In Greek mythology, Cassandra was gifted with the power of prophecy - she alone could see what others could not. But her gift was also a curse, for no one believed her. Thus, in the city of Troy, her warnings of a Trojan horse fell on deaf ears.
History is full of Cassandras - those who speak the truth no matter how painful.
In 1543, Nicolaus Copernicus claimed the sun, not the Earth, was the center of the universe. The Catholic Church refused to accept this fact until 1822.
In the 1950s, Dr. Alice Stewart’s pioneering studies proved that fetal x-rays caused childhood cancer. Yet it was a quarter of a century before she gained worldwide acceptance, even from American medical organizations.
And as recently as 2000, securities executive Harry Markopolos alerted the SEC to Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, yet he was ignored until 2008.
Cassandras are often scientists, journalists, and whistleblowers. They are those baffled by their peers’ willful blindness and frustrated by the public’s refusal to listen.
They are very rarely politicians. It does not behoove those in office to speak of painful truths. Such honesty may cost them their job. Just ask former President Jimmy Carter.
In 1979, Carter pleaded with the nation to get off fossil fuels, conserve energy, and question our consumption of material goods. He did not hide from the truth. And it cost him the election.
The lesson: Americans were not ready to hear it.
As a country, we preferred the consoling rhetoric of Ronald Reagan. And we slept better at night pretending the problems weren't that bad.
So the country began a 35 year march to our current quagmire, ushered in by deregulation that generated a short-term boom, but resulted in airwaves of propaganda (Fairness Doctrine), a dysfunctional health-care system (profiting off sick people), and a collapsing financial market (Out: Glass-Steagall. In: Ayn Rand).
Reagan demonstrated his dismissal of Carter’s concerns by removing the White House solar panels Carter installed just two years earlier.
Too often we prefer the bliss of ignorance to the pain of truth.
Too often our nation’s leaders choose to appease us rather than level with us and risk reelection.
So imagine my surprise when I heard Bernie Sanders speak in Los Angeles on August 10. His impassioned plea was laid out like an academic lecture peppered with the scholarly research of Pulitzer prize winners – not the type of stump speech uttered to the masses by someone running for office.
These weren’t the words of a politician. These were the words of warning from journalists such as Naomi Klein and Matt Taibbi. This was data usually delivered by economists like Dr. Robert Reich and Joseph Stiglitz. And these were hard truths usually heralded by Chris Hedges and Thom Hartmann.
Sanders not only acknowledged the 40-year collapse of America’s Middle Class, but recognized that our growing inequality is THE great moral, political, and economic crisis of our time.
His message to the billionaire class was clear: YOU CANNOT HAVE IT ALL.
There will be no more huge tax breaks while our children have the highest rate of childhood poverty on the planet. And there will be no more sending jobs abroad when we need jobs at home.
There will be no more hiding billions in the Cayman Islands. It is time for the billionaires to pay their fair share, he decried.
No longer should 1/10 of 1/% have as much wealth as the bottom 90%. Our system is rigged to benefit the super rich, and we need an economy that works for everyone.
(FACT: In 1980, CEOs earned 43 times what the average worker made. Today, they earn 411 times what their average worker does. And that average worker’s median income is $5,000 less today than it was in 1999.)
Sanders argued that people should not have to work three or four jobs, 50+ hours a week, and still hit food shelters to feed their families. Those working full time should not live in poverty.
He urged the minimum wage be raised from the near-starvation rate of $7.25 to $15.
Sanders confirmed the real unemployment rate of youth aged 17-20 is 33% for whites, 36% for Hispanics, and a staggering 51% for blacks.
Sanders pledged to end institutional racism, including the disproportionate incarceration of African Americans, and he wants fundamental changes to our criminal justice system.
(FACT: There are more blacks in jail now than in slavery at its peak, and one out of three black men will serve time in jail.)
He wants to introduce legislation that would make public colleges tuition free. He wants student debt refinanced at low interest rates and get the government out of profiteering.
(FACT: Today’s college grads have amassed more debt than any generation of graduates prior, earning less than the college grads of thirty years ago, and becoming the first generation to earn less than their parents.)
Sanders wants to reinstall the Glass-Steagall Act. If a Bank is too big to fail, then it’s too big to exist.
