I first heard of Bernie Sanders a few years ago when I began exploring the possibility of running for office in Chicago. I have often found myself too conservative for my liberal friends and too liberal for my conservative friends. For this reason I have spent much time following political independents and their impact on American elections. Sanders’ status as one of two independents in Congress made his career of particular interest for someone like myself. I eventually ran for the Chicago City Council without declaring a party and found great inspiration for political independence in politicians like the rogue senator from Vermont.
Now to be honest, Sanders is not a typical independent. He consistently caucuses with the Democrats, while promoting policies that make Hillary Clinton look like a member of the Tea Party. For this reason, there is no question about his ideological alignment. His support for a single-payer healthcare system and free college education clearly identify him with the far-left wing of our political spectrum.
As a student at my alma mater, The University of Chicago, Sanders organized against racial segregation in student housing. In Congress, he voted against NAFTA, against the Bush-era tax cuts and consistently voted to increase federal spending on domestic social programs. Furthermore, he has been an advocate for criminal justice reform, supporting the abolishment of the death penalty and privately run prisons. He promotes a $15-per-hour federal minimum wage, increased vacation and sick leave time, comprehensive immigration reform and a $125 billion infrastructure program paid for primarily through increased corporate taxes and the removal of loopholes and subsidies for big oil and gas companies.
So why are people now so interested in this 74-year-old, self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist? More importantly, is he electable?
In many ways, Sanders promotes policies that benefit the marginalized.
A year ago, conventional wisdom suggested that a candidate so far to the left wouldn’t have a shot in a national election. However, with strong showings in both primaries and national polls, it appears the tide has turned. The popularity of unconventional candidates like Sanders and Donald Trump is perplexing. However, it may say more about people’s feelings towards politics than about the individual candidates. Americans want change. In this election cycle, the establishment is out and anti-establishment independent figures are the flavor of the day. Sanders has benefited greatly from these feelings.
This anti-establishment sentiment and Sanders’ concern for the poor should probably make him an appealing candidate for the Christian community. In many ways, Sanders promotes policies that benefit the marginalized. Yet his liberal position on a number of social issues, from abortion to marriage to marijuana, makes his support in the faith community tepid at best. He has also even alienated some on the religious left with his lack of action on gun control.
So would Jesus support Sanders? This is a difficult and complicated question for any candidate to face. As a person of faith, I have long searched for a candidate with the moral conviction of the right coupled with the heart of the left. I think Jesus would be in favor of this combination, as His ministry clearly juxtaposed strong moral standards with an extreme level of compassion. Unfortunately, I’m not sure Sanders has that balance quite right.