ANALYSIS NOT ADVOCACY: MY CURRENT THOUGHTS ON BERNIE SANDERS AS THE 2020 DEMOCRATIC FRONTRUNNER
Political science doesn’t care about your feelings.
Off the top of my head, here are ten thoughts about Sanders and his future prospects:
(1) Political campaigns are far easier to manage when you’re an outsider and running from behind. Being the frontrunner comes with a whole new crop of pressures and responsibilities. All candidates strive to steal the spotlight. However, once they get the spotlight, some meltdown in the heat. I don’t expect Sