic base.  It’s in the large majorities that support progressive positions by margins north of sixty percent.

How do you mobilize that base?  Bernie.

It is quite conceivable that Hillary could win a low turnout general election.  In such a case, we’d find ourselves with a Republican Congress and a Democratic President that Republicans have been attacking incessantly for 23 years.  Can we really expect change in that scenario?  Can we really expect anything to get done?  She’d have to burn political capital just to get her cabinet confirmed.

On the other hand, in the face of the Koch Brothers and the Republican super PACs, the only way Bernie can hope to win a general election would be with a truly massive grassroots mobilization.  He cannot hope to compete on the same terms as the organized money on the right.  He needs to play to his strength which is organized people.  That’s why 100,000 of his supporters turned out at over 3500 gatherings in all 50 states last night to begin this organizing in earnest.  (I was helping to umpire Harry’s baseball game, so I couldn’t go to one.)

It sounds daunting, doesn’t it?  How hard would Bernie’s supporters have to work to overcome all the frustration and cynicism directed at our broken political system?  How can a guy who refuses to have a super PAC compete with the billion dollars the Koch brothers plan to use in 2016?

Well, the neat thing is that to go up against the Republicans, Bernie has to beat Hillary first.  She’s well-funded and has a tremendous political organization.  But she’s beatable, and the act of defeating her (and bringing her supporters into the fold) sets Bernie up to go up against the GOP with the full weight of the Democratic Party behind him.  If Bernie can beat Hillary, it means the wave is on its way.  It means that Bernie’s support will have national reach and the kind of depth that can reach down-ballot into the legislative races that Democrats need to win to take back Congress.

But what if Bernie doesn’t win?  What if Hillary gets the nomination?  Does a primary challenge hurt her?

Absolutely not.  Bernie’s already said that he will actively support the Democratic nominee.  That means, that if Bernie builds a movement that creates a big primary challenge to Hillary, that movement will still be there in support of Hillary.  That’s the beauty of a good primary season (as opposed to whatever is going on with the 17 Republicans).  It lets the party organize.  That’s what Hillary needs to get the kind of legislature she can work with.  So Hillary should be welcoming Bernie and should commit to a high-minded and robust primary campaign in support of progressive values.  It’s a win-win.

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Standing with Teachers

My dad retired when I was twelve, about 3 months before I finished 7th grade.  He and my mom both had full careers  working for the County of Los Angeles and represented by the Service Employees International Union.  It’s a pretty strong union, and I don’t recall any significant work actions, strikes or otherwise, while I was growing up.  I don’t recall my parents having to walk picket lines.  That doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.  I just don’t recall it happening.

But, for my dad, the concept of solidarity went beyond paying union dues and being ready to strike if called.  He fought the building of Dodger Stadium because it displaced a working class Latino community in Chavez Ravine.  We didn’t eat grapes for years as an act of solidarity with Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers.  He taught me the word boycott, and with my mom, taught me the value of standing up for social justice.

During my secondary school years, my teachers, represented by the United Teachers of Los Angeles, engaged in several work actions.  I recall a couple of one day walk outs, and some informational pickets, and one major strike that went for 9 days while I was in 10th grade.

On days when the teachers were out, the union called on parents to send their kids to school anyway because the absence of the students would negatively impact some element of the school’s funding formula and cause it to lose much needed money.

So I went to school.  I’d see my teachers picketing, walking up and down the sidewalk.  An right there with them, I’d see my dad, and our dog, a bearded collie named Maggie.  Just as with those families in Chavez Ravine and the UFW, my dad, known as “the man with the dog,“ was demonstrating his solidarity with my teachers, and by extension, the whole school community.

That was 25 years ago. Now, I’m not a student, but a parent.  On Monday, May 11, the Shoreline Education Association,  my children’s teachers, staged a one day strike.  It was not against the district or the school. It was part of a series of rolling walkouts being staged by teachers’ unions across the State of Washington to insist that our state legislature listen to the will of the voters and the orders of our state Supreme Court and fully fund our Washington’s K-12 education system.

