Why Bernie Sanders Matters, by Harry Jaffe (Regan Arts, New York, NY, 2015, 219 pages)
Book Review by Dennis Moore
"A nation will not survive morally or economically when so few have so much and so many have so little." -- Bernie Sanders (photo, right, by Ron Logan at San Diego rally)
April 14, 2016 (San Diego’s East County)--Radical, hippy, revolutionary, self-proclaimed democratic socialist. Hot from the campaign trail, a vivid new biography goes inside Bernie Sanders’ contradictions, his unusual life, and his electrifying quest to make the American dream a reality for all. This unauthorized biography by Harry Jaffe gives us insight into this man running against Hillary Clinton for the Democratic candidacy for President of the United States.
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders may be the least political person in politics – a brusque, unpolished, Jewish socialist from Brooklyn with deep-seated convictions and distaste for small talk. Donald Trump mockingly and repeatedly refers to this “Socialist” as a “Communist” in his Republican campaign speeches for president.
Harry Jaffe (photo, right), the author of this book, is a leading journalist covering Washington, DC – its crime, its heroes and villains. Beyond Washington, Jaffe’s work has been published in Yahoo News, Men’s Health, Harper’s, Esquire, and newspapers from the San Francisco Examiner to the Philadelphia Inquirer. He’s appeared in documentary films and on television and radio across the country and throughout Europe. It is this type of journalistic background that enables us to fully appreciate his latest book about this enigma of a man, Bernie Sanders, in Why Bernie Sanders Matters.
While reporting from inside the campaign, personal relationships with Sanders’ friends and colleagues, and meticulous research, Jaffe offers an engaging, insightful portrait of the ultimate insider candidate, charting Sanders’ course from Brooklyn to Burlington, and now to Des Moines and beyond. Within the untold narrative of Sanders’ origins and political developments – including the Occupy movement, the Great Recession, and the rise of the millennial generation – that have shifted Sanders’ views from fringe to focal point.
Why Bernie Sanders Matters reveals:
- How Sanders’ parents came to America, Sanders’ troubled relationship with his father, and how Sanders’ brother Larry helped spark his interest in politics;
- His working class roots in Brooklyn, surrounded by neighbors with socialist and communist views;
- How the racial unrest of the late 50s and early 60s fueled his passion for equality;
- The deaths of his parents, and how Sanders managed to support himself through college on his own;
- Sanders’ surprising roots in the “free love” movement – which influenced some of his own idiosyncratic romantic relationships;
- His passionate political awakening in Chicago, working with CORE – a radical offshoot of the NAACP – on racial and economic justice, and why the recent disrupting of a Sanders campaign event by “Black Lives Matter” activists was particularly jarring;
- The fascinating story of how he avoided serving in the Vietnam War;
- His shocking win in the 1980 mayoral election in Burlington VT, against an entrenched political machine that tried to run him out of office;
- Why he briefly – and counter-intuitively – became the darling of the National Rifle Association (NRA) in the 90s;
- Exactly what kind of socialist is Sanders?;
- Why the issues of income inequality, the bloated billionaire class, and the need for universal healthcare – which Sanders has been raising since the 1970s – became the driving topics in the 2016 campaign;
- How Sanders has constructed a presidential campaign built to go the distance;
- Madison High School “Wall of Fame” includes Bernie Sanders, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, singer Carole King, New York Senator Charles Schumer, actor Martin Landau, comedian Andrew Dice Clay, baseball great Frank Torre, comedian Chris Rock (although Rock did not graduate).
Jaffe describes Sanders as an “unapologetic socialist”, who champions the working class. Jaffe also said that the black vote is not monolithic and that southern African Americans – largely rural, more religious and conservative – are quite different from their northern counterparts, who are urban and prioritize good jobs and making a living. The contention has been that while Clinton runs exceptionally well with African Americans in the southern states, she might not do as well among northern blacks in the Ohio and Illinois primaries. Sanders lost the black vote recently in Mississippi to Hillary Clinton 86% to 14%! However in Illinois, Sanders took 29% of the black vote, though not enough to beat Clinton, who won 52-48%. Similarly he took 30% of the black vote in Ohio, a key factor in his loss to Clinton who got 56% overall.
Bernie Sanders’ appeal to young, often first time voters, is not a mystery to Harry Jaffe, whose recent book “Why Bernie Sanders Matters” was the subject of a Focus Washington interview with Chuck Conconi. Jaffe said that the youthful voters are “attracted to” Vermont Senator’s authenticity, helping propel him to win 7 of the last 8 primaries and put him within 250 pledged delegates of Clinton on the eve of the New York primary (though she still has a commanding lead among super delegates).
Strangely missing from Jaffe’s book is no discourse or insight into Ta-Nehisi Coates inquiry to Sanders about his position against reparations for blacks.
In the January issue of “The Atlantic” magazine, Ta-Nehisi Coates was quoted as stating that Bernie Sanders was asked whether he was in favor of “reparations for slavery.” Sanders response left me dumbfounded and disillusioned, as it probably has most other African Americans. Sanders stated: “No, I don’t think so. First of all, its likelihood of getting through Congress is nil. Second of all, I think it would be very divisive. The real issue is when we look at the poverty rate among the African American community, when we look at the high unemployment rate within the African American community, we have a lot of work to do.” That argument on the part of Sanders is duplicitous, and looking at the issue of reparations under double standards. Sanders, himself Jewish, certainly has no issue with Jewish immigrants receiving reparations for what they endured during the Holocaust, nor the issue of reparations received by the Japanese that were interned in camps during the war.
Perhaps, and as Jaffe indicates in his book, Sanders’ stance on slavery reparations was tempered by his thoughts on the likelihood of success on his proposed $5.5 billion social and jobs program that was designed to help blacks. Covering the event for Bloomberg Politics, where Sanders’ social and jobs program came up, David Weigel wrote that a $5.5 billion social program would have had a rough road even in a Democratic Congress, further stating: “In a Capital controlled by Republicans, it might as well propose taxing churches to pay for sex-reassignment surgeries on a moon base.”
Why Bernie Sanders Matters, by Harry Jaffe, is actually a book to introduce Sanders to America, for until his campaign for president most folk were unaware of him or his achievements. Sanders has had to play a game of catch up to Hillary Clinton in the campaign for president, but if they actually knew the facts brought about by Jaffe in his book, Clinton would probably be trailing him in all categories, including delegates.
For those blacks stating that Hillary Clinton has been there for them, if they were aware of just one statement referenced by Jaffe in his book about Sanders, they would be running in support of him in droves. Jaffe points out that while a student at the University of Chicago in the 1960s, at the first civil rights sit-in in Chicago, Sanders stated: “We feel it is an intolerable situation when Negro and white students of the university cannot live together in university-owned apartments.” Sanders was ahead of his time! Hillary Clinton was not yet in high school at the time, while living in the same general area of Chicago.
It is clear from reading this book that Bernie Sanders cut his teeth on social activism and politics while a student at the University of Chicago in the 1960s, a hotbed of socialism and radical concepts. The author points out that Sanders joined the “Young People’s Socialist League” and attended meetings of the South Side Socialist Party. The university attracted an active cultural community that included the screenwriter Ben Hecht, poets Carl Sandburg and Vachel Lindsay, and muckraker Upton Sinclair, the socialist author who exposed the horrendous working conditions of Chicago’s meatpacking industry. Jaffe also points out that progressives like Clarence Darrow made their homes in the Hyde Park area of Chicago near the university campus, where President Obama has a home, and where I attended church for many years.
Perhaps most revealing and insightful about the psyche and metamorphosis of Bernie Sanders, is a 2,000 word manifesto against forced chastity in the student newspaper, The Maroon, written by Sanders, which states: “In my opinion, the administrators of this university are as qualified to legislate on sex as they are to mend broken bones. One can best use an old saying to describe their actions: that their ignorance of the matter is only matched by their presumptuousness. If they dislike sex, or if they think that it is ‘dirty,” or ‘evil,’ or ‘sinful’ that is their misfortune. It is incredible, however, that they should be allowed to pass their attitudes, or neuroses, on to the student body…. Not only must the administrators not be allowed to forbid students who desire sexual intercourse from being able to have it, but they must also not be allowed to prevent a man and a woman from spending a night in conversation, or from simply studying together, alone.”
At once a captivating biography and a thought-provoking window into the contemporary political landscape, WHY BERNIE SANDERS MATTERS will become the defining account of a pivotal moment in American history, a very insightful book that I encourage all to read.
Throughout Bernie Sanders' failed campaign for President, he railed against big banks such as Wells Fargo and Union Bank, repeatedly stating that that they are too large and should be broken up. He joined Senator Elizabeth Warren in the attached letter calling for an investigation of Wells Fargo as to if they violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) with respect to its account executives, bank tellers, branch managers, and customer service representative. This would lead to the resignation of Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf. Read letter here.
Dennis Moore has been the Associate Editor of the East County Magazine in San Diego and the book review editor for SDWriteway, an online newsletter for writers in San Diego that has partnered with the East County Magazine, as well as a freelance contributor to the San Diego Union-Tribune newspaper and EURweb based out of Los Angeles. Mr. Moore can be contacted at email@example.com or you can follow him on Twitter at: @DennisMoore8