Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, though quick-witted, and still going strong at 73, is probably not going to be the next president. His humor strikes a chord of recognition with the old but it’s not enough.
After speaking for an hour in the hot sun in New Hampshire a man who was 89 raised a question. According to the New York Times, he said, “Would you raise the top marginal tax rate to over 90 percent as it was in the 1950s, when the middle class and the economy were doing so well?”
“You mean under the communist Dwight D. Eisenhower?” Mr. Sanders wittingly remarked about the popular American general, a Republican, who served two terms as president in the 1950s, and did not oppose high taxes.
The Ike joke would probably fall flat with most crowds today but Sanders, an independent, knew to whom he was speaking, about 50 seniors in a crowd of 200 who’d come out to hear the candidate in a backyard in Epping, N.H.
Some of his proposals may be fanciful in today’s world. He wants to do away with tuition at public universities and charge little or no tuition. The revenue would come from taxes on Wall Street. In the first half of the 20th century, the University of California, City College of New York and other top-rated schools charged little or no tuition.
The references Sanders cites plays well with some of the elderly, recalling an earlier time when government was generous and shouldered more responsibility for people in hard times, and providing a “strong safety net.”
The Times quoted 80-year-old Marlene Gilman, who whispered excitedly in Concord, N.H., as Sanders pledged to create more jobs through a trillion dollar public works program. For her, Sanders’ plan excitedly echoed Roosevelt’s New Deal.
The problem for candidates like Bernie Sanders is that the United States is, at heart, a conservative country. In bad times, like the Great Depression of the 1930s, a revolution was possible. People demanded action. For a few years, Roosevelt had a free hand to act, to improvise, to experiment. That is not the world we live in today.
Sanders has a compelling issue if voters care to listen. He told the paper, “The Democratic Party talks about needing the African-American vote, the Hispanic vote, the women’s vote, and all of that is right, but somehow, we forget about senior citizens. Well, poverty among seniors is growing in this country, too. I’m going to fight for expanded Social Security benefits for them and fight for their vote.”
He’s a long shot. But who knows? The televised debates may do him a lot of good