Roger L. Simon

Feeling and Fleeing the Bern in Iowa

Republicans can forget Hillary Rodham Clinton.  She’s a tarnished, corrupt, pathetic, serial-prevaricating and possibly incarcerated figure even Jim Gilmore could beat. They have a real problem — and his name is Bernie Sanders.

I know. I just returned from his final standing-room-only campaign rally (sponsored by MoveOn.Org!) at Des Moines’ Grand View University in advance of Monday night’s caucuses. Whether Sanders wins or loses on Monday, the university’s Sisam Arena was rocking and rolling with a fervor I have not seen since I saw Bobby Kennedy speak in East L.A. the day before he was assassinated.  In other words, in the now bizarrely apropos phrase of Lincoln Steffens after he visited Soviet Russia in 1919, “I have seen the future and it works!”

Only, as with the USSR, it’s not a future that any of us would want.  Not that you could tell from the myriad Bernie partisans packing the arena to the rafters, waiting patiently for an hour and a half, listening to speech after ad hoc speech, some clearly marking time, until their Brooklyn via Vermont messiah finally appeared.

He mounted the stage to repeated sotto voce chants of “Bernie! Bernie! Bernie!” (I know — it sounds almost comic, but it wasn’t), the first words out of his mouth: “It sounds like you want to make a political revolution.”

I put the word “political” in italics because it was the first time that evening I had heard that slightly mitigating adjective appended. The word “revolution” by itself was repeated over and over in the introductory speeches.  I thought for a moment I was back with Lenin at the Finland Station. Or, at the very least, a New Lost City Ramblers jam session circa 1958. If you still wanted a chance to vote for Henry Wallace for president — whether he was or was not a communist agent, as some have alleged — this was it.

And that was the problem, because I realized that very few in the audience knew what they were getting into.  (The video below will give you some idea — and I hope a few laughs.) All through the evening, and during Bernie’s speech, I could think of nothing more than George Santayana’s immortal phrase: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

And those who know little of the present, as the video attests, have problems as well.  The flyer for the event read “Paid for by Bernie21016 (not the billionaires).” But the young people we interviewed were astounded to discover that its MoveOn.Org sponsors were supported by no fewer than three billionaires, one of whom, George Soros, has a net worth about five times that of Donald Trump.

More importantly, given the condition of today’s schools, it’s highly unlikely these young people ever had a history lesson involving the economic ramifications of socialism (Margaret Thatcher — who’s that?), let alone how it led to the greatest rampage of mass murder in human history.  Unfortunately, that makes them perfect fodder for a potentially dangerous Mass Movement (caps deliberate).

During his speech, Sanders himself gave the specifics of what heights that movement has already reached. Abjuring SuperPACs, Bernie says he has collected donations averaging $27 from 3.2 million individuals, an American record — I would imagine by a considerable amount.

What we’re dealing with here is indeed a Movement with a capital M, as Pat Caddell asserted to me when we bumped into each other on the way out.  (We both left early. I hope Pat doesn’t mind my letting that out.)  Caddell felt the the movement itself was very significant, but was not that impressed with Bernie’s abilities as a candidate.  Pat’s one of the smartest people in the country when it comes to political savvy, but I wonder if he’s right about that one.  Time — meaning the Iowa caucus and the ensuing primaries — will tell.