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Bernie Channels Ghandi

Bernie Channels Gandhi—Robert Nelson

Democratic presidential candidate refuses to take Bill and Hillary’s campaign hate bait

The prelude to last week’s New Hampshire Democratic presidential primary provided remarkable insight into the character and demeanor of the winner, Sen. Bernie Sanders.

The Setup

Prior to the election, Sanders had been asked if he had ever been arrested. He replied that as an undergraduate student he was apprehended in 1962 for sitting in at a protest against racially segregated housing owned by the University of Chicago. The demonstration was organized by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE).

Sanders’ early history with CORE may speak volumes about his temperament. It likely explains his apparently mild response to vituperative insults from the Clinton campaign a few days before New Hampshire voters went to the polls. This could be a harbinger of Sanders’ conduct should he be elected president.

The Insult

Two days before the New Hampshire voting, CNN reported Bill Clinton called Sanders’ supporters “sexist” and “profane” because they did not support Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid. Sanders responded during an appearance on “The View.” He calmly said, “I am disappointed in President Clinton.”

Bill Clinton’s comments paralleled attacks from other Hillary Clinton supporters. Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright, referring to women who support Sanders, said, “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t support each other,” The Guardian reported. Concurrently, 1960s feminist leader Gloria Steinem derided young women who supported Sanders, saying, “…when you’re young you’re thinking, ‘Where are the boys?’ The boys are with Bernie,” according to a recent article in The Nation.

Secretary Clinton’s supporters were spoiling for a fight. Their remarks could easily have elicited anger from Sanders. A heated donnybrook might have followed that would detract from the content of the overall debate. Sanders merely expressed disappointment. He did not take the Clinton campaign’s bait.

The Response

Sanders’ response was clearly consistent with CORE’s nonviolent tradition. In the 1960s a hallmark of CORE’s direct-action demonstrations was a nonviolent response to all provocations. Before any action CORE volunteers were obligated to undergo extensive training. As they prepared for actions such as a lunch counter sit-in, CORE volunteers were seated on lunch counter stools. They were called harsh racial epithets as cigar smoke was blown into their faces. Hot and cold drinks were poured over their heads. Throughout the entire training session, the volunteers were to respond calmly, without violence.

Sanders, like many other CORE volunteers, may have adopted nonviolent characteristics that have persisted throughout his life.

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The Backstory

CORE was founded in 1942 by students at the University of Chicago. It is credited with providing the basis for the civil rights movement’s nonviolent philosophy that was later applied by Martin Luther King Jr. Nonviolence was the foundation of the legendary Montgomery bus boycott.

The CORE founders were motivated by the approach that Mahatma Gandhi used in his efforts to liberate South Asia from British imperialism. The British perpetrated horrid acts of violence while suppressing South Asians. Gandhi’s followers responded peacefully. Ultimately, the British Empire disgraced itself before all of humanity. Britain was shamed. India and Pakistan became independent from the Crown.

The essence of the nonviolent philosophy is that the initiator of the violence, when faced with a nonviolent response, creates a self-inflicted wound. The perpetrator can’t reconcile their violence with their conscience.

The Result

In the immediate aftermath of the Clinton campaign antics, public disgust was clear. The New York Times, a supporter of Clinton, editorialized on Feb. 10, “… Mrs. Clinton’s team, notably her husband and some prominent supporters, were making tone-deaf attacks on Mr. Sanders, who has proved a tougher opponent than they expected.” The Times’ columnist Frank Bruno, in response to Steinem, quipped, “Democratic Socialism is a known aphrodisiac; the oyster of politics. There’s nothing like the denunciations of oligarchs to put you in the mood.”

Sen. Sanders, using a non-rancorous response to apparently calculated, coordinated acts of rancor, proved that Gandhi, King and the founders of CORE were right. The instigators of hostility discredited themselves.

The Gandhi approach found its final validation in the results of the election itself. Sanders defeated Clinton by a 22 percent margin.

Cleveland political consultant Jeff Rusnak noted that Sanders’ win was the second largest spread in New Hampshire primary history, surpassed only by John F. Kennedy’s 1960 primary defeat of a politically unknown businessman.

In conventional politics, a 10 percent win is called a “landslide.” A 15 percent win is called a “rout.” Leo Jennings, a Youngstown, Ohio-based Democratic political strategist, has coined a new term to describe Sanders’ margin of victory. He calls it a “CAK”: Complete Ass Kicking.

Gandhi was once asked, “What do you think of Western civilization?” He replied, “I think it would be a good idea.” Sanders might give the same answer when asked his opinion of the Democratic Party. n


Robert M. Nelson
Pasadena Weekly