The Socialist Lesson Bernie Sanders Left Out of His Message

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Rabbi Michael Lerner. Art by Mr. Fish.

There’s no denying there’s been a renewed wave of interest in socialism in the United States, thanks in large part to Bernie Sanders. While the Vermont senator gained support across the country for his rallying cry against inequality and for promoting equitable policies like Medicare for All, Rabbi Michael Lerner, a lifelong progressive and author of the new book Revolutionary Love: A Political Manifesto to Heal and Transform the World, believes there was something missing from Sanders’ socialist message. On this week’s episode of Scheer Intelligence, Lerner, who is also the editor of the left-wing interfaith magazine Tikkun, joins host Robert Scheer to talk about Sanders, socialism, and the rabbi’s own ideas for a left-wing revolution. 

“[Bernie Sanders] got the idea,” says Lerner. “He said, ‘It's we, not me,’-- but he did not embrace [the] spiritual, progressive vision that I [talk about in my book]. Because the center of a spiritual, progressive vision [...] is that we call for a new bottom line. Instead of judging any institution, any social practice in our society to be efficient, rational, and productive to the extent that it maximizes money and power, we need a new bottom line that says: No. We're going to judge institutions and social practices as efficient, rational, and productive [...] to the extent that they tend to develop human beings who are more loving and caring, kind and generous, ethically and environmentally sensitive and responsive to the needs of the environment, and seeking social and economic justice.” 

Lerner goes on to say he’s not promoting religion, but rather a politics that will take into consideration both our material needs as well as what he calls “the deepest needs of our soul,” for example, love. Scheer challenges Lerner on whether it is possible to pursue seemingly idealistic goals such as those the rabbi sets forth during an increasingly desperate period of American history in which capitalism has turned both the Republican and Democratic parties into corporate tools. Lerner counters that not only is the vision he outlines achievable, but that the Democratic Party and the left can win more support so long as they stop ridiculing Americans who feel strongly about religion as “deplorables,” as Hillary Clinton infamously referred to Trump supporters, many of them devout Christians. Instead of “denouncing” and dismissing large swaths of the American population, says the progressive rabbi, the left needs to listen to their needs, including those that would be considered spiritual needs, and then put pressure on the Democrats to meet those needs.

Listen to the full discussion between Lerner and Scheer as the two discuss the parallels between the 1960s political scene and today, as well as examine radical solutions for contemporary catastrophes such as climate change.



Joshua Scheer