By GEORGE STIFEL
For a large portion of my life, I considered my views on politics to be fairly moderate. Over the past four years, I’ve found myself pushed away from centrism by an unexpected source– moderates themselves.
On February 3, I watched the live newscast of the Pete Buttigieg rally. Buttigieg opened with a line that wouldn’t seem out of place for a victorious candidate. “Iowa, you have shocked the nation. Because by all indications, we are going on to New Hampshire victorious!” This should have been a moment ripe with validation for a candidate I very much liked. Except for one problem: zero percent of the Iowa precincts had officially indicated results.
This comment was a lie and a fairly aggressive strategy for the laid-back centrist I had taken Buttigieg to be. That instant had me questioning my support for his platform. As the results rolled in, it seemed that Bernie Sanders had won the caucus; yet, for some reason, almost every media outlet I watched tried their absolute hardest to hide the fact that Sanders was doing well.
I saw a poll where even though Sanders was polling in second place via the percentage shown on screen, they had him placed fourth in the order from top to bottom, and the rest in actual rank order. I saw Buttigieg continuously claim victory even though he had fewer votes. Of all the times Sanders was mentioned on NBC, arguably the most influential of liberal-leaning news outlets, only 13 percent of his coverage was positive. He also received 2.5 times less coverage than Joe Biden, and 1.7 times less coverage then Elizabeth Warren, according to Branko Marcetic, a writer for In These Times magazine.
Sanders’ name was left out of a headline for a FOX article by Chris Stirewalt talking about “Biden in first, Warren rising to third” without ever once mentioning Sanders. Countless articles talk about how “unelectable” he is. Then, when he does well in polls and the caucuses, it’s claimed that his supporters and popularity are “cause for concern” and “Trumpian.” An article from the Washington Post by Dana Millbank claims that “Bernie Sanders has emerged as the Donald Trump of the left” because he is “an angry old white guy with crazy hair, New York accent and flair for demagoguery.” What’s really Trumpian, Millbank? Disparaging political opponents by calling them mean names based on surface-level observations.
I find myself more and more radicalized as this pre-election cycle goes on. In freshman year I was slightly classical conservative. I then became more libertarian, and eventually more liberal. Nowadays I would call myself a full-blown libertarian socialist. The narrative has always been that radicalization happens when extremists take advantage of vulnerable people by giving them a sense of community and purpose. Yet here I found myself not being pulled toward radicalization by extremists but pushed away from centrism by a centrist establishment terrified of the status quo being upset.
The funniest part is that I can’t even blame them. I’m not surprised that established institutions aren’t willing to relinquish immense amounts of power for the sake of the people getting what they want and being able to live safe and happy lives.
The more I see of this, the more I am hopeful that people willing to give up that power will enter our government. There are two men from history who I think encapsulate the spirit of giving up personal power for the righteous cause of democracy, and that’s George Washington and Mikhail Gorbachev. Both men were in a position of power with absolute control over defining what their position meant, and yet they chose to give it away. They stepped down, allowed free and fair elections and let the people decide what they wanted.
We don’t need someone trying to negotiate with the status quo. We need someone who is willing to give up the power they’ve been blessed with for the sake of those who got them there. I’m no expert in politics, nor do I claim to be, but I have been studying psychology and human behavior for three years now. And studies show that if you tell someone not to do something, not to think about something, not to look in the box… it only makes it that much more likely that they take a peek. If the centrist establishment wants to preserve the status quo, they need to realize that just telling people to ignore progressives doesn’t work. They need to start making compelling arguments for why the current system is the best one for everyone or more and more Americans might find that tearing the system down is a whole lot more appealing than letting it continue to crush them.