Amidst the cacophony of miscellaneous presidential campaigns, one name rings out against the din with a building clarity that sharpens every day.
It should come as no surprise that such candidate as Senator Sanders and his unique policies would resonate so intensely in today’s political landscape. Since the beginning of his sixteen year long seat in the House of Representatives for Vermont and subsequent ongoing position in the Senate, Sanders has consistently made various inequalities in the United States the focus of his political career. Within the context of today’s increasing awareness and activism about racial, economic, and other disparities, Bernie’s popularity makes perfect sense. His upbringing as the son of a Polish Jewish immigrant in New York City living paycheck to paycheck has made its mark on Senator Sanders’ policies. More than any other topic, Bernie has built the foundation of his platform on the broad issue of inequality, and this consideration shines through in every stance he holds.
Senator Sanders recognizes the urgent need for economic reform across numerous topics – the ever-widening income gap and shriveling middle class, stagnant lower and middle class salaries, the rampant problematic practices of Wall Street, and increasingly obscene higher education expenses – again, always formulating policy with the desire for increased equality in mind.
Plenty of metrics point toward an unhealthy disparity of wealth distribution in America. For example, the last time that the top one tenth of one percent of American households made as high of a percentage of the total national income, 23%, was in 1928, a short year before a massive collapse of the American economy. The top 1% even take the majority of all new income in the United States, owning 58% of this income in comparison to the entire lower 99%’s mere 42% cut. In addition, the same top 0.1% of families own about as much total wealth as the entire bottom 90% of all families, another situation mirrored in the years immediately preceding the Great Depression. The real median income of the males of today compared to those in 1970 has even dropped by nearly $800, and women face an even bleaker loss of $1300 in real income. Most damningly, the United States has the second highest child poverty rate among any industrialized nation at 32.2% of children living beneath the poverty line; only Romania manages to best our complacency toward childhood poverty. Finland reigns supreme at a mere 5.3% of children living in poverty.
Clearly, the United States could be doing a fair bit better at distributing its vast wealth, and Bernie pledges to tackle the issue through various means, including closing loopholes which allow corporations to circumvent taxes, new and raised taxes on the plutocratic class, raising the federal minimum wage to $15, trade policies more conducive to domestic job creation, fighting against wage inequality through the Paycheck Fairness Act, making a college education more affordable to those who need it, expanded social security, and increased mandatory employee benefits. In addition, Senator Sanders aims to disassemble institutions deemed “too big to fail” and to punish the behavior of Wall Street that is widely agreed to have caused the 2007 financial crisis, the financial crisis brought about by the same deregulations against which Bernie had warned as early as eight years prior.
Social inequality also plays a central role Bernie’s policies, primarily regarding civil rights along gender, racial, and sexual lines. In fact, Sanders ranks higher than his primary competitor, Hillary Clinton, in pro-civil rights, pro-LGBT rights, and pro-affirmative action voting history by the ACLU, HRC, and NAACP respectively.
In a time when multiple racially tinged events flare up across America, a narrative about racism has re-entered the consciousness of everyday citizens. Physical violence and institutional transgressions take center stage in this renewed attention. Countless studies affirm a racial bias against minorities plays a role in their historically higher rates of being arrested and the use of force during said arrests, and high profile cases of what many people believe to be police brutality have served to massively popularize the awareness of these facts. Furthermore, voter restrictions disproportionately target minority communities, thereby stifling the voices of these communities in the legal process. Finally, racial minorities face major economic disadvantages which serve to perpetuate the cycle of poverty.
Sanders plans to address all of these issues as directly as possible through the implementation of several key policies. He intends to address the issue of state sanctioned violence through the demilitarization of police forces, a more diverse police force, revamped law enforcement training, more accountable officers through mandatory body cameras, and more scrutinous and transparent internal investigations of officers making controversial decisions. By putting an end to the legislation which harms minority communities to vote and establishing Election Day as a mechanism to increase voter turnout across the board, he aims to move away from an America with a largely silenced ethnic minority. Lastly, a free college education in addition to efforts to minimize unemployment in low income areas, greater wage equality, and affordable child care would effectively level the playing field of racial minorities and allow them the upward mobility which all people deserve.
Minorities and disadvantaged groups are not the only targets for additional support; Senator Sanders has multiple objectives which would ultimately improve the quality of life for all Americans. As a committed supporter of universal healthcare, Sanders believes that a large scale reform of the medical industry would benefit the entire society. He has also sponsored legislation to support such social programs as Meals on Wheels, a program near and dear to us at Jesuit Dallas, citing both a moral and economic obligation, as a healthier populace incurs fewer resource intensive hospitalizations. In addition, a public with access to free higher education inevitably produces more productive, healthier, and happier constituency. Further protection of the environment and global resources, as well as investment into sustainable technologies would also serve to produce a more favorable and secure future for the generations to come, both on American soil and abroad. Finally, Bernie’s staunch opposition to the presence of big money in politics marks a decidedly positive difference between him and his rivals, and his proposed legislation and other actions to overturn the toxic Citizens United ruling would bring transparency back into the world of political campaigning, leading to a more democratic and less plutocratic election process.
Perhaps a pattern has begun to emerge, one which those familiar with Catholic social teaching may recognize more readily. Huge swaths of Sanders’ domestic policies almost perfectly mirror those themes outlined within the Church’s social doctrine. For example, his massive emphasis on wealth and income equality form an analogous pair with the Vatican’s array of documents proclaiming the necessity for workers to be treated with the utmost dignity, and that the economy must ultimately serve the worker first, not vice versa, i.e., workers deserve the right to work, a living wage, and the right to unionize. Furthermore, his affinity for environmental protection and the development of clean energy also imitates Catholic social teaching’s call to be stewards of creation – to care for the world and all its inhabitants as a gift from God, a gift intended to be sustained, not consumed and exploited.
In fact, despite being Jewish, Senator Sanders’ social media accounts are teeming with quotations from the Supreme Pontiff on countless topics such as the fallacy of trickle down economics, inequality as the source of all evil, the evils of exploitative economics, the idolization of wealth, and the necessity of wealth redistribution. While other presidential candidates, including several of whom declare themselves Catholic, may also name-drop the Holy Father to conjure political traction in important demographics, Sanders alone follows these gestures through every aspect of his political career – his congressional voting history, his writings, his congressional and public speeches, and even his campaign promises. In short, Bernie is easily the most palatable candidate to anyone who full-heartedly embrace the Church’s social teachings.