“Let’s be the generation that ends poverty in America.
Let’s be the generation that says right here, right now, that we will have universal health care in America by the end of the next president’s first term.
Let’s be the generation that finally frees America from the tyranny of oil”
Honesty is something of a rarity in politics.
The words above were spoken by then-Senator Barack Obama as he announced his 2007/08 campaign for President, part of his starry-eyed ‘Hope and Change’ platform that inspired so many. Of course, during his eight years in office, he did none of these things, and in fact, quite the opposite — instead of an end to poverty, the “greatest transfer of wealth in history” from the bottom to the top; instead of universal healthcare, the “corporate giveaway” known as Obamacare; instead of freedom from oil, the “biggest increase in oil production in American history.” With the benefit of hindsight, it’s easy to see his words for what they were — a ruse, a scam, like Carlin said, “imaginary […] like the boogeyman, the Three Little Pigs, Pinocchio, Mother Goose, shit like that.”
Unfortunately, President Obama is far from alone in the pantheon of hollow words. The results of Obama’s “Hope and Change” and Bill Clinton’s “For People, For a Change,” of Trump’s “Make America Great Again” and Reagan’s “Let’s Make America Great Again” are well documented.
Inequality in the United States has been steadily rising for 50 years, the ‘Land of Opportunity’ now home to the largest gap between rich and poor in the developed world. Billionaires Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and Jeff Bezos now have more wealth than the bottom half of the country put together, while well over half a million people are homeless in the country. ‘The Land of the Free’ has the largest prison population in the world, about the same number of people incarcerated as Russia and China put together. Information is spread by a mainstream media ranked 45th in the world by Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Index, just behind such luminaries as the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) and Botswana. In the midst of a pandemic, 120 million people or more will lack access to healthcare, while over 30 million are now unemployed.
This is a country built on catchy slogans and empty promises.
In 2020, Bernie Sanders ran for President on the official campaign slogan ‘Not Me, Us.’ Just another flowery platitude, or was it? For a 78-year-old Democratic Socialist who had spent decades shouting into the unresponsive abyss, this campaign slogan perhaps had more truth than most.
The ‘Us’ in ‘Not Me, Us’ represented those oppressed by inequality and attacked by systemic racism, those unable to go to the doctor when they are sick due to the cost, those unemployed and underemployed, working, as Bernie was fond of saying, “longer hours for lower wages;” it represented those decimated by Biden’s crime bill and Bush’s War on Terror, by Reagan’s War on Drugs and Obama’s bank bailout, by the far right and the Third Way. ‘Not Me, Us’ was beautiful in its simplicity, but powerful in its intent, a voice to the marginalized masses left behind by both political parties.
However, beyond ‘Not Me, Us,’ there was a second, more unofficial slogan associated with the Bernie Sanders campaign — ‘Bernie or Vest.’
This was an offshoot of 2016’s ‘Bernie or Bust,’ a slogan representative of those who had joined the political process solely to support the policies of Bernie Sanders, those often convinced that both parties were the same and all politicians were corrupt, those who would vote for Bernie or ‘bust’ out of the process altogether.
In 2020, however, ‘Bust’ was updated to ‘Vest,’ in reference to the stirring protests of the gilets jaunes — the “yellow vests” — in France. The implications of ‘Bernie or Vest’ were clear — conditions for the ‘Us’ of ‘Not Me, Us’ had gotten so bad, they felt their only options for survival were radical political policies, or, to take their grievances to the streets directly, as the yellow vests had. ‘Bernie or Vest’ was not a threat, but rather, an articulation of reality, a representation of just how close to the edge so many people in the United States, whether they supported Bernie Sanders or not, really are.
Politicians lie, their slogans and platitudes constructed in board rooms and focus groups. As Obama himself said in 2007, perhaps referring unwittingly to his own empty words:
“After all, every four years, candidates from both parties make similar promises, and I expect this year will be no different.
But too many times, after the election is over, and the confetti is swept away, all those promises fade from memory, and the lobbyists and the special interests move in, and people turn away, disappointed as before, left to struggle on their own.”
Left to struggle on their own; Us.
Politicians lie. But the ‘Us’ of ‘Not Me, Us’ is not a politician, and “Bernie or Vest’ was no lie.