Bernie Sanders, 1988; photo courtesy The Daily Conversation
Bernie Sanders, 1988; photo courtesy The Daily Conversation

The Argument for a Sanders Presidency Goes Back to 1988

March 2, 2020

NOTE: The Greylock Glass has never endorsed a candidate for public office. One editor, Jason Velázquez, has chosen to endorse Bernie Sanders in the Democratic Primary for President of the United States of America.

I remember that they felt like deployments, those convoys of minivans and hatchbacks that departed the ConnPIRG office in the mid-afternoons. Winding their way through suburban neighborhoods of 1988 Central Connecticut, they’d drop off units of idealistic, environmentally minded young people every couple miles, with instructions about where to meet up after the sun had set. Our mission: to convince America to support the Clean Air Act Amendment.

Although the amendment passed in 1990, I’ll never know how much my very brief stint knocking on middle class doors in and around the Insurance Capital of the World helped. The number one response I remember, after detailing the crisis to tired, just-off-work Democratic homeowners (clipboard with petition in one hand, pen extended in the other) was, “I…I don’t know…it’s not an issue that really affects me…” It would have made a devastating drinking game, the excuse for not signing was that common. On the ride back to HQ, we canvassers would trade creative comebacks we’d used to try to overcome that wishy-washy reason Mr. & Mrs. Middle Class couldn’t simply add their name to a petition.

As I said, I didn’t last long. One big, burly homeowner picked up my 165 lb. twenty year old self over his head and hurled me into his front yard. I sprained, maybe fractured, my arm in the incident (I didn’t have insurance, so I just waited a year for the pain to eventually go away), and left the organization after my team leader told me that they wouldn’t support me in any action I took against the homeowner. They didn’t want to get a reputation as troublemakers, you understand… 

I don’t hold a grudge against the organization. I still want to kick the shit of the guy who pitched me off his porch, though. Because, just as environmental activism has barely moved the needle on climate change, I’m willing to bet that guy hasn’t changed either. He’d be in his mid-sixties now, maybe retired early from Pratt & Whitney, and is proud as hell of his shiny new MAGA sticker on his F250 pickup that absolutely does not need in that suburban wasteland of Middletown or wherever the hell it was. His buddies probably chuckle when he pinches the waitress’ ass at Denny’s when they meet there every Wednesday morning. She puts up with it, because the old farts tip better than average, and she’s got to save up for her three-year-old’s day-care now that her husband finally got called back to work at the building site that was on hold all winter.

There’s a lot that’s changed since the 80s. A lot hasn’t. Future 2020 presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, and Bernie Sanders were getting their political careers into high gear while Michael Bloomberg was getting filthy rich selling business data to Wall Street. Pete Buttigieg had just finished potty training. Probably. Billionaire Tom Steyer was just starting his hedge fund business Farallon Capital. Amy Klobuchar had just graduated law school and was working as a corporate lawyer helping the telecommunications industry in Minnesota skirt or gut regulations on the telephone and cable industries.

But since Buttigieg, Klobuchar, and Steyer all ended their pursuit of the Oval Office this weekend’s South Carolina primary results, there isn’t much point talking about them except as concerns where their backers will throw their support now. It appears, at this point, that all three are endorsing Joe Biden. All three are, no doubt, hoping for veep or cabinet positions in an administration that is never going to, and should never, come to pass.

I have discussed Michael Bloomberg elsewhere; there’s not much else to say. To vote for a man who still will not recant for the redlining in which he participated, a man who still believes that throwing five million black and brown (mostly) men up against the wall (or to the ground) without any reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing, a man who has who-knows-what acts of sexual harassment and/or abuse hidden behind a curtain of money and non-disclosure agreements — to vote for a man like that…well, if you think he’s really any different from Trump, I guess nothing I write will get through to you.

