Could Bernie Sanders Become the First Jewish President?

Can Sanders multiply his near win in Iowa with a much wider victory in New Hampshire and move on to capture the hearts and minds of voters throughout the more diverse South?
Can Sanders multiply his near win in Iowa with a much wider victory in New Hampshire and move on to capture the hearts and minds of voters throughout the more diverse South?

By Todd Feinburg, Joshua Resnek

Published February 04, 2016, issue of February 04, 2016.

The people of Iowa have spoken. Now, it’s on to New Hampshire.

If you are like most of us, you have survived one of the most massive television, radio, newspaper and Internet political news bombardments in modern history.

There is a growing sameness and weariness about the media crush that is intensifying among the candidates hoping to become the next president of the United States.

Senator Bernie Sanders and former Secretary Hillary Clinton, unbelievably enough, fought to a virtual tie in Iowa, one that was tilted to Clinton only after she won an incredible six consecutive coin flips to decide tie votes in individual precinct votes. As a result, one cannot realistically declare victory over the other, except in the realm of political narrative.

Clinton was circumspect and a bit disappointed at her almost non-existent margin of victory – and yet, she was described in media coverage as having declared victory. Even so, much of the coverage expressed wonder at how it had come to this for the woman who led Sanders by 50 points in Iowa just a few months ago.

For Sanders, and for the American and world Jewish community, his tie with Clinton going into New Hampshire where he was, magnificently, in the lead by 20 points or so prior to Iowa, appears to hold great political possibility.

During this year of our national political discontent, in which a sizeable chunk of both parties seem desirous of what Sanders is now calling a “Revolution,” or a return to yesterday, it as though we are locked hopelessly in a maze and left only with commentators attempting to show us the way out.

But no one knows the way.

Can Sanders multiply his near win in Iowa with a much wider victory in New Hampshire and move on to capture the hearts and minds of voters throughout the more diverse South? The pundits tell us the old white rural socialist won’t sell in the south, but those same pundits told us that Trump would be gone from the GOP contest in August.

New Hampshire seems a real possibility for Sanders. Would a big win there legitimize his candidacy and lead him to become the most Jewish major party nominee ever?

Could this Jewish man with the Brooklyn accent, whose only biological child was born out of wedlock in between his two marriages, become the next president of the United States?

John Kennedy confronted the imagined Catholic barrier a half century ago. President Obama turned the perception of a racial barrier into an electoral advantage eight years ago. So why not a Jew?

Is Sanders, a consistent socialist throughout his long career, too far to the left to win, as Hillary’s camp would argue? Or have the times caught up to Bernie?

What exactly are Americans to think about Sanders, who promises to raise social security taxes and benefits so the elderly can live with less financial stress; to extend Medicare to everyone, perhaps counter-intuitively, to make health care more affordable; to ease the burdens of the middle class by making public college education free for all; and who favors breaking up the too-big-to-fail financial institutions credited with causing the bust in 2008?

Sanders hasn’t been deemed unacceptable for being Jewish. Is Clinton using code to marginalize him when she calls him unelectable?

At a time when anti-Semitism and Islamic terrorism are seen to be galloping at full force here and around the world, Sander’s candidacy is being accepted and applauded by the largely non-Jewish American public, despite the fact that he is Jewish.

Self loathing Jews, all of whom know who they are, Jews who don’t like other Jews who don’t think exactly as they do and Jews who are convinced that Israel is a bad actor, will find it difficult to support Sanders.

After all, those type of Jews believe Israel is conducting genocide against the Palestinian people. They are reviled by the notion of the occupation and are not bothered, at the same time, by Palestinian terrorism against Israelis.

These Jews will likely find a way to distance themselves from Sanders.

If they can’t support Israel, how can they support Sanders? How could the nation survive a Jewish president, they will wonder.

Besides, wouldn’t it be more politically correct if a Palestinian American became president?

Might it be bad for Jews who mostly want to stay under the radar or to criticize Israel if Sanders became president, rather than confront the reality of a cold, harsh and relentless world where Jewish life everywhere may be at risk?

