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Friday, October 30, 2015

Why I Love Bernie Sanders’ Ideas, But Hope He Won’t Be the Nominee

Five years ago Senator Bernie Sanders (I, Vt.) made an amazing speech on the Senate floor outlining how the rich have taken over the country and are ruining it for everyone else.  I thought it was a major wakeup call and so I recorded it and showed it to my friends.  It can be found on YouTube at   The speech will be familiar to those who have been listening to his current speeches as a candidate for the Democratic nomination, except since then things have gotten worse due to the Supreme Court’s outrageous Citizens United decision, which struck down limitations on how much the rich can spend on buying elections.  I endorse fully all of Senator Sanders’s remarks on the financial disparity existing in this country and how important it is to do something about it immediately.  With things as they are Congress is bought and paid for by the rich, and the current deadlock there will continue until this is no longer the case.  I also favor most, though not all, of Bernie’s other proposals on many topics.  He is smart, dedicated, and unwavering in pushing an agenda this country desperately needs to adopt.  I truly admire his logic, his intelligence, his commitment, and his talents at explaining the complexities of the mess we are in.

But it’s vital that we nominate a Democratic candidate for the presidency who will win the election and prevent a Republican from getting into the Oval Office.  A Republican president would partner with a Congress containing Republican majorities in both the House and Senate, driving a Republican agenda that gives what’s left of the country to the rich and does nothing to deal with the rest of the issues that need to be solved.  Every bit as important, the Supreme Court’s quasi-liberal majority hangs by two slender threads: the occasion support of Anthony Kennedy and the continued health of the four true liberals, one of whom, the wonderful Ruth Bader Ginsberg, is 82 and in delicate health.  One more conservative on the Court replacing her would give the foxes the key to the chicken coop, and out would go fair taxation, civil rights, and federal regulations controlling everything from safety to climate change to education to consumer protection (the list goes on and on).  This must not happen, and Democratic voters must make sure it doesn’t happen.

Justices Kennedy and Ginsberg at a State of  the Union Speech

Why won’t I support Bernie Sanders in spite of my admiration for his positions?  Let me give you a list.  Any one of these things alone would not be enough to keep him from being a strong candidate, but cumulatively they make his nomination a very, very risky proposition.  Here’s the list:

1.  He’s an announced Socialist.  Yes, I know that he’s a “democratic socialist,” a far cry from the basics of Marxism and communism, and that all the term really means is that he favors solving problems through the government, with his announced model being the Scandinavian countries.  But the term “socialist” has been mingled with “communist” for so long that to many voters subtle distinctions are lost and what they hear leads to images in their heads like this:

Even if the voters learn, in large numbers, what socialism is, they then will be told by the opposition that funding socialized programs will cost them a great deal more in taxes.  Based on 2012 rates this is true.  While the USA then had a top marginal tax rate of 41%, Denmark was at 60.2%, Sweden 56.6%, the Netherlands 52%, Finland 49% (although, surprisingly Norway was lower than the USA at 40%!).  Bernie will tell voters that this rise in taxes can be paid for by taxing the wealthy and (at last!) making them pay their fair share, but, alas, that depends on the cooperation of Congress (at which point we all laugh loudly).  I know that Bernie’s supporters are legion and strongly want this issue to go away, and they have clever ways of trying to help:

            Humor aside, electing a socialist President of the United States is no small step.  It is a major change—Bernie himself is calling for a “revolution”—and lots of voters will stick to the devil they know rather than the devil they don’t. 

2.  He’s too old.  If elected, President Bernard Sanders will be take the oath of office in January of 2017, the year that he turns 76, making him the oldest person ever to enter that high position (Reagan was 69, turning 70 shortly after being sworn in to his first term).  Bernie’s in good physical and mental shape now (as far as I know), but I myself am 72 and I know that septuagenarians like us can fall apart fast, we get set in our ways, we have more and more difficulty suffering fools gladly (an issue, see below, that Bernie already has major problems with), and the pressures of the toughest job in the world can land stronger and much younger leaders in major trouble with matters both mental and physical.  Ask any septuagenarian you know if this isn’t of some concern to them and most will say that it at least gives them pause.

3.  Bernie doesn’t play well with others.  In an article entitled “The Trouble With Bernie,”, author Mickey Hirten, who agrees with almost all of Bernie’s positions on the issues, says that he would make an awful president based on what those Vermonters who’ve had to work with him in the past experienced.  Hirten was the editor of the Burlington Free Press when Bernie lived in Burlington and was the state’s only congressman.  He dealt with him on a regular basis.  Hirten comments:

Considering that the Free Press' editorial positions were very liberal, reflecting the nature of a very liberal Vermont community, one might think that meetings with Sanders were cordial, even celebratory.

They weren't. Sanders was always full of himself: pious, self-righteous and utterly humorless. Burdened by the cross of his socialist crusade, he was a scold whose counter-culture moralizing appealed to the state's liberal sensibilities as well as its conservatives, who embraced his gun ownership stance, his defense of individual rights, an antipathy toward big corporations and, generally speaking, his stick-it-to-them approach to politics.