I had high hopes for Elizabeth Warren in the beginning. There were even times my electoral sympathies wandered into her camp. I believed, until very recently, that she was a valid second choice to the most left-leaning candidate, Bernie Sanders. Her decisions since the primary race began in earnest in Iowa have called her leadership abilities into question. She has alienated both men and women who were rooting for her. She has reneged on a campaign promise not to accept help from Super Pacs at the same time she has twisted the facts of the paltry amount of money that Sanders has accepted from a local nurses’ union. She has joined her fellow moderates and the elite media in launching a seemingly coordinated attack campaign against Sanders. And, now that it is clear that she has NO PATH to the presidency, she has tipped her hand and shown that staying in the race is no longer about trying to win, but trying to work with the other candidates still standing to try to overcome the enormous support from young and old, men and women, Black, white, Latino, Native American, urban and rural, and others that Bernie Sanders continues to gain strength across the country.

That pretty much leaves Joe Biden.

By 1988, Joe Biden was already trying to throw a smokescreen over his chummy cooperation with racist bigot and homophobe Jesse Helms to crush school busing programs aimed at integrating schools. Some time after, he began lying about marching in the civil rights movements and trying to explain away his multiple instances of plagiarism while continuing to plagiarize speeches from American and British politicians during his failed bid for president in ’88.  In a bizarre moment of foreshadowing, Biden gave a taste of how he’d deal with skeptical voters on the campaign trail more than 30 years later.

“I think I probably have a much higher IQ than you do, I suspect,” Biden told a New Hampshire voter in 1987. “I went to law school on a full academic scholarship,” he continued, lying. “I’d be delighted to sit down and compare my IQ to yours if you’d like.” 

The former vice president managed to rack up all this bitterness even before becoming the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee who allowed the all-white, all-male group of interrogators to humiliate Anita Hill in connection with her allegations of sexual harassment against Clarence Thomas during his Supreme Court confirmation hearings. Biden was also responsible for refusing to allow other women to testify as to Thomas’ inappropriate sexual advances and conversation.

During his current run for president, Biden reprised his role as challenger-in-chief when, in Iowa in December, he answered a resident’s question about ethical concerns surrounding Biden’s son, Hunter, with more IQ test challenges—and a push-ups challenge—calling the man “a damned liar,” “fat,” and “too old to vote for me” before a stunned crowd.

Having learned nothing from the past, Biden has brought his plagiarism into a new century, lifting lines from fossil fuel companies and private education concerns.

He also reprised his role as liar-in-chief, repeating the lie that he’d marched in the Civil Rights Movement, after previously admitting that he connected with the movement through the television and newspapers like most of the rest of white America.

He has also recently claimed, falsely, that he had been arrested in South Africa trying to visit the imprisoned anti-Apartheid activist and future South African president Nelson Mandela. His campaign had to scramble to revise their candidate’s meaning regarding that brief moment when he was asked to walk through a different line (though not under arrest) at an airport. Biden felt free to place gushing praise for himself from Mandela in the mouth of the dead leader, the content of which can neither by disputed nor verified.

He also has variously taken credit for the Patriot Act, NAFTA, the Omnibus Crime Bill, and welfare reforms (warning in a 1988 op-ed of “welfare mothers driving luxury cars”). And that’s a pretty sad fucking record because all those things — gutting civil liberties and privacy protections, warehousing millions of Black and brown people mostly for non-violent crime, shipping millions of manufacturing and agriculture jobs offshore, and creating crushing requirements for, and restrictions on aid that essentially slashed every other rope in the social safety net — he actually did have a major authorship  role in making the Democratic party nearly unrecognizable from 1992 on.

It’s called being a “Third Way” Democrat. It’s really just being a Republican that doesn’t say and do sexually offense or creepy things in public. Except that Joe Biden kinda does that too.

What HAS changed in the last decade or so is that Joe Biden is showing obvious signs of dementia. This is in no way meant as ridicule — degrading mental faculties are no joke. And that’s why the man needs to simply be allowed to rest and retire. His gaffes are starting to look a lot less like just tripping over his words and more like Congress is going to be reaching for the 25th Amendment before his first (and only, he apparently is now pledging) term is half up.

