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I should say right away that this is no brief for the Sanders candidacy. I am sympathetic to both sides of the discussion. I myself am a realist. 

Bernie Prophetic Tradition

"Unrealistic" Candidates and the Prophetic Tradition—Peter Laarman

But I am also highly intrigued by the “unrealistic” meme in Democratic Party politics these days. Secretary Clinton has leaned heavily on this meme in response to her crushing defeat in Wisconsin. 

I am old enough to have been politically active when the Democrats put their superdelegate scheme into effect: the Hunt Commission’s report and all that. The year was 1984, and the new crop of convention superdelegates that year ensured that Jimmy Carter’s loyal VP, Walter Mondale, a loyal party regular, secured the party nomination and blocked Gary Hart’s insurgent campaign (which Hart himself, needless to say, had also helped to sabotage).

I also recall, from an inside position in the labor movement, that the conversation about creating this privileged pod of Democratic delegates had actually started much earlier, immediately following the McGovern rout in 1972. The theme back then, voiced by conservative union leaders and neoconservative apparatchiks (a.k.a. the active “Nixon Democrats”), was that too much democracy could be very, very bad for the Democratic Party.

Now we have another total insurgent who has somehow slipped through the cracks and is depriving the party establishment of a good night’s sleep. And all that the party establishment is able to say, with an increasing degree of arrogance, is that the “math” ensures that the insurgent will never be nominated.

Now we have another total insurgent who has somehow slipped through the cracks and is depriving the party establishment of a good night’s sleep. And all that the party establishment is able to say, with an increasing degree of arrogance, is that the “math” ensures that the insurgent will never be nominated.

Just as their smugness is revealing, I must note that Sen. Sanders’ response is equally revealing. He appears to be almost amused by the writhing of the Clinton camp and its media enablers. 

He should be. He should continue to speak straight to camera about becoming the party’s nominee while privately relishing his freedom to tell the truth, and the devil take the hindmost.

Amos, the earliest of the great Hebrew prophets, was clear about his outsider status:

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Then Amos replied to Amaziah, “I am not a prophet, nor am I the son of a prophet; for I am a herdsman and a grower of sycamore figs.“But the LORD took me from following the flock and the LORD said to me, ‘Go prophesy to My people Israel.’

It should be noted that the message of Amos was pretty much identical to the contemporary message of Sanders. 

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Hear this, you that trample on the needy and bring to ruin the poor of the land, saying ‘When will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain, and the sabbath, so that we may offer wheat for sale? 

We will make the ephah small the the shekel great and practice deceit with false balances, buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals and selling the sweepings of the wheat.’

The Lord had sworn by the pride of Jacob: Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.

In the face of this impudence, Amaziah, a corrupt court prophet, complained loudly to corrupt King Jeroboam regarding this crude outsider: “the land is not able to bear his words.”

My assessment of the Democratic Party these days is that the party insiders share Amaziah’s view that the Sanders message is basically dangerous and should be stamped out. 

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I’m sure this has nothing to do with their own fealty to wealth and its privileges.

Peter Laarman
Religion Dispatches