Sanders wants to reinstate The Voting Rights Act. (Clearly we still need it if so many states support voter ID laws, despite only a meager 10 cases of voter fraud in the last 15 years.)
Sanders promised the litmus test for Supreme Court Judges would be to overturn Citizens United. He, like the majority of voters, wants publicly funded elections.
And Sanders stated that the U.S. has the moral obligation to lead the world in transforming our energy system. Like Carter, he sees the value in moving away from fossil fuels. Fortunately, unlike many of his colleagues, he not only understands science but accepts global warming is man-made, just like 98% of scientists and every peer-reviewed study of the last 25 years.
Sanders admitted that he worries about the future for his kids more than he worries about securing campaign contributions, evidenced by his refusal to use Super PACs, and instead relying on individual contributions, of which he’s received more than any other presidential candidate.
He’s ashamed that we are the only country that does not guarantee healthcare to all people. Healthcare is a right, he argued, not a privilege. He wants a single-payer system.
Sanders wants to end the international embarrassment of not guaranteeing paid family and medical leave.
He wants the immigrants to come out of the shadows for a path to citizenship, so that they may have the same legal protections that all U.S. citizens have.
Sanders also declared that he wants to end the disastrous trade policy that closed 60,000 factories in the U.S. since 2001.
Sanders stressed the real cost of war: the 6,700 men and women who’ve died and the 500,000 returning with PTSD and other injuries. These men and women should have the highest priority. Healthcare for our veterans is our cost for war, he explained. And war should only be the last recourse – not the first.
(FACT: More than 33,000 9/11 responders and survivors have an illness or injury caused by the attacks or their aftermath. On 9/11 itself, 343 firefighters and paramedics died. Another 100 have died in the 13 years since — mostly from cancer. The total number of people who died on 9/11: 2,977.)
To put it bluntly: Bernie Sanders wants a political revolution to end our current oligarchy.
But is the American public ready for revolt?
Before the rally, I’d have said no. After all, we are a country where welfare for the poor is demonized, but welfare for the wealthy is de rigueur. Our financial elites enjoy state socialism, from Wall St. bailouts to sports stadium subsidies. And it’s those very forces who demonize the word “socialist” downward via propaganda on television news outlets. And I use loosely the word “news”.
Socialist healthcare is considered heresy by the same citizens who can’t seem to realize we have a socialist post office, library, education, judicial, and highway and transportation system, not to mention our police force and fire department. Perhaps we should privatize them, and watch our homes burn to the ground while we wait on the slow fire truck that was the only one in our price range.
The hypocrisy doesn’t end there. Denying the poor welfare is a cause politicians use to stir up voters about wasteful government spending, yet those same political figures think nothing about the tax deductions for yachts so large they’re considered second homes, or ranches that aren’t ranched. Meanwhile, FOX NEWS searches far and wide for one welfare recipient who once purchased lobster to confirm the myth of the “welfare queen." And corporations can deduct half of the cost of their business dinners, yielding 35 cents of tax savings on every dollar. One meal amongst 5 execs can generate a tax savings of more money than the average household receives in food stamps for a month.
But sitting in that Bernie Sanders arena, surrounded by the working class and the out of work, the teenagers and the middle-aged, of every class and color, there was an emotional intensity I’ve only felt in college football stadiums. And even then, only in the SEC or Big Ten.
This crowd hung on his every word. I witnessed no one talking amongst themselves. No one typing on cell phones. No one searching for wifi.
Sanders was speaking their truths, voicing their concerns, validating their struggles.
I wondered if we had finally reached a tipping point. Is the general public ready for Sanders' message? Sure, the academics and legitimate press have been speaking this language for years, mostly to the dismissal of the mass media and as well as the masses.
Yet here was a 73-year old Senator from Vermont, who ambled up to the podium and began speaking with a voice hoarse from campaigning, yet grew more fiery with each conviction and groundswell of applause. By the time he concluded, I couldn't tell if the emotion the audience and I were experiencing had come from him, or just his validation of the painful truths with which we have all been struggling.
This may indeed be the seed of a real revolution.
For Sanders’ message to resonate with a crowd of 27,000, and to be attracting more people than any other candidate, it may indeed suggest we are approaching a tipping point.
In a country where capitalism has practically cost us our democracy, this lone socialist may be the only one who can save it.