Throughout a lifetime in politics, Biden has shown himself to be an ally of the powerful, an unrepentant warhawk, an enabler of racists, a winking apologist for an out-of-control financial industry, and an opportunist who resembles a well-oiled weathervane more than a fixed signpost of progress.

Not only is he unfit, morally, politically, and mentally, for the presidency, he can. not. win.

The Trump machine will eat him alive in the general race, America will watch the tragic, awkward, Biden collapse through our fingers, and this time, Donny won’t just win courtesy the electoral college. He’ll win the popular vote, too, and little-d democracy will be in real trouble. 

So what about Bernie Sanders?

He’s been accused of having “pie in the sky” ambitions for progressive reform. Lately, his competitors have sung, in unison, that he’s spent the last 30 years failing to overcome corporate power and Congressional entropy to enact sweeping, earth-saving changes. That what achievements Sanders HAS been able to point to are nothing to write home about.

Their overall message is resoundingly clear: “We moderates have been throwing up barriers to real change for 30 years, so you should vote for us because we will absolutely fight like hell to protect the status quo.” 

When I hear these arguments, I try to put myself in Sanders’ shoes over the last three decades. I try to imagine what it would have been like, in the 1980s when the economy was on steroids, to say, “Hey! All you guys! Now is the time for major progressive reforms before greed leads the economy to the brink of collapse.” Or in the 1990s dot-com boom. Or in the 2000s housing boom. He’d have gotten laughed all the way from Maryland back to Montpelier. So, sure. He’s gotten modest things done. But he’s also spent a lifetime observing the system of power in the United States. Learning. Waiting. Building.

Right now, we are witnessing the greatest wealth inequality that has ever existed in America, and likely anywhere, ever, on Earth. Economic and political power is consolidating to create a world where a tiny fraction of humans can make decisions on a whim that can mean life or death to millions. Media. Health Care. Food systems. Drinking water. Education. Transportation.

And through all this consolidation, American belligerence grows. It was Karl Rove who said “We’re an empire now,” and indeed we are. As such we have created two generations of people in different continents around the world who have suffered due to our imperialism. Many of them have understandable chips on their shoulders with America, and would do us harm if and when they could. Empires breed enemies in their subjugated territories. We are negotiating a withdrawal from Afghanistan — the cost/benefit analysis demands it. Yet when the Iraqi Parliament votes that it’s time for U.S. military forces to leave, the Trump administration tells them to go pound sand — we’re staying. We plunged Libya into carnage, failed to keep Syria from turning into a nightmare civil war, and even supplied the weapons and consultants that allowed the Saudis to turn the country of Yemen into the worlds greatest humanitarian crisis. 

All of these evils triumphed, and are allowed to continue, because moderate politicians did nothing.

At home, Americans are begging friends and strangers for billions of dollars through GoFundMe to help with medical bills due to necessary care for which they are either uninsured or underinsured. Mortality rates, including newborn, are rising.

The ubiquitously demanded four-year degree, with which you can generally wipe your ass, is sending millions of students into debt, largely because real incomes have fallen precipitously since the 1980s. Many, many jobs requiring these degrees (plus experiences and skills normally only garnered after years in the field) start out in the high $20Ks or early $30Ks, which, when Massachusetts’ minimum wage finishes rising in a couple years, will be below minimum wage jobs. 

The country has a crumbling infrastructure and a huge hole where skilled and unskilled labor jobs used to be. For all those workers who have neither the desire nor background to find a place for themselves in the “creative economy,” there are fewer and fewer places for them to go. Automation and offshoring has meant the decimation of the pool of working class jobs — problem is, the working class is still here wondering what the fuck we and our families are supposed to do now that the masters of the universe have decided we’re redundant. 

Sanders has embraced the Green New Deal like no other candidate. While Nancy Pelosi was disingenuously smearing it as “the Green Dream, or something,” Sanders was laying out his visions for green jobs in the energy, manufacturing, transportation, and technology sectors. These jobs, helping to ramp up the economy in exactly the areas where growth is needed, and can occur without causing traditional environmental and social devastation.

