I sometimes surprise myself when I hear myself say I'm not a Bernie Sanders supporter. I should be his Number One Fan.
I've been a leftie all my adult life. I marched. I chanted. I threw my fist in the air. My anti-war convictions nearly me a couple years in prison. I dreamed of revolution. Voted for George McGovern. Lived communally. Boycotted products that abused migrant labor. Defied institutional and corporate incursions into my life. Denounced "the establishment" and all the evil that it encompassed and encouraged.
Then, I turned 23.
I look at Bernie Sanders today, and all the familiar, righteous left-wing beliefs he's built his campaign around and I wonder: did he ever turn 23 the way I did? The way I thought everyone had to do?
Better yet, has he turned 23 yet?
At that age, I'd begun raising a family. Though I hated to admit it, I needed a job much more than I needed a revolution. I finally got a job shoveling shit at the Buffalo Zoo. From there, my life has gotten inestimably better. I'm a 66-year-old father of two, grandfather of four, a retiree from a once-great metropolitan newspaper who routinely pleaded guilty to being a left-leaning lackey of the lamestream press. Someone asked me a few years ago where I stood politically and found myself saying I was a wild-eyed moderate.
These days, I look at my friends who support Bernie Sanders and the millions of 20-somethings who have made him a college-campus rock star and I know for certain that I'm going to vote for Hillary Clinton in November, a woman with whom I have almost nothing in common.
This disconnect pains me, because I like Bernie. I don't know anyone who doesn't. He's your favorite uncle at Thanksgiving, the guy who comes to your rescue when you mix it up with your hopelessly backward Republican cousin. I look at him and what he stands for and the 22-year-old rabble rouser in my soul whispers to me "he's your man, man. He's the guy you should be right now, the guy you wanted be when I grew up."
And that's the problem. I grew up. I changed, though I didn't particularly want to. By my early 20s, which is to say the country's early 1970s, I found it impossible to match my left-wing politico / cultural rhetoric with my daily life. For all my passionate beliefs, I had to compromise with the way things were. I had to pay the rent (after my fellow communards split for the Coast). I needed a credit card (couldn't buy a car on shit wages) from a bank (red-lining profiteers of my neighborhood). I even had to get a haircut (No hippies need apply).
Things only got worse -- that is, more conventional -- from there.
I look at Bernie and I hear him talking the way I used to talk: passionately, about great and necessary needs, but with a decided disinterest in detail. National health care. Free college education. Even a "political revolution." Men and women I respect tell me that's what they like about the guy -- he's walking it like he's been talking it all his life. And that appears to be the case. But for the life of me I can't imagine how he does it, any more than I can imagine how he intends to single-handedly bring about a revolution of any sort.
Does anyone else find it kind of disturbing that he's offering the same answers to the problems of the world that he was offering a half-century ago? Or that a wet-behind-the-ears guy like me was spouting at the same time?
The process I'm trying to describe, whether you call it getting old, selling out or growing up, is something I've found to be inescapable. I've changed in ways I'm happy with and ways I couldn't escape, for all my political thoughts and beliefs.
Bernie's campaign is about changing the very system I used to condemn. But, perhaps because I'm more a part of it than I was in my scufflin' days, and perhaps because I prefer to think age has at least seasoned me in a useful and practical way, I don't look for -- don't even want -- a political revolution. At least not without a very definite game plan.
Bernie appears to have escaped what looks to me like an imperative. I look at him and despite our similarities, I see someone who's not like me at all. He's like the me that used to be. And if it makes my rabble-rousing ghost want to cheer, it makes my flesh-and-blood self shudder at the thought of his possible ascendance.