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Bernie Does Madison

Madison, Wisconsin.

Bernie’s second visit to Madison could not possibly be as dramatic as the Good Friday event with the magic finch and the birth of the “Berdiecrats” making peace and ecological salvation as Bernie’s meaning/message. Not even the happy results of the one-sided votes in the West could do more than confirm that never-to-be forgotten moment.

But we want to reflect a little on the symbolism of Bernie’s return to Dane County because his July visit, in the larger, nearby venue not available this time (a Wrestling event had booked it!) memorably cracked the media iron curtain set against Bernie as a real candidate. Thenceforth, he had to be noticed, demeaned on all sides (but notably by MSNBC, in particular by a Rachel Maddow with poor ratings and rumored to be looking for a Press Secretary job), cheated repeatedly by the Dirty Tricks machine of the DNC, sneered at by Hillary, and so on up to the present. Madison had coarsened the Leading Candidate’s campaign. Bernie, the dignified figure and truth-teller, began to look better and better by way of contrast.

This morning’s Wisconsin State Journal had The Nation’s John Nichols signaling Bernie as successor to Robert M. LaFollette, enemy of monopoly but also of the related, imperial urge to conquer every square inch of the planet. Caution, perhaps, restrained the noted progressive columnist from signaling Harry Truman, with the Atomic bomb, NSC-68 (i.e., the Security State), the proliferation of US military bases and so on as the anti-LaFollette, as the model Hillary had evidently adopted for her own persona and plans.

But what impressed us, standing around for hours, surrounded by young people, had to be the lively conversations made possible because ear buds and smartphones seemed to have been put temporarily aside. Also that the students from UW-Madison, gone for Spring Break and perhaps just coming back, were so much less evident than college kids from the less-prestigious campuses, like Stevens Point, La Crosse, Platteville and so on. They had to drive or come with friends. Why them?

There’s a simple answer : they are evidently the ones with the heaviest debts and least prospects of every getting out of the hole, something that does not seem to have occurred to major womenbuhlejournalists from the New York Times to Rolling Stone (their children are more likely going to Ivy League schools). If this is a Children’s Crusade, it is not of the supposed sources so denounced by liberals and conservatives alike in the 1960s: the over privileged, spoiled-rotten protesters who embarrassed administrators and shocked their parents. We have entered another era.

Nor were they the Clean For Gene Kids of the 1968 McCarthy campaign. Everybody was casual, punk fashions or non-punk seemed an individual choice that made no real difference, as unimportant as same-sex bathrooms and other issues roiling the reactionaries of the state’s Republicans. There were also so many young couples, it looked a bit like a Date Afternoon before Date Night.

They more than loved Bernie. He represented everything they hoped to see change in American society, domestic and foreign policy and the planet. There were home-made anti-Trump signs, but even those seemed minor by comparison to the buttons, badges, signs, T-shorts and assorted Merch (the vendors were having a good day) on all sides.

The coeds (as our generation used to call them) more than hated Hillary, which is also illuminating, and if anything, more surprising. A small flock of young women wore buttons or t-shirts with this two-word slogan, “FUCK HER!” with the “H” unmistakable at intended meaning.

Why the rage? Why the fondness, discussed but not illuminated with signs or slogan, for Jane Sanders, the kindly older woman without makeup (like the young women around us), long hair not coiffed by hours of high-priced professionals, dressed ordinarily and not in thousand dollar designer pants suits? At a guess, Hillary’s outfits, like her rhetoric, signal the 1990s Rich, the new-made aristocrats of American life, pretending noblesse oblige while practicing things entirely contrary. The fake-sincerity of daughter Chelsea, accommodated in a ten million dollar condo, delivering vastly lucrative talks to bankers cheating the rest of us each day of the week, in short the whole picture that any young person can see on social media, without any exaggerations.

We oldtimers can approve or disapprove, join or not join the young in their Bernie Quest, the idealist burst generations in the making. What we should not do is pretend it came out of nowhere, or will be safely channeled into a Hillary Clinton campaign. These kids have something very different on their minds.

Mari Jo Buhle is a feminist scholar and author of Women and American Socialism. Paul Buhle is a frequent contributor to CounterPunch.

June 02, 2020
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