MSLAW Blog

Bernie’s Our Best Shot!

February 2016 |  by Kurt Olson

By: Kurt Olson, Professor of Law, Massachusetts School of Law

The last time I played golf near my hometown, a short, stocky man approached me, eyeing me quizzically. I didn’t recognize him until he said, “I never knew socialists play golf!” My next-door neighbor, the cigar-smoking republican who’s always commanding my son to get off a disputed strip of land between our two houses – land that belongs to us, then said, “You know – you’ve got those Bernie signs all over your yard.” Needless to say, I was overjoyed that I wouldn’t play in his foursome.

So, why Bernie? A colleague of mine who supports Hillary recently complained that Bernie is just an ideologue – he would never actually implement programs like free college tuition at state-funded schools, single-payer healthcare, and higher taxes on billionaires. Reflecting that Hillary had once promoted the single-payer idea, I told him that few politicians ever make good on their promises, but it’s more inspiring for supporters, especially young ones, when they aim high – at least while they’re still candidates – rather than staking out the conservative middle ground.

After we agreed to disagree, I walked away thinking about the similarities between the cigar-smoker and the Clinton guy. Like me, both of them are old white guys. The only real difference between the two of them is that the cigar-smoker, like most of his ilk, is incrementally more frightened by idle foreign terrorist threats and progressive policy changes than the Clinton guy. Unlike me, both of them embody the famous quote erroneously attributed to Winston Churchill: “If you’re not a liberal when you’re 25, you have no heart. If you’re not a conservative by the time you’re 35, you have no brain.” Churchillian scholars have pointed out that Winnie couldn’t have said this because his life described the opposite arc – he was a staunch conservative as a youth but a dedicated liberal later in life. I admire him more for this than for the actions he took to save England.

While most of the people who appear in Bernie’s new ad, All Come to Look for America, are young, his campaign stands for people who are young at heart, like Churchill at thirty-five. The co-authors of the song, Simon and Garfunkel, support Bernie as do Ben and Jerry of ice cream fame and countless others in their 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s. Some of what drives us to support Bernie probably comes from nostalgia. We yearn to return to the ‘60’s before the day the music died and our innocence was snatched from us by Ronald Reagan and his cynical dismantling of New Deal programs. So, while labeling someone a Socialist sparks fear in the hearts and minds of aging cigar-smokers, socialist-inspired programs remain the most popular ever enacted and give us something to build on for the future. So . . . Go Bernie!

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