I have a particular fondness for Bernie Sanders. He reminds me of someone I know. A few people, actually. Okay, pretty much one half of my entire set of in-laws. Like Bernie they are Ashkenormative down to their Lower East Side-by-way-of-Russia roots. Although they prefer the term Labor Zionist, the meaning is still the same. And what, exactly, does that mean? It means their Passover seders, Bar Mitzvah speeches and general conversations are schmeared with social justice. It means they’ve devoted their lives to community organizing, non-profit management, and political action committee work. Most of all, it means that they’ve taken tikkun olam out of the synagogue and onto the streets. The Jewish democratic socialist’s pure faith in a community’s ability to unite and repair the world is what makes politicians like Bernie Sanders so damned appealing.
It’s just a shame that this misplaced faith renders all his good wishes totally fruitless. But, hey, you can’t have it all.
This past weekend Larry David visited SNL to spoof Sanders, who also joined in the fun. The resulting sketches were some of the best that have appeared on the late night comedy show in years. Hillary Clinton could never be as funny because she will never be as accessible. Bernie is the quintessential Jewish grandfather-cum-college professor. Like many famous Jewish men of Larry David’s generation (Billy Crystal, Peter Riegert, Al Brooks, Eugene Levy), Bernie exudes equal parts heartfelt wisdom and nebbishy charm. Slap a couple of leather patches on his elbows and he’s a throwback to the kind of college aspirations captured in Animal House. Toss the blazer aside and he’s the cool grandpa who leaves the scolding to mom and slips you a fiver on the way out the door.
Obama, along with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, espoused all the evils of socialism: a jobs crisis that never truly abated, a war in Iraq that never truly ended, a national healthcare system that has done more to harm than help the medical industry. And then there’s that unfortunate Benghazi incident, the cherry atop a series of terrorist-related political disasters including a deal with Iran that’s already hit the fan. If it wasn’t enough to exude all the fun vibes of a post-menopausal bitter hag, Hillary’s best attempt to reach millennial voters was to enlist the help of Lena Dunham, HBO’s resident naked girl whose biggest demographic is 40-year-old men. If her case is closed, she’s the one responsible for locking it up and throwing out the key.
There’s a lot to love about Bernie Sanders and his ilk. Millennials don’t know what socialism is, nor do they really care. They have no idea that the Labor Zionism that established Israel had to be injected with a healthy dose of market capitalism in order for the nation to survive and thrive. And anyway, what do they know of Jews half a world away? What they do know is pop culture. Therefore, they know that anyone remotely resembling a character on Seinfeld (let alone one of the show’s creators) couldn’t possibly be a bad guy.
If millennials turn out for Bernie it is because he represents what they need: All the comfort and reassurance a familiar grandfatherly figure can provide. A grandfatherly figure who looks and sounds a lot like, say, the grandpa who sits by our bedside when we are sick and reads us a fairy tale of how the little guys unite against the big, bad guy in order to save the day.
You know, I hope Bernie does make it to debate against Trump. It’ll be worth it just to hear him say: “My name is Bernie Sanders. With your politics, you’re killing my father. Prepare to die… at the polls!”