There are a number of issues at hand.  There are cost of living adjustments to teacher compensation. There is the voter-approved initiative 1351.  It calls for reduced class size.  It’s been ignored by the legislature.  And there’s the McCleary decision, a court order in which the Washington Supreme Court found that the state was failing in it’s primary purpose, as described in Article IX of the Washington Constitution.

SECTION 1 PREAMBLE. It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders, without distinction or preference on account of race, color, caste, or sex.

The legislature has been so unresponsive to the court’s decision that it has been held in contempt of court.  Action on that contempt citation is pending based on the results of this year’s legislative session.

The House is controlled by the Democrats, while the Senate is controlled by Republicans.  Both have passed budgets that fund education.  The House finds money in an estate tax on millionaires and by closing a number of big business tax loopholes.  The Senate package finds money with cuts to the social safety net (which ultimately comes back to hurt schools) and by taking control of teacher health benefits out of the hands of local districts and consolidating them under a state-level bureaucracy that doesn’t enhance the benefits at all.  (I know.  I don’t get it either.)

So when we got the message that our district was going to participate in rolling walkouts, what was the son of “the man with the dog” to do?

Naturally, I took the day off.  I couldn’t quite get the kids out the door early enough to do sign waving, but there was time for Annie to make a sign and for us to join our teachers at their rally.

Making her sign.

Making her sign.

Off to the rally!

Off to the rally!

We pulled up to the park and joined the sea of red clad teachers.  Ultimately we found our school’s contingent and stood with the kids’ teachers.  We listened to various speakers: teacher, staff members, parents, students, and union leaders, united in the cause of education.

Teachers and supporters gather.

Teachers and supporters gather.


Listening to the speakers.

Listening to the speakers.

Harry and Annie with their teachers.

Harry and Annie with their teachers.

The kids listened.  Annie steadfastly held her sign, although I adjusted her grip a couple of times so she wouldn’t hit her teacher.  She wouldn’t lower her creation.  I was really proud of both of them.

She would not lower her sign!

She would not lower her sign!

What I did with my kids on Monday was not a grand gesture.  I wasn’t the only parent, although I wish there had been more of us.  They weren’t the only kids, and that’s okay.  They got a lesson that day.  It was a lesson, albeit a small one, in community, in solidarity, in civics, and in self-advocacy.  And they got outside to play in the park.

No, none of the three of us did anything grand on Monday.  We were just three voices among many speaking out for the future of education in our state  It’s easy to think that doesn’t make a difference.  But our voices, joined with the hundreds in that park and thousands in parks across the state, when married with purpose and commitment can and will make a difference.

I listen to a Pete Seeger station on Pandora, and occasionally, I’ll hear old union anthems.  One of them, Solidarity Forever, asks “What force on Earth is weaker than the feeble strength of one?”

It’s easy to stop there.  It’s easy to think one person, one voice doesn’t make a difference in modern politics and policy making, and there are some who want us to think that.  They’re not on your side, whatever side you may think you’re on.

But it’s not true. The greatest safeguard of democracy is the participation of the people.  We just need to show up, all of us, even in small ways, joining in small groups that get bigger and stronger with each addition, to make our voices heard.  That’s what I’m trying to teach my kids.  It’s what was taught to me by my mom and my dad, in words and in actions.

Like walking the dog on a picket line with my teachers.

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Midnight at Chez Viertel

I like that title. It sounds a lot more moody and exotic than what the post is actually about.

I’ve made reference to our cat, but I never really told the story. Shortly after Christmas, we got a cat from the Humane Society. Merry is a 2-year-old Siamese mix.  She’s little and very sweet.  She’s a little aloof, choosing to spend most of the time we’re home in our bedrooms.  Still, when we’re back there, she’s very cuddly, choosing to sleep with one or another of us.

