Why It’s Different This Time


I have been a Bernie man right along. He is one of the few politicians I have ever trusted. His positions have remained consistent for 30 years. He is who he says he is. And he believes in what he says he believes in. But I woke up at 5 this morning in what amounted to a cold sweat. Because it is looking ever more possible that he may win the Democratic nomination. And that scares me.

I’m very afraid that the Democrats might lose this election. Bernie would be the most socially and economically progressive candidate to win the nomination in my lifetime. I remember what happened to George McGovern, the last real progressive to head the Democratic ticket. I remember how Eugene McCarthy captured the anti-war youth vote in ’68 before his RFK entered the race and McCarthy’s campaign flamed out. I also remember what happened when the Republicans nominated an extreme candidate of their own, Barry Goldwater. The Dems crushed him. In national politics, the conventional wisdom says that the middle rules. That’s why candidates always move toward the middle once they win the nomination. Maybe voting for Hillary, someone who is sure to do that, is the prudent course to take. That was the thought that interrupted my dreams this morning.

But thinking back to those other races, Goldwater and McGovern, I remember that they were running against middle-of-the-road candidates like LBJ and Richard Nixon, and that what is going on in this cycle is something entirely different. If the GOP were to nominate Jeb Bush, I would be very worried about Bernie topping the Dem ticket (even though the supposedly moderate Bush is only slightly less conservative than the most ardent Tea Partiers in the new-age radicalized Republican party). But I don’t think Jeb has much of a shot. Neither does Kasich. Even Rubio seems like a long shot. Right now it seems most likely that the Repugs are going to nominate either Donald Trump or Ted Cruz, both of whom reflect extremist views at the opposite end of the spectrum from Bernie.

What is happening in American politics right now is that the middle, what used to be called the mainstream, is shrinking in reaction to the wealth disparity. The majority of Americans whose lives seem to be increasingly difficult are gravitating to extreme solutions to combat their feelings of powerlessness and discontent. They are sick of the same old same old. They want real change. I know I certainly do. That is why I think this election is different. We thought we were going to get Bush vs. Clinton 3.0 at the beginning of the season. Now it’s looking like it might be Trump-Sanders or Cruz-Sanders, and that is a reflection of the angry mood and desire for change that has seized the nation.

So instead of giving in to my fears about Bernie and his electability, I am choosing to embrace instead the idea that this is an incredibly rare opportunity for real change. Yes, it is risky. We could wind up with Donald Trump or Ted Cruz as the president. But I think it’s time to roll the dice, to see what happens if, instead of doing the same thing we always do–the working definition of insanity–we take a chance and shake things up. It’s possible, even likely, that if Bernie were to win (and doesn’t that still seem like a pipe dream?), he would find it impossible to implement any of his policies. But damn it, just this once, just one time in my life, I want to see what would happen if someone like him were to get the chance.

Because I really believe that if we don’t have a peaceful revolution, which is what the election of someone like Bernie would represent, there will be a violent one, or else a state of fascism headed by a demagogue like Trump or Cruz.


By Peter Alson

Peter Alson is a writer and editor. Among his published books are the memoirs Confessions of an Ivy League Bookie and Take Me to the River. He's also co-authored (with Nolan Dalla) One of a Kind, a biography of poker champion Stuey Ungar, and Atlas, the autobiography of boxing trainer and commentator Teddy Atlas. His articles have appeared in many national magazines, including Esquire, Playboy and The New York Times. He has worked as a writer for People magazine, and as an editor for Playboy and for Hachette Publications. He has written screenplays for Paramount and various independent producers, and his TV pilot, Nicky’s Game, starring John Ventimiglia and Burt Young, appeared in the New York Television Festival and the Vail Film Festival. As a poker player he has finished in the money numerous times in the World Series of Poker and other events. He lives in New York with his wife, Alice, and their daughter, Eden.

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