Hirten quotes others who know Bernie.  Chris Graf, long-time Associated Press bureau chief in Vermont: “Bernie has no social skills, no sense of humor, and he's quick to boil over. He's the most unpolitical person in politics I've ever come across.”  A Vermont weekly spoke with Bernie’s former staff members and reported that “They characterize the senator as rude, short-tempered and, occasionally, downright hostile. Though Sanders has spent much of his life fighting for working Vermonters, they say he mistreats the people working for him.”  Steve Rosenfeld, Sanders' press secretary during his 1990 House campaign, is quoted as adding: “At his worst, he falls prey to his own emotions, is unable to practice what he preaches (though he would believe otherwise) and exudes a contempt for those he derides, including his staff.”

In a recent Time Magazine column political writer Joe Klein had this to say concerning Bernie’s comment about Hillary’s “damn emails” during the first Democratic debate:

If you kept the Brooklyn accent and replaced “emails” with “bunions” or “heartburn” or “kishkes” (Yiddish for intestines), you could have been eavesdropping at any given Thanksgiving dinner of my youth.  All Jews have an Uncle Bernie . . . . [H]e was a humorless Old Testament Jeremiah, not the sort of person you’d want holding forth in your living room for State of the Union addresses or declarations of war.  He barely smiled.

4.  He has no sense of humor.  As Klein just noted and others quoted above agreed, Bernie has no sense of humor.  His attempts at showing otherwise, appearing on Ellen DeGeneres’s TV show and trying hard to joke, are painful to watch.  Imagine a President of the United States who grumps his way through his job and you see how such an attitude can be a major flaw.  Frankly, this is a deal breaker for me.

5.  He’s Jewish.  I think the American People are ready, or at least almost ready, for a Jewish president, but he/she had better be personable and charming or it’s a no go.  Bernie is not that attractive candidate (which is a shame given that Jews typically have a terrific sense of humor).  Sadly, there is still much anti-Semitism in this country, probably more than even polls can reveal.  In a close race the percentage of the population who would refuse to pull the lever simply because a qualified candidate is Jewish might be enough to swing the election the other way.

Conclusion.  None of these things, in and of themselves, would necessarily keep Bernie Sanders from being the best candidate in 2016 for President of the United States of America, but combined they are a dangerous political mixture.  If the Republicans nominate one of the clowns currently at the top of their polls (Trump, Carson, Cruz) Bernie would have a so-so chance at winning, but in all likelihood in the end the Republicans will come up with a more palatable choice (Rubio, Jeb, Kasich), and Bernie would be in major trouble. 

Hillary Clinton (sigh) has flaws, but she is obviously qualified—from day one—to be President of the United States, and is very electable.  She’s highly likely to stomp anyone the Republicans nominate.  Given the vital importance of keeping a Democrat in the presidency at least until there are more liberals on the Supreme Court and Congress is better balanced, it’s my opinion that making Hillary the nominee is the smart thing to do.  I wish Bernie Sanders well, but he’s not the best candidate for the job.

Related Posts:

“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013,

“Ohio To Put Guns in Baby Strollers,” June 17, 2012;

 “Supreme Court Overturns Roe v. Wade,” August 17, 2012;

“Killing the Filibuster and Letting the Majority Rule in the Senate,” December 31, 2013;

“How To Get Rid of Your Student Loans,” June 13, 2013;

“The Shame of Republicans in Congress,” March 23, 2015;

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

When Good Things Happen All at Once

We’re very much aware of periods in our lives when troubles mount and we’re overwhelmed by miserable events which pile one atop another.  As Shakespeare says, “When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions!”  We are less likely to take note of the opposite: those rare times when goods things also come in “battalions.”  I’m experiencing that now, and . . . well . . . it’s wonderful!  

There was a time in the early 80s up through the mid-90s when I was much involved in gay rights here in Columbus, Ohio.  I’ve written about this in other posts [see “The History of Gay Rights in Columbus,” ], and won’t go into detail here except to say that I was one of the people who helped found Stonewall Columbus, our LGBT organization, in 1981, and am proud of the work we all did in those days to make our city known as one of the most gay-friendly spots in the country.  Our gay pride parades started in 1982 with 825 marchers, and this past year around 400,000 participated (making it second in size in the Midwest only to Chicago).  Nowadays I am one of the old fogies who younger gay rights advocates sometime trot out as an exhibit, but in the past couple of weeks much of this history has come to life again due to a rare visit to Columbus by the wonderful Rhonda Rivera (these days she lives in Albuquerque). 

Rhonda is the reason that Columbus is so gay accepting.  She joined the Ohio State Law School faculty in the summer of 1976, and since we were the only two out gay faculty members we quickly became friends.  When Stonewall Columbus (then called “Stonewall Union”) began, I immediately asked her to help us, and she not only did that: she took over.  Rhonda is a force to be reckoned with: she bullied the law school into accepting gay rights, and then did the same to the governor, the mayor, and the President of The Ohio State University.  She organized everything, including a major response to the AIDS crisis when it came to Columbus.  While doing this she also made herself a power on the national scene.  I once told the San Francisco Chronicle that her name should be spelled “RHONDA!!!” [all caps, three exclamation marks].  We were on radio and TV shows together and with others such as the great Craig Covey, and because I always did what Rhonda told me to do I achieved some renown just by being in her shadow.

