Today on The Attitude, Arnie had politician and old friend Bernie Sanders join in a discussion of the state of modern national (and international) politics. Sanders (I-VT) is the junior senator of Vermont with two notable distinctions- he is the longest serving independent member of Congress in American history and he is the only Congressperson to have publicly described himself as a socialist. I believe Sanders to be one of the most important figures in American politics for one reason in particular- he is willing to discuss the issues that most politicians overlook. For the purpose of the op ed, let’s call these issues what they really are – distractions.
As Arnie highlights in the show, mainstream media, whether it be Fox News or NPR, tends to focus on these same political “issues.” Recently, some of these trending distractions have been inescapable- think ebola or ISIS. Omnipresent, blown out of proportion, covered to death, and only relevant when it begins to affect Americans (neither ebola nor ISIS are new). Mainstream media will cover corporate greed or “Big Money” (PACs, Koch Brothers, Citizens United v. FEC) but is not interested in engaging in discussions of corporate media and its effects. The reasoning for such is obvious. However, covering these distractions breeds a culture of fear in the American people that allows important issues to fall by the wayside until the next distraction is created.
But let’s talk less about the distractions (you can go to any major news site to read more about those) and talk more about the issues Senator Sanders discussed on today’s show. Sanders discussed the issue of substantially increasing productivity (thanks in part to the technological revolution) with relative wages decreasing. Today’s kids are the first generation in history who will likely have a lower standard of living than their parents. The American people are not interested in the legislation that cuts “entitlement spending” (read: social services such as welfare, social security, medicaid, and federal financial aid) in favor of lowering the tax burden to the wealthy (read: not most Americans). However, who can blame young people or impoverished people for not voting or participating in a political process that ignores them? Who can blame them for feeling disenchanted with American politics?
Sanders did an excellent job of enumerating the issues that the media paints as important and pressing versus the issues- mainly economic- we should be focusing on right now. However, he does not make any clear suggestions for addressing some of these issues instead of the distractions in the media around us. Though he does wax poetic about political systems like that of Denmark where 85% of the population votes and everyone receives free healthcare and free college education, I think it is important to not romanticize Denmark (or many of the interchangeable nations that serve as tokens for ideas of what America could/should be). Denmark is not America- it is smaller and it is considerably more homogenous. The solution for Denmark may be participation in the political system, but what worked in Denmark cannot be supplanted in America and expected to yield the same results. (Additionally, Denmark’s homogeny yields its own unique problems.)
So what is the solution to fostering a national conversation on “issues” rather than “distractions”? How do we include more disenfranchised groups in the political system that they lost faith in long ago (and with just cause)? Hopefully these are issues Senator Sanders will continue to promote and discuss, and others will follow suit.
Alexis Scargill is an undergrad at the University of New Hampshire and loyal WNHN intern.