Will Jews rally around Sanders if he begins sweeping primaries throughout the land and emerges as the Democratic candidate?

How would a Jewish president go over with our “Arab” and Islamic allies?

How would his speech fly at the United Nations?

Sanders couldn’t fly on a Kuwaiti airliner because Jews aren’t allowed on them – and yet they fly out of New York every day.

In Saudi Arabia, educators cut Israel from maps of the world and erase Israel from globes as a matter of principle.

How would a Jewish president conduct his foreign policy and what impediments would be raised by Jew haters all over the world to the rule of an American Jewish president?

Perhaps the most stunning indication of how dramatically the world has changed is the near to complete lack of public interest in Sanders’ Jewishness and his Judaism. Again, if there is concern, it remains unvoiced.

Bernie’s desire to vastly expand social welfare programs and broaden the reach of government into the nation’s economic activity expands on a “blame the rich” argument that has been used as a foundational argument for Democratic politics for years, most recently by the Obama administration. Sanders’ anti-Capitalist rhetoric is more vehement, and thus, more divisive, and will serve to further divide the nation along lines of race, socio-economic status and education levels. His success with this approach, were he to become an increased threat to Clinton, might entice Vice President Biden, or even Mass­achusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, into the race, as party elites seek to escape a fear of structural weakness in the Sanders candidacy just as those who seek control of the GOP have been searching for a way to stop the Trump juggernaut.

Hillary Clinton, dethroned as de facto nominee in 2008 by being portrayed as too centrist to be trusted to end the war in Iraq, is this time offering her centrism as a virtue, a protection against Sanders’ socialism. Bernie Sanders is the leftist fostering a revolution, Clinton is the even-keeled voice of moderation, the leader who can be trusted with the 3 a.m. phone call.

In 2010, the Tea Party, maligned by the left as a top-down, faux movement of right wing haters, was formed in anger over bailouts from Washington and the runaway growth of the federal government. The Tea Party has failed in its mission to change the world of Washington politics and economic policy. But the same energy that formed the Tea Party is, ironically, still driving the national conversation, this time on both sides, most ardently by Bernie Sanders.

Sanders argues, as does Elizabeth Warren, against rules that are rigged to enrich “fat cats.” Power to run our society, the argument goes, lies in the hands of big corporations, Wall Street, and those bad people who earn too much money and don’t pay their “fair share.”

How can Hillary be the solution, argues Sanders, when she is the darling of Wall Street, a former first lady, cabinet secretary, U.S. senator and multimillionaire who is the epitome of a one percenter?

Sanders admits the flow of money in the electoral system is responsible for the rigging of the system. Then he calls for more power to be granted to those same elected officials who he says are selling us out, under the promise that they would abandon the rich and shift the money into an expanded social safety net to help the middle class and poor.

On the right, the malaise is blamed on dumb leaders without the experience to be effective managers by billionaire Trump, and, from Ted Cruz, on our decision to abandon the system of decentralized power designed by the Founders to protect us from the pay to play, Washington-centric, bureaucratized system that we have today.

The Sanders argument for pushing the federal government more in the direction of a socialist model seems to be in line with a common Jewish sentiment today, as some Jews conflate their mission to repair the world with creating big, centralized government that reduces liberty in order to protect citizens from hardship, and redistributes wealth so as to guarantee successful outcomes.

The job of government in our model is to protect the rights of individuals to pursue their dreams, not to make certain that each citizen reaches a centrally planned measure of material success. This philosophy is decidedly anti-American – that is, contrary to the intentions of the Founders - who feared centralized power above all. But the Founders died 225 years ago. America is a vastly changed place today compared to what the Founders imagined it. They wouldn’t recognize the place.

Bernie Sanders is arguing, he says, for governmental revolution. But really he’s pushing for faster movement in the direction we’re already heading.

Can Sanders capture the spirit of disillusionment to become the first Jewish president? This is a good question to which we don’t presently have the answer.

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