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Life Arts    H2'ed 3/8/20

"Going for Broke": The Maximalism of Jesus, Bernie Sanders & the Green New Deal

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Readings for the Second Sunday of Lent: Genesis 12: 1-4A; Psalms 33: 4-5, 18-22; 2nd Timothy 1: 8b-10; Matthew 17: 1-9

The sudden revival of Joe Biden's candidacy on Super Tuesday represents a victory for cautious centrists in the Democratic Party. They're afraid of Bernie Sanders and his self-proclaimed revolution on behalf of the working class, low income earners, and the environment threatened by the devastations of climate change. They fear Sanders strategy of "Going for Broke."

That strategy came in for criticism a few days ago from Paul Krugman in his New York Times op-ed called precisely that: "Bernie Sanders Is Going for Broke: Is maximalism the best political strategy?"

In the light of today's liturgical readings for this Second Sunday of Lent, the phrase "going for broke" has special meaning. The day's Gospel selection recounts the familiar story of Jesus' "Transfiguration," where on a high mountain, the Master's appearance is transformed (enlightened) before three of his apostles as he dialogs there with Moses and Elijah. Today, I'd like to give that dramatic parable a unique spin and explain it in historical context -- as liberation theologians might. I'll retell it in terms of Jesus establishing a go for broke strategy for himself and his followers on their paths of faith.

Before I get to that, however, consider Krugman's rejection of that approach.

Krugman' Rejection of Maximalism

The jumping off point for his criticism of "maximalism" was a Sanders ad centralizing Barack Obama's praise for the Vermont senator over the years. Krugman argued that such association is disingenuous since (in Krugman's words) Sanders' approach is a "go for broke maximalism" as opposed to Obamism which the columnist described as accepting "incremental, half-a-loaf-is-better-than-none politics."

Echoing traditionalist appeals for gradualism in the face of the Civil Rights and Women's Suffragist movements (not to mention Republican talking points), Krugman alleged, that Sanders' maximalism is unrealistic. After all, it includes "complete elimination of private health insurance and a vast expansion of government programs that would require major tax increases on the middle class as well as the wealthy." And Sanders would do all of this, the columnist argued, on the theory that it would win over white working-class constituents and bring a surge of new voters.

Krugman concluded "unfortunately, no evidence supports this political theory."

Apart from the fact that Sanders' strategy actually does find historical precedent in Roosevelt's New Deal in the 1930s (as Krugman himself argued on "Democracy Now" a week earlier), the columnist's words ignore the fact that only a "go for broke" strategy can save the planet at this moment of climate emergency.

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Mike Rivage-Seul is a liberation theologian and former Roman Catholic priest. Retired in 2014, he taught at Berea College in Kentucky for 40 years where he directed Berea's Peace and Social Justice Studies Program. His latest book is "The Magic (more...)
 

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Mike Rivage-Seul

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Be sure to watch the debate (above) between Wolff and Krugman. It demonstrates the latter's shift to the right and his support of the reactionary Democratic establishment.

Submitted on Sunday, Mar 8, 2020 at 10:00:01 AM

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Nels Wight

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Krug has always been for the program, never the poor people.

Submitted on Sunday, Mar 8, 2020 at 12:09:27 PM

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Reply to Nels Wight:   New Content

Over the years, that's been my reading of him too, Nels. I hope you had the chance to watch his dialog with Richard Wolff (who's always so clear). He literally puts Krugman in his place -- the one you describe in your comment.

Submitted on Sunday, Mar 8, 2020 at 12:49:31 PM

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Nels Wight

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Is it 'Deo gratias' or 'Gratias Deo', Mike?

But thanks to you for expressing this homily today; for years now

or perhaps decades, I have been in strong opposition to Paul K's

"gradualism" where poor Biden's senile stand presents the extreme example. Pro nobis, ut Deus!

Submitted on Sunday, Mar 8, 2020 at 12:05:25 PM

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Peter Frank

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1 out of 2:

2016 and 2020 have produced the showdown I have been waiting for my entire life. The lines are clear: anyone who thinks economic realities are more important than people is corrupt, no matter how polite they are in public; no matter how charitable they appear. People either want life to be as close to perfect as they can make it, or they don't. Those of us who believe that our social rules are given to us by fate are ultimately corrupt. These are the people who learn quickly how to negotiate with power, how to appear virtuous in the face of power. This is the role of virtue in sin: it is like a cosmetic.

Those of us who realize that it is we ourselves that create the social rules are in the minority and always know it - starting in very early childhood. Fairness always needs those who take from others to stop. This cannot find a solution without a struggle. This is why punching the bully in the nose is always the right course of action.

The majority who believe that fate is the ultimate cause for our social order are resigned to being people that must hide in plain sight. These are the people that are repressed and afraid, no matter how competent or accomplished they seem. They are easily manipulated by fear and shame. It is not hard to govern them; it is just plain old animal husbandry when you boil it down. These are the people who have inner lives that are hidden from their conscious, waking lives. They are authoritarian in character and cannot imagine life without law and order. They are the reason we don't self-organize as a society and peacefully resist to the point of victory. These are modern day Roman citizens who praise virtue when in reality they behave like antelopes in the presence of a tiger.

