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The question of whether 79-year-old Joe Biden will face a Democratic challenger if he decides to run for a second presidential term remains a contentious one. But Maryland socialist, Jerome Segal, has no such qualms.

Segal, just a year Biden’s junior at a spry 78, became the first Democratic challenger for the office of US President when he announced his run in July. His decision came just days after he lost his bid to become the Democratic nominee for governor of his home state of Maryland, finishing second-to-last in the primary with a little over 4,000 votes.

Segal is no newcomer to national politics. Last time he ran for president was in 2020 under the Bread and Roses Party, which he founded in 2018. Named after the song and proudly utopian, the Bread and Roses party has since disbanded. Segal, running as a Democrat, also lost a bid to unseat Democratic Maryland senator, Ben Cardin, in 2018.

As a socialist, Segal is all too aware just how successfully that word has been purloined by the Right to connote ‘dangerous’ or even ‘evil’ (although it’s doubtful any of them could define socialism if asked). When he first launched his national political career, Segal hesitated before describing himself as a socialist.

“That was a big choice I had to make as to whether to use the term socialism,” he said. But Segal is defiantly optimistic and views socialism not as a stigma but as a winning ticket, at least in Democratic circles.

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“Polls show 65% of Democrats view socialism as a positive term and 14% say highly positive, which means they identify as socialist,” he said.

Of his recent gubernatorial defeat Segal says: “If I had gotten some publicity, I’d have turned out the socialist vote.”

Segal’s decision to challenge Biden was prompted, he said, by the political failure to achieve peace in the Middle East and by Biden’s decision "to fist bump a psychopathic killer” during his visit with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in June.

Segal, who is Jewish, has been involved in the politics of the Middle East for four decades, creating the Jewish Peace Lobby in 1989. He is a firm believer in a two-state system and Palestinian independence, a stance that, even as a Jew, has him labeled as anti-Semitic.

“This is the struggle within the Jewish community,” said Segal with a wry smile. “By their terms I’m a self-hating Jew”.

He has watched with alarm the power of the lobby group AIPAC — the American Israel Public Affairs Committee — which is unafraid to run candidates against progressive Jewish leaders, such as Segal’s friend, Congressman Andy Levin of Michigan.

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“AIPAC is very strongly supporting his opponent.” said Segal ruefully. “I saw a poll that says he’s down 26 percent. If that’s true, he’s dead.”

But Segal, a philosopher and scholar who has written several books, including one called Creating the Palestinian State, insists that “Jews must ask themselves what the significance is of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for Judaism. It’s the answer to whether our not our whole experience of persecution has any redeeming meaning at all. It’s whether after 2,000 years of pogroms, and suffering, and anti-semitism and the Holocaust, whether or not we are the same as everybody else when we gain state power or are we different?

“Do we have any real commitment to justice, to human rights? If we’re just like everybody else, then the only difference between people is who has the whip.”

Despite his socialist views, Segal is not a big fan of democratic socialist Bernie Sanders as a presidential candidate, whom he termed ‘boring’. “I am so much closer to Bernie in my politics but I thought Biden had a greater likelihood of defeating Trump," he said.

But wasn’t that playing into the very system he decries? Voting for the establishment favorite rather than ones political principles? Surely, those are the very choices that guarantee Segal himself has absolutely no chance of victory.

Segal disagrees. Sanders simply needed to be bolder, he said. More socialist. Then he would have won at least the nomination, if not the White House.

“Bernie had no new ideas” and “dumbed down” socialism to make it more palatable to the masses, said Segal. “If he’d run on Bread and Roses socialism he would have had fifteen more points.”

Segal said he voted for Biden instead. Then he corrected himself. “I think I voted for Biden. No, I voted for myself!”

Segal’s brand of socialism rejects the traditional concept of the meritocracy-based American Dream, in favor of a three-day workweek at a guaranteed job with time to pursue ‘passion work’ while also living a simpler life. It’s what he calls ‘graceful simplicity’, which is also the title of one of his books.

He will happily crunch numbers to demonstrate how easily we could achieve this, his crown jewel being the zero-interest mortgage along with guaranteed basic employment, universal health care, free child care, and student debt relief, among a broad set of social economic policies.

In this way, aside from three days of guaranteed work, we may choose to spend the other days doing passion work, whether paid or unpaid. And that, says Segal, would transform the traditional small-talk question at cocktail parties: “So what do you do?”

“That question is all about how you make your money”, says Segal. But it’s the wrong question. If it was about passion work instead, the answer wouldn’t be ‘lawyer’ or ‘accountant.’ “Then,” says Segal with a smile, ”the answer might be ‘poet’.”