When she decided to pay us a visit this month at one point she stayed with my husband David Vargo and me.  Stonewall Columbus is creating a video series documenting its history, and they arranged a session in which they videoed an interview with Rhonda, then one with me, and then one with the two of us together.  It was wonderful reliving those fascinating (and sometimes scary) days, and I was quick to point out on camera that Rhonda was the reason that in Columbus gay men and lesbians have always gotten along so very well.

When I retired from fulltime teaching in 2004 I went back to doing things that I had done in my youth: playing tournament bridge, writing fiction, and acting and directing in theaters.  This has been a banner year for all of those activities.  I’ve written about the theater often in my blog, but let me mention recent developments in the other two areas.

I have now published two thrillers: “Imaginary Friend” (2008) and “Corbin Milk” (2014).  “Imaginary Friend” has been doing quite well, and recently I took out an ad in Free Inquiry Magazine, the leading journal for atheists, to publicize both.  This has led to a nice increase in sales.  I originally wrote “Imaginary Friend” because I was annoyed at how casually people will discriminate against atheists, and I wanted to show why that is wrong (even for devout believers).  To make the message more palatable I delivered it in the form of a thriller.  The book begins with an explosion at halftime at Ohio Stadium during a football game, and things spin out from there in ways that are both exciting and even funny, until we reach an ending reviewers on Amazon all thought was a major surprise.  Two weeks ago the Humanist Community of Central Ohio asked me to do another book reading from “Imaginary Friend” (it was the second book reading for them, the first being in 2011).  It was fun to read a couple of selections from the book (about a half hour’s worth) to an attentive audience that included my husband.  Even better, HCCO made a video of my reading, and posted it on YouTube, where, if interested, you can find it at   

I started playing bridge when I was in high school, and then when I married Charleyne Adolay in 1971 she and I played tournament bridge regularly.  A major goal of bridge players is to become a “Life Master,” which typically takes a long time since you must win points in tournaments: black points for club games, silver and red for some tournaments, and gold points for the biggest.  These points are not worth anything other than the honor of having earned them, but are a big deal among bridge players.  Since a player must travel a lot to play in some of the top tournaments it’s been estimated that becoming a Life Master costs around $10,000.  I have now earned all the points (over 350) I need except 1.83 gold points, and in two weeks I will play in a tournament in Louisville with my regular partner Lewis Rakocy, where I am almost certain to pick up more than enough points to finally become a Life Master.  This is the sort of thing that sounds crazy to those not involved in bridge, but I’m very pleased, and I called Charleyne recently to tell her about it.  She was thrilled for me (she is no longer playing in tournaments, but she and her husband are playing occasionally at bridge centers).

With Lew Rakocy (far right) at tournament

I’ve lamented on this blog before about the tragedy of being a Chicago Cubs fan, but I can proudly say that this year, to the surprise of all, they have made it into the postseason, and began well by eliminating the two teams—St. Louis and Pittsburgh—that had the best records in baseball (the Cubs had the third best record)!  I have been cheering mightily at each televised game, scaring the cats.

[Sherman's Lagoon; click to enlarge]

David and Abby

Speaking of cats, there is another happy development: David and I have adopted another rescue cat, this one a four year old totally black female (a “Halloween cat,” my nephew Adam pointed out), named Abby.  Our other two cats, Barney and Mama, are suspicious, but things are going well, and Abby’s a happy addition to our home.

Last Saturday I went with David to Ohio Stadium to see the Buckeyes beat Penn State, and everyone wore black because the uniforms of the players were (mysteriously) black just for this one night.  David had never seen a live football game, and it was a thrill for me to return to the Horseshoe (I’d had season tickets for twenty years when I was a fulltime member of the faculty, working my seats to three rows up on the 45 yard line) and to once again experience all the rituals that make being a Buckeye so special.

A Dark Night at the 'Shoe

Now add to everything listed above this: I have a wonderful husband, great friends, and am glad that my health is excellent as I reach the sixth anniversary of my heart transplant (November 23, 2009).  I smilingly announce that at this particular point in my life I can much appreciate that I’m a lucky and happy man.  I wish all my readers similar felicitous periods in their own lives.

Related Posts:

“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013,
The Aging Gay Rights Activist," March 24, 2010,
“Just Published: My Novel ‘Corbin Milk,’ a Thriller Detailing the Adventures of a Gay CIA Agent,” April 18, 2014,
“The World’s Greatest Game [Bridge] Needs You,” June 20, 2011,
Stepping on Cats,” February 8, 2012,
“My Sad Tale of Being a Chicago Cubs Fan,” May 27, 2015;
“About That Heart Transplant,” January 24, 2010,