The Legacy of Bernie Sanders

Although the lifespan of this Spirited Reasoner rapidly approaches seven decades, I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of national political figures who have earned my respect. Those few could be found on both sides of the political aisle. For example, Dwight Eisenhower, the President who served me as a toddler, had been courted by both major political parties before he decided to run as a Republican.  John F. Kennedy, the President who followed Eisenhower, and whose assassination still serves as a watershed moment for most living Americans, held policy positions indistinguishable from those of his predecessor, though he ran as a life-long Democrat.

Suffice it to say that the lies told to the American people by Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, the two Presidents who followed Eisenhower and Kennedy, resulted in a spirit of cynicism that replaced our spirit of idealism and trust in government. Since Nixon’s resignation, politicians have been required to demonstrate their status as “Washington outsiders” as a means of securing national party support. Note the stark contrast between (a) Kennedy’s bold announcement that our federal government could send astronauts to the moon while launching a Peace Corps to assist third world nations all over the globe and (b) Ronald Reagan’s cynical statement, which always drew tumultuous cheers, that “government is not the solution, government is the problem.”

Somehow, in the midst of that utter rejection of any unified national mission, the phoenix known as Bernie Sanders arose from the ashes. While other Democrats, most notably Bill and Hillary Clinton, sought electoral success by moving the party further to the right (or what they referred to as the “center”), Sanders maintained his faith in the moral superiority of progressive principles, most notably the right of every American to universal healthcare.

This past week, as he announced the end of his active campaign for the 2020 presidential nomination, Bernie Sanders took the time to propose, along with Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wa.), a Healthcare Emergency Guarantee Act, designed to use Medicare as the primary vehicle for paying the medical bills for all Covid-19 patients. Having ended his campaign, he did not need to propose that legislation for reasons of personal political ambition. He did so—and this is the theme of today’s message—because he cares about people. And, of equal importance, he believes the federal government should represent our shared value in promoting the well-being of our neighbors.

Bernie Sanders may not come from a Christian background, but Spirited Reasoners can find in his selfless campaigns the spirit of an Easter message.