Some of those jobs will require strong backs while others will require strong backgrounds in STEM areas. If higher education knows what the professional needs are going to be in the next ten or twenty years, schools can tweak their curricula to ensure that students are realistically prepared for the workforce. Sanders has plans for free four degrees at state schools NOT because he just wants to play Santa with a sack full of diplomas, but because he realizes that if we’re to have a revived economy that is truly forward-looking, the United States needs young people who are trained in the areas that are actually going to be in high demand as we rebuild.

Providing four year degrees wage strengthens the economy.

By raising the minimum wage to $15 nationwide (actually a pretty paltry advancement in most of the nation), we can be sure that the jobs that require advanced education pay a salary that’s commensurate with the applicants’ skills and education. Do the math. When these jobs are only paying $30K a year, that works out to $14.42 an hour. Do we want the foundation of a new America engineered and built by people being exploited?

I should point out, too, that in the 1980s many jobs that could have paid minimum wage paid more simply because managers felt that even unskilled jobs    should be filled by people who had more than a minimum level of capability. Case in point: in high school (yes, in the 80s…),  I pumped gas for a couple years. Minimum wage was $4.25/hr, yet the company I worked for paid $6.00/hr. Doesn’t seem like much, now, but at our minimum wage of $15.00/hr, that would be equivalent to paying a worker $19.50/hr. Of course, if you happen to be in the top five percent on the wealth scale, an extra $4.50 an hour might not mean much. It means a car payment or a week’s rent or food for huge numbers of people right here in the Berkshires. Raising the minimum wage, and then shaming companies for trying to pay it to skilled workers, will be critical to keeping millions of Americans from slipping through the cracks if the social safety net continues to disappear.

Raising the minimum wage strengthens the economy.

Sanders, doesn’t want to see the safety net disappear, of course, but more importantly, initiatives like universal health care will mean that workers don’t have to stay in jobs that exploit them, just because their family can’t risk a gap in medical coverage. People with the creativity and drive to start innovative businesses will be far, far freer to unleash their entrepreneurial spirit on a welcoming economy. Women (and men) won’t feel compelled to stay in abusive relationships for fear of losing their partner’s insurance for themselves and, potentially their children. People who, for reasons of age or ability, can only work part time won’t be forced to choose between medical care and groceries.

Universal health care strengthens the economy.  

The single biggest complaint I hear about Sanders’ platform is that “He’ll never be able to get it all done!” That is almost certainly true. I would remind Democrats that President and Hillary Clinton tried and failed to get their health care reforms passed for the eight years that Bill Clinton was in office. What did make it out of the Oval Office were the aforementioned crime bill, welfare reforms, and NAFTA, which, combined, helped to decimate the working class and communities of color.

Does Sanders know that he won’t get it all done? Of course he does. But you don’t go into endeavor with some crappy Eeyore attitude and expect to get people fired up. And in case you haven’t notice, LOTS of people are fired up about Sanders’ campaign. People of almost every demographic all over America are CRAZY to see this grandfatherly (or tio) figure win big in November. Do they know he won’t get it all done. Of course they do. And they’re willing to accept that and embrace the hope that some of his platform is possible. The massive base that trusts Sanders to actually go to bat for them are willing to aim high and achieve some real change over the alternative coming from the moderate (really kinda center-right) middle — that we’ll put some new pulls on the cabinets, throw some Pergo on the floor and some paper on the walls and, “SEE? You didn’t need a new kitchen after all!”

Joe Biden is offering to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic. 

Bernie Sanders is saying, “Why the hell are you standing here on a sinking ship? I have a boat pulling up port side that didn’t hit the iceberg, and there’s plenty of room for us all. And no one has to stay locked down in steerage, either.” 

