My Turn: It isn’t about winning

  • By Rich Moniak
  • Friday, March 25, 2016 1:02am
  • Opinion

I’m predicting Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders will take Alaska’s Democrat caucus on Saturday. Most political analysts think it doesn’t matter though since Hillary Clinton has an insurmountable lead in the delegate count. However, Sanders should stay in the race to the end because winning isn’t as important as fighting for one’s cherished ideals.

Sanders’ campaign has been focused on ending what he calls a rigged economy. “The top one percent now owns more wealth than the bottom 90 percent” he said in a December 2010 filibuster against extending the Bush tax cuts. “That is not the foundation of a democratic society. That is the foundation for an oligarchic society. The rich get richer. The middle class shrinks. Poverty increases.”

That speech helped propel the relatively unknown democratic socialist onto the national stage. Now his surprisingly successful campaign has forced Clinton to sound like an economic populist, too. This month she spoke about a “new bargain for a new economy” in which she admitted that “part of the problem is a casino culture on Wall Street” and “no bank can be too big to fail and no executive too powerful to jail.”

Clinton’s partial makeover is reminiscent of Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign for the GOP nomination. He had to work to convince the GOP party base that he was a true conservative.

Well, Clinton isn’t a true liberal. Her record on economic issues is much closer to the political center. So are her foreign policy positions. But what concerns Sanders supporters is whether or not Clinton will continue their fight against the policies favoring big banks and Wall Street if she’s elected president.

In another country Sanders would be representing the interests of the working class in an entirely separate Democratic Socialist party. If environment stewardship is your passion, you’d probably have a legitimate Green Party candidate to back. On the right, there might be conservative Christian and Libertarian parties vying for your support.

Novelist Lionel Shriver captured the shortcomings of our two-party system in a New York Times opinion piece early last month. She described her primary political beliefs as libertarian and would have supported Sen. Rand Paul if he were still in the race. But his positions only “minimally” align with her values. She’s also pro-choice, endorses same-sex marriage, prefers single-payer health care and opposes school prayer. And she’s leaning Democrat without Paul in the race.

“The socially progressive economic conservative in America has long been disenfranchised,” Shriver wrote, and added, “A true foreign-policy conservative is equally at a loss.”

To some extent she’s describing a major a source of public apathy that’s reflected in voter turnout. In our self-proclaimed beacon of democracy, half us routinely sit out national elections. Compare that to the two-thirds to 90 percent of the public that votes in countries with four or more parties.

Factor in the anti-establishment mood powering Sanders, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz this year. Among the 50 percent who faithfully vote are many people clearly fed up with both parties. A lot of that has to do with the impact people are feeling from the policies they’ve implemented. But all three candidates are running on the theme that they’ll fight harder and longer for the causes they’ve taken up.

So for a moment, I want to reimagine the purpose of elections to be a demonstration of our most passionate set of beliefs. That lets me improvise on a philosophy espoused by the renowned poet Wendell Berry. He says what motivates us to protest shouldn’t be public success, which, when applied to elections, is pinning our hopes on our candidate winning. Rather, it should be to preserve the “qualities in one’s own heart and spirit that would be destroyed by acquiescence.”

In other words, regardless of whether a candidate like Sanders can win, we should be fighting for the ideals we cherish because it’s the right thing to do. Winning is secondary. That not only means we should stay in the political ring long after the votes have been tallied, it suggests that if we had more than two parties to keep the many different torches lit, more people might remain engaged in our democracy.

What the anti-establishment vote is really saying is that if government it broken, it’s the two parties that have done the damage. They’ve not just neglected the plight of too many Americans. They’ve never intended to be the champion of everything on their platforms. Win or lose, fighting for the many ideals left out is our never ending responsibility.

• Rich Moniak is a Juneau resident and retired civil engineer with more than 25 years of experience working in the public sector.

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