Bernie Sanders (Reuters/Jim Young)

Bernie Sanders can still win: As Hillary and Trump cheerlead for capitalism, here's how to reach the 99 percent

There's an easy way for Sanders to broaden his base and even win the presidency. Here's what he should do

Michael Lerner
October 16, 2015 1:55PM (UTC)

Dear Bernie,

You could​ still​ win the nomination and the presidency if you could stop talking and start listening to an additional and important potential constituency​--the spiritual and religious progressives who know that​ capitalism has caused a major​ psychological and​ spiritual crisis in the lives of people that neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump, cheerleaders for capitalism, can possibly speak to.


To widen your base, you need to articulate a compelling moral vision of the society you want to see, not defined negatively in terms of what’s wrong with the current distribution of wealth (though you deserve lots of credit for forcing that into the agenda of the Democratic Party). Instead, paint a positive picture of a world based on mutual caring, solidarity and generosity and show how all your policies arise out from that worldview.

​If you can show people that your socialism ia about caring and generosity, you will​ redefine the popular image of socialists and leftists and ​speak to a hunger that has led many people into religious and spiritual communities.

When Hillary spoke with dewy-eyes about the glories of capitalism at the Democratic Presidential debate Tuesday night, you should have been ready with quotes from the Pope’s recent ​environmental ​encyclical in which he shows that the values of capitalism are at the root of economic inequality and environmental destruction. He is the world's most popular spiritual progressive​s, and while we may push him to change the Catholic Church to support birth control and champion women's equality, identifying with his critique of capitalism and his call for revolutionary transformations of our global economic system to save the environment would, for many Catholics, take the sting out of the charge that you are a socialist. ​


​When asked about foreign policy and whether you would be ready to commit American troops, you could have given the reply that the human race has sought homeland security for the past ten thousand years using a “strategy of force and domination” and it hasn’t worked—it’s time to shift to “a strategy of generosity” based in part on the Global Marshall Plan proposal developed by the Network of Spiritual Progressives at , a resolution in support of which has been introduced into Congress several times by the  African American congressman Keith Ellison and endorsed by many other liberal and progressive members of the House.

In fact, you could still hit a homerun in the next debate if you would focus on the devastating family-destroying and community-weakening ethos of individualism, materialism, selfishness, and “looking out for number one” that has been fostered by the capitalist marketplace to which Hillary Clinton looks for salvation. Thrust into the dog-eat-dog reality of this competitive marketplace, tens of millions of Americans feel that they have no choice but to develop the skills of manipulation and domination and treating others as objects (rather than as “created in the image of God” or fundamentally deserving of respect) to be used to advance their own self-interest.

​M​ost Americans hate this mind-warping aspect of capitalist values and would respond enthusiastically to a Democrat who could simultaneously challenge the economic and political inequities of American society while giving equal attention to how capitalism fosters bad values that are antithetical to building solidarity in communities and undermining of love in personal relationships.


You might also adopt the Network of Spiritual Progressives' central message: ​America needs a “New Bottom Line,” so that our government, corporations, education system, health care system, legal system, economic system and media are judged efficient, rational and productive to the extent that they maximize our human capacities to be loving and caring, generous and kind, environmentally and ethically sensitive, responding to other human beings as embodiments of the sacred and not just for what they can do for us, and responding to the earth not solely as a resource which we might be able to turn into a commodity to sell, but as our precious mother who evokes awe, wonder and radical amazement. Help people see that by these criteria, capitalist institutions are remarkably inefficient, unproductive, and irrational.

Put this together with your powerful economic critique and you’ve got a winning message—a socialist who is also a spiritual progressive (implicitly distancing from the Left-wing religio-phobia that is experienced by many Americans as an elitist assault on one area in their lives where they don’t have to compete to be seen as valuable). Without this compassionate vision, you may sound like a cranky survivor of the New Deal whose message will only appeal to a small percentage of the many Americans who are your potential constituency if you could talk to the inner pain that they suffer from being subjected to the immorality and consciousness twisting logic of capitalist values.

Michael Lerner

Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of Tikkun Magazine and author of "Embracing Israel/Palestine" and the forthcoming "Revolutionary Love: A Political Manifesto to Heal and Transform the World." (University of California Press, October 2019).

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