Humanism and the ‘Political Revolution’

My latest Psychology Today article considers the role of humanism in the context of a “political revolution” made so popular by Bernie Sanders. Such a revolution requires the support of strong social movements and activist organizations, but the traditional sources of such support, such as unions and liberal religious groups, are relatively weak nowadays. Does this leave humanism with a role to play here?  Full article here.


The Establishment and the Rich Took Down Bernie in Massachusetts

While the Sanders campaign is expressing satisfaction at Super Tuesday’s results, there was one major disappointment in the mixed bag of returns: Bernie lost Massachusetts, a state that was considered within grasp, in a squeaker. A breakdown of the results shows that there were two main factors contributing to the Sanders loss: the Democratic establishment and the state’s richest communities. If either one of these two factors had not worked against him, there’s little doubt that the Bay State would have been solidly in the Sanders column.

The map of election results (available here at the Boston Globe) tells the whole grim story. Geographically, Sanders carried most of the state, but the areas that Clinton did carry–Boston and its most affluent suburbs–reveal the two big factors at work.

Clinton won Boston by a wide margin with big help from the party establishment. She had the vital support of Mayor Marty Walsh, who rallied with Clinton on the eve of the election and helped deliver a 20,000 vote victory in the city. Given that Clinton only won the entire state by 17,000 votes, the mayor’s support was obviously critical. Sanders, of course, had no support from major party leaders in the state.

Beyond Boston, the geography is the narrative. The aforementioned map shows that Clinton’s dominance outside of Boston was limited to the state’s most affluent towns. In fact, of the state’s 25 wealthiest communities–Weston, Dover, Carlisle, Sherborn, Sudbury, Wellesley, Winchester, Manchester, Lexington, Boxford, Wayland, Concord, Brookline, Newton, Needham, Westwood, Southborough, Medfield, Lincoln, Boxborough, Cohasset, Hingham, Marblehead, Hopkinton, and Belmont–Clinton carried 24 of them, and most by wide margins of at least 10 to 15 points or greater. (Only Boxford went to Sanders.)

Simply put, Clinton won Massachusetts because rich Democrats pulled it into her column. The vast majority of the state’s 351 municipalities went to Sanders, but if you want to find Clinton strongholds just follow the money. And in a race that was decided by less than 1.5 percent of the vote, the richest towns going heavily for Clinton were enough to put her over the top. These folks may call themselves liberals, but please spare them all that Bernie rhetoric of wealth disparity, corporate power, and money in politics. Can’t the poor just get jobs at Whole Foods?

As Clinton was sweeping the South and racking up wins on Super Tuesday, the Bay State was understandably considered important to Sanders for reasons of momentum if nothing else. A victory in the bluest of blue states would have been a big prize, and one less victory for the Hillary juggernaut.

If Sanders is taken down, it’s only appropriate that the One Percent and their close cousins, wearing the label of liberal Democrats, would do it. That’s what Bernie gets for trying to play nice with a party that is probably too far gone to be saved.


Hillary Clinton and the Limits of Acceptable Opinion

In a piece today for Truthout, I discuss the underlying dynamics of the Clinton-Sanders contest. Despite her recent rhetoric of economic populism, Hillary Clinton is not seen as a threat by the corporate establishment that actually owns and runs the country. I use a concept known as “the limits of acceptable opinion” in discussing how power brokers maintain control over a population. That phenomenon is on display in this election. Full story at this link.

On Religion, Lots of Contrast

My latest Psychology Today article is entitled “On Religion, Sanders and Clinton Differ Sharply.” The two Democratic candidates present starkly different religious views and, unlike most GOP candidates, neither Clinton nor Sanders really cares to talk about their personal religious beliefs in much depth. Bernie doesn’t call himself an atheist, but his view of God  and religion is far from that of a tradition theist. Hillary, on the other hand, actually seems to have some religious views and practices that are downright conservative. As the Iowa campaign approached the finish, she was starting to wear those religious credentials on her sleeve a bit more. No surprise there. The Psychology Today piece is here.

How can voters hate socialism but agree with Bernie?

It’s a glaring inconsistency this campaign season: voters generally agree with self-described socialist Bernie Sanders on the issues, but Americans nevertheless rank “socialist” at the bottom of candidate characteristics for which they will vote.

According to recent Gallup numbers, Americans would vote for an atheist, a Muslim, a gay/lesbian, or just about anyone else, before they would vote for a socialist. The label “socialist” was the only category garnering acceptance from less than than half of the voting population (47 percent). Nevertheless, at the same time, the socialist Sanders not only maintains a competitive candidacy for the Democratic nomination, but his positions on issues are undeniably mainstream, enjoying widespread popular support

Several plausible factors explain this contradiction:

First, Americans have been conditioned to reflexively oppose “socialism” even though they obviously support many basic socialistic concepts, such as controlling corporate power, taxing the wealthy, and providing strong social safety nets (this explains popular support for Social Security, for example, despite GOP and Wall Street efforts to dismantle it or privatize it). The American habit of demonizing socialism is due, at least in part, to incessant anti-socialist propaganda from politicians, religious leaders, and corporate interests. Socialism is seen as un-American, even as Americans clearly support socialistic concepts.

In defense of American voters, however, it’s worth noting that Sanders is a fairly soft socialist. He’s not talking about nationalizing industries, for example, but is instead more concerned about providing services, limiting the power of multinational corporations, and addressing income inequality. Sanders may call himself a socialist, but his brand of socialism is on the model of European mixed economies.

Nevertheless, there is a hint of anti-intellectualism in Americans simplistically dismissing socialism as evil while supporting many socialistic notions (the now-classic line, “Keep your goddamn government hands off my Medicare!” naturally comes to mind). Sooner or later, the nation will have to address the contradiction: either socialism isn’t so bad, or Americans don’t really want the egalitarian policy they say they want.


Is Bernie personally secular?


Interesting piece in the Washington Post discussing the religious beliefs (or lack thereof) of Bernie Sanders. The article speculates that he may be an agnostic.

I contacted his office a few years ago on this subject in connection with work I was doing for secular nonprofits. I asked his office staff if we could discuss his religion. The response I got: “Bernie doesn’t like to talk about religion.”

At the time Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA) was the first and only open atheist in Congress. He has since retired, so now there are none, though we know that there are at least a couple dozen who are closeted atheists and agnostics. Like Bernie, however, those who are personally secular tend to not like talking about religion. Too bad, as openly secular candidates and office holders could help change the hyper-religious atmosphere in politics, and that could have a big effect on public policy.