On Wednesday, the Hollywood Reporter published an essay written by comedian and political commentator Bill Maher, host of the hugely popular Realtime with Bill Maher HBO program, in which he made a very strong case for why populist champion and democratic socialist candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) must be taken seriously as a candidate by the American people, and praises him as a dynamic reformer on the level of a President Roosevelt.
It’s finally a “Bill Maher election.” And by that I mean it’s a year of new rules — to borrow from Real Time — largely rewritten by Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. No one thought a politician could survive, much less stay in the lead for as long as Trump has, based on a campaign of braggadocio and utter contempt for political correctness. But the younger generation is leading a movement to prize authenticity above all. Trump is a petulant child, but at least that’s real, they seem to be saying. Bernie, too, is as real as real gets. (So real he doesn’t even own a comb.)
His central point is what’s becoming increasingly obvious to us all – that the old rules of the political game don’t apply anymore. Nobody took Trump’s candidacy seriously at first – and now establishment Republicans are racing to find someway to stop the “Spam-colored parade balloon” that emerged from the festering undercurrent of racism and anti-government paranoia that FOX News and the right-wing has cultivated ever since the election of President Barack Obama – who Maher takes time to applaud for his successful presidency, against furious obstructionism from day one: saying “America is in so much of a better place than it was when Obama took office, and history will record that.”
Following that logic, it’s time that mainstream America – especially corporate mass media – needs to begin treating Senator Sanders with the respect that is due to a viable candidate. Maher pinpoints the rise of Bernie Sanders as a consequence of the establishment Democratic Party becoming a “corporatist, center-right party.” Which is not a bad thing in and of itself, but the socioeconomic situation in the United States has become so unequal that what be previously considered “radical” proposals are not only tolerated, they’ve become central themes to the election cycle itself. Sanders embodies a vision of a new America where the steps to success are made of stone and not gold; a revival of the American Dream, the re-establishment of the mythical covenant that the American people signed when this nation was first created – a land where, if one worked hard enough, they could reasonably expect a modicum of success in return:
Rather it’s because he is putting on the table something we’ve never seen before: the idea that America could be more like a Western European democracy, quasi-socialist (we’re that already, of course, with Social Security, Medicare and farm subsidies) where you pay more in taxes, but you get more: free health care and free college. I call this his “New Deal,” and we haven’t really had one of those since FDR’s. But that’s what it is – a platform that says the old deal just hasn’t been working for a long time, and we need something else for the half of America that is desperate. We haven’t seen a true leftist since FDR, so many millions are coming out of the woodwork to vote for Bernie Sanders; he is the Occupy movement now come to life in the political arena.
There’s been enough “no one thought it could ever happen” stuff this year — Trump! — that until anyone proves otherwise, Bernie has earned the right to be considered absolutely viable. Will a conservative state like Indiana vote for a socialist? Probably not, but then again, as I say, this stuff has never been on the table, and these voters have never been activated. They’re like a sleeper cell: Let’s see if they can assassinate the old way of doing things.
The refusal of the American people to automatically anoint the establishment’s proposed candidates is evidence enough that drastic change is needed in America. Though Trump’s supporters don’t realize it yet, they have more in common with the platform of Bernie Sanders than one might think – it’s just that they’re unable to articulate it in more sophisticated terms than primitive xenophobia and the rejection of “political correctness.” They too still feel the pain of the Great Recession, of being forced into low-wage jobs due to their lack of opportunity and the refusal of multinational corporations to pay a living wage. They connect with Trump’s post-truth, anti-fact campaign because they’re tired of feeling stupid because they’re under-educated, because their Republican governors refuse to invest in public schools or expand access to prohibitively expensive higher education. They’re furious that Congress has become a gridlock of partisanship, where the needs of their constituents are put aside in favor of those of the oligarchs and corporate lobbyists.
And so it is indeed time for some new rules, and Bernie Sanders is going to write them.
Colin Taylor is the editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.