Saturday, September 19, 2015

Bernie at Liberty

It is hard not to find a parallel between Bernie's rousing speech before the students and faculty of Liberty University and that of William Jennings Bryan 120 years ago before the Democratic Convention.  Bryan's address became immortalized as the Cross of Gold speech, calling on the government to accept bimetalism, and provide a greater free flow of currency for the mass of Americans. He said the farmers, small merchants and workers of this country were every bit as much business men as the New York banker and deserved their fair share of the pie.  He decried the "trickle down" theory, in which "prosperity (supposedly) will leak through on those below."  He called on Democrats to stand up for the working man and demand a fair currency system.

Bernie's speech was more blunt, as his nature.  He tried to reach the students through scripture, quoting Matthew 7:12 in demanding justice for all Americans.  He strongly stated this is a moral imperative, citing the incredible amount of wealth that now rests in the top one-tenth of one percent of this country.  Also noting that 15 persons generated more wealth over the last two years than the bottom 130 million Americans, roughly one-third of our country.  Very little of which has leaked through to those below.

It was an interesting call by Bernie to attend a Liberty University convocation, but as he said it is just as important to communicate with those you don't necessarily agree with as it is with those who you do.  He was hoping to find common ground and so chose the income disparity in this country, which cuts across ideological lines.  While the Republican candidates pay lip service to the working class, Bernie makes every effort to defend the working class in the Senate.  He has put forward new bills for higher minimum wage, paid maternity leave and other fair labor practices to alleviate the burdens of the working class.  On this morning, he spoke in broad tones though, hoping to reach deep into his audience's heart.

Bryan was much more specific in addressing the monetary crisis because he was addressing the convention.  He not only asked his peers to promote bimetalism but the income tax as well, as these were the only way to better distribute the wealth of the country to all levels of society.  Bryan saw it as a moral duty, not just as a Christian but as an American citizen.

Yes, the progressive strain in this country emerged from the religions base of the country.  William Jennings Bryan was a US Representative from Nebraska, who ran for President in 1896.  He secured the nomination but would fall short to William McKinley and the Republicans, but many of themes he stressed would be picked up by Theodore Roosevelt when he acceded to President on McKinley's death.  You look at this electoral map, and Bryan even won the South in 1896 with his message of income equality.  It is just the greater portion of electoral votes lay in the Northeast and Midwest states, which McKinley won.

Bryan was also a devout Christian who firmly believed in the primacy of the Bible, even on the matter of creationism, for which he would be defined 30 years later when he represented the Tennessee school board in the infamous Scopes Monkey Trial.  However, Bryan also believed in the primacy of the Constitution and that all men are created equal.  He was dedicated to social equality and pressed for social reform throughout his life.

Bernie's campaign has gained considerable momentum thanks largely to his determination to make income disparity the central theme of this election cycle, at least among Democrats.  You don't hear the Republicans say much about it, as it seems their base has accepted this two-tier society.  Yet, Bernie has drawn big crowds throughout the Southern Red States and he appeared before the same students many Republican candidates have addressed, as Liberty University has become a favorite stomping ground of conservative candidates.

It was a memorable moment as Bernie did what few Democrats have done, try to reach out to those who don't agree with you.   He upstaged the Republicans on their own turf, two days before their faux debate. He hit on the one issue that should unite Americans, and it seemed to work.  Many of those students may not accept his views on abortion and gay marriage, but they did respond to his message on income disparity.  There were even a few kids wearing Bernie t-shirts, which must have made him smile.

Of course, what is sad is that here we are 120 years later still talking about income disparity and fighting for workers' basic rights in the face of a Republican onslaught that has seen conservative governors pitch Right to Work laws in states that have decimated the labor movement.  Scott Walker is so proud of what he has done in Wisconsin that he wants to take his battle to the nation.  The one reassuring note is that he is sinking in the polls.

William Jennings Bryan would be disappointed to see how the banks have once again monopolized the capital in this country and how Congress has given the rich a steady stream of tax cuts that have once again resulted in great income disparity.  However, I think Bryan would be glad to see Bernie pick up his cause and make it the centerpiece of his campaign and hopefully of the election, as he continues to gain ground in the polls.

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