Of course, Merry isn’t the only recent addition to our family.

Enter Harry’s birthday present, Fluffy the hamster. Harry was overjoyed.  Annie now wants her own pet.  Alissa thinks we’re ready for a dog.  I’m observing cautiously.

As for Merry, well, she’s a cat.  And we brought rodent into the house.  I think she looks as Fluffy the same way A.L.F. looked at the Tanner’s cat, Lucky.

<young’uns…here’s what you need to know about A.L.F. >>

We’ve seen everything from peaceful coexistence, to general indifference to  Merry trying to push Fluffy’s cage off the dresser  (Darn packaging!) to Merry climbing up on top of said cage.

Which brings us to last night.

Since we don’t yet have a squirt bottle to deter Merry, who was very interesting in Fluffy last night, we decided that Merry would be confined to our room for the night.

Around 11:30, Alissa woke me up and told me it was time to go to bed, so we worked our way to our room, making sure to bring Merry with us I actually had to hold onto her while Alissa turned off the lights, closed the door and got into bed. (She has a tendency to camp out right where the next person needs to land to get into bed.)

That’s when the chaos started.  No sooner were we all in bed, then the door burst open.  Annie had decided that she wanted to sleep with us.  Annie scrambled onto the bed.  Merry scrambled off of the bed made a beeline for Harry’s room and Fluffy.  I chased the cat, turning on the light as I flew out of the room.  Alissa got up to put Annie back to bed.

I caught up to Merry before she reached Fluffy, who was making a considerable din by attacking the bars of her cage (we know this is a thing that we need to address for proper hamster health).

By the time I returned with Merry, Annie had tucked herself into Alissa’s spot on the bed. As Alissa coaxed her back to her own room, I was busy wrestling the cat to keep her from fleeing again.  She only calmed down when Alissa came back and closed the door. Somehow, I didn’t get scratched. I attribute this to my mad cat handling skills.

Harry slept through the whole thing.

I’m not sure what exactly happened while I slept, but I woke up with a 6-year-old and a cat.  I found Alissa on the family room couch.

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A Decision

I’ve decided to end my efforts at posting every day this year.  I know I could do it.  I’ve done it before. But I  don’t think I’m doing it well.  I feel like I’m sacrificing quality content for  quick posts on deadline.   That’s not interesting to anyone.

Don’t get me, wrong.  I’m not ending “Great” Thoughts, not by a long shot.  But I’m giving myself permission too pass on posting for a time if I  feel like I  need to be doing or writing something else.

I’ve got lots of fiction ideas that I  want to play with, but I  can’t if I’m solely focused on getting a daily post in.

So,  I’m choosing quality over quantity. And I’m choosing too work behind the scenes at times. But I’m not  going away.  I hope you won’t go away either.

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Summer in sight

Spring break is officially over. School starts up in the morning and we will have a very busy  sprint took the finish. It would be nice if we were starting off with a normal week, but there’s a lot going on.  Of course there’s always a lot going on. Any  way,  back to work.

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One thing I don’t get. ..

We’re out of town,  so I’m kind of phoning in the posts this  weekend. 

I’m hoping we’re  done with car shopping for several years. Ironically,  if all goes as planned…《collapses in a fit  of uncontrollable laughter, wiping tears  away as he controls himself》…by the time we are ready for another car,  we’ll  be nearing the end of our prime minivan  years.

Still,  one  thing I’ve never understood b is why there is not a hybrid minivan  on the US market. It seems  to me that families with  multiple  children  would be perfectly happy to reduce their gas  budget and do something good  for the planet.

Anyway,  that’s my musing for  the day.

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The Cars Have Names

Prior  to a twilight drive over the pass  to get our  kids,  we named ohe cars.

The Tiguan is Tigger and, keeping with the spirit of A.A. Milne, we named  the rabbit, well, Rabbit.

I bet you didn’t see that coming.   I know  we’re creative geniuses.

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