The milquetoast middle offers up a timid, tepid vision of a future that both denies the economic and environmental perils we face, but protects the very systems of power that have perpetuated racism, classism, and the corporate takeover of our democracy. The only other possible interpretations are that, either all of our sensory input telling us the world is in trouble deceive us, or that the Bidens and the Warrens and the Buttigiegs of the world are actively working to subvert meaningful change. And I’d prefer to think them incompetent and meek than allied with corrosive forces.

But meek isn’t what is needed at this dark hour, when the hand of the Doomsday Clock, created by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, is pinned at 100 seconds to Midnight. Meek will sink us.

Journalist Edward R. Murrow advised that we

remember that we are not descended from fearful men – not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate, and to defend causes that were, for the moment, unpopular.

Economic justice, social justice, climate justice are, at this moment, unpopular causes. I know of no other candidate willing to pour every ounce of his remaining energy in the last phase of his long political career fearlessly pushing for movement on these causes the way Sanders has shown himself prepared to do. Neither his passion nor his pronouncements should surprise anyone. Durning the presidential election of 1988, he was asked, on videotape, what his ideal president would be like. In addition to very intentionally noting that a woman would certainly have a shot at winning, he said a number of things that should be familiar to anyone paying attention to today’s race. 

“So my first concern is to have a president who has the courage to look reality in the face and say that we need some radical changes in this country, so that every American can have the opportunity to have a decent standard of living and live a decent life.”

You should watch the clip.

In 1988, Bernie Sanders Described His Ideal President

This unwavering commitment to fight for the common man and woman in the face of unrelenting greed and powerlust is why I endorse Bernie Sanders without hesitation. Not because he his faultless — he is not — but because he is fearless. It is my strongest hunch that he has spent the last several decades dedicated to the long, long game, sacrificing the quick rewards available to those conspire with thieves and thugs in favor of the reputation earned only by a lifetime of steady, dependable service. And the multitudes of people who continue to flock to his rallies are a testament to his patience.

I keep coming back to 1988, you’ll notice. It was a pivotal year for a lot of reasons. Democrats were faced with a choice between two very different primary candidates. Joe Biden wasn’t one of them — he was forced to withdraw from the race after he was forced to address both his plagiarism of others’ political speeches AND some of his assignments in college, as well as explain the lies that he had earned a full academic scholarship and graduated at the top of his class (he didn’t and he didn’t). I’m talking about the contest between Rev. Jesse Jackson and Michael Dukakis. Like Sanders, Jackson had a wildly enthusiast base of diverse supporters. Like Warren or Biden, Dukakis had a yawning base of moderates who wanted to preserve the status quo. In the end, the Democratic establishment sided with Dukakis, who was eviscerated by a Republican with all the charisma of a box of Nilla wafers left out in the rain, paving the way for his son, George W., Jr. to ascend to the White House a dozen years later.

Think about that for a minute…a dedication to uninspiring moderates leading to election of the son of a detestable GOP kingpin. Do we want Donnie Jr. Or Ivanka in the Oval Office anytime…ever?

Finally, I come back to 1988 for the reason most important to my children. Actually both the Millennials and to Generation Z — I’m talking about the future survival of the human race in the face of the climate crisis. In 1988, then-NASA scientist James Hansen told a U.S. congressional hearing he could assert “with 99% confidence” that human activity was responsible for a recent sharp rise in temperatures across the globe. Two years ago, he told the Guardian that while Trump was reprehensible for his reckless support of the fossil fuel industry, the real climate “hoax” is the lie that has been perpetuated by moderates, primarily Democrats, that they are doing anything at all to address the climate crisis. 

Bernie Sanders has actively supported the work of climate activists his entire political career. And now that he’s the one candidate who pledges to truly make the Green New Deal a reality, he’s the only candidate who seems to understand the one primal fact:

If you don’t have a planet to live on, then you’ve let the status quo crash through the floor. And at that point, nothing else matters.

Jason Velázquez

Jason Velázquez has worked in print and digital journalism and publishing for two decades.
Phone: (413) 776-5125


  1. What a great article! Bernie can do this, as long as we elect enough progressives to help him. We the people depend on them to make this happen!

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