Submitted on Sunday, Mar 8, 2020 at 5:57:21 PM

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2 out of 2:

These authoritarian characters believe they are realists. Their cynicism, no doubt, was formed early in childhood. They were never idealists, meaning they were never emotionally open and vulnerable. They have spent their entire lives living up to what's been expected of them, rather than trusting their own judgement in criticizing the injustice of the world around them. Again, I'm talking early childhood that of course becomes adulthood.

So here we have it: 2 camps - one that shills for power and the other that questions power. Seems biblical to me, and I'm agnostic.

This distinction between good and evil and its inevitable clash is what Karl Marx wrote about. The problem of good vs. evil can't be technocratically solved. It can't be legally solved. Gradualism is the argument put forth by evil. I know some readers will say that rash, impulsive actions amount to "the road to hell is paved with good intentions." They are not wrong. But that caution should not be mistaken for an excuse to only use gradualism.

Once again, this is where the carefully thought out reasoning of Marx comes in. Call it an algorithm. It wasn't perfect, but what Marx wrote is key to understanding the huge obstacles we face. Call it a recipe for how to approach conquering the modern-day Roman Empire and replacing it with true socialism. The struggle is against brutal power. It isn't just passing a new law.

Capitalism is just modern-day aristocracy. Law has replaced blood lines as the arbiter of who is a "have" and who is a "have-not." Most of the planet is living one or two steps away from poverty and misery and our fate hangs on the spending and investment of the 'Job Creators.' Any act by any peoples to counter this sociopathy with socialism has been met with the same fate as Jesus and Barabbas. Americans who submit to the Empire's narrative that all socialism is evil are fools and shills.

The lines are clear

Submitted on Sunday, Mar 8, 2020 at 5:57:43 PM

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Mike Rivage-Seul

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Reply to Peter Frank:   New Content

So well and coherently said, Peter. Jesus and Bernie were and are both about confronting authoritarian regimes like Rome and the United States. And both the latter and the former empire were and are absolutely brutal in suppressing the truths both men embody. Thanks for such a thought-full comment.

Submitted on Sunday, Mar 8, 2020 at 7:17:29 PM

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Hi Mike,

You're very welcome. Thank you for writing such a fantastic article! Watching people in 2016 and again now, and seeing them rationalize the cheating by the establishment is nothing short of an upside down miracle. Mass psychosis would be accurate. This is the fight we have all been waiting for, and the lines drawn are crystal clear. There is no middle ground. I understand why the wealthy side with power. They are behaving rationally, even if unethically. The same can be said for the political class and the punditry. But for the common person to shill for power is another thing completely. This is not rational. When you dig deeper, you see that the motivations for the common person to individually and collectively act against reason are irrational, and are properly dealt with in some psychology theories and in some religion.

As far as religion goes, I'm talking about the 7 deadly sins, or cardinal sins. I'm not religious at all, but it would be crazy to not point out that religion has dealt with these specific qualities. The wealthy and their attending social classes are rewarded financially and politically. The mass population isn't. Instead, they are rewarded with intangible gifts of narcissism. They are encouraged to act out their gifts, like a child play acts. Walking down the street, I watch the average American, so proud and serious and I know that what I am looking at is a fool, a very dangerous fool.

When you consider all of the poverty, suffering, murder, disease, and so forth caused by the rapacious social hierarchy we enforce through capitalism and empire, the ignorance of the fool is no longer excusable. It is something to be alarmed at. 2016 and today show how committed the average fool is to psychotic belief in the status quo. The fight is here and must continue.

I have to tell you that I used to visit Berea College in the late 60's and early 70's when my family took summer vacations. I loved going there. One day I'll go back for a visit.

Submitted on Sunday, Mar 8, 2020 at 7:56:52 PM

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Again, Peter, let me second your frustration and irritation. I share it completely. I'm keeping my fingers crossed about Bernie and November 3rd. I'm also praying for the "miracle" we all need. I love Berea College too. We're now living in Connecticut and I miss Kentucky and Berea's "Great Commitments."

Submitted on Sunday, Mar 8, 2020 at 9:09:04 PM

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John Lawrence Ré

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Beautiful article. Thanks, Mike, for the care you put into your writing. My only comment is that, while Bernie is essentially honest, it's Gabbard who is "the most honest politician our country has produced in generations." I have yet to find her caught up in anything that remotely suggests a lie. For all his direct honesty, Snaders' lack of suport for whistleblowers to me suggests holding back the truth.

Submitted on Sunday, Mar 8, 2020 at 10:38:06 PM

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Mike Rivage-Seul

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Thank you, John. I agree; you make a good point.

Submitted on Sunday, Mar 8, 2020 at 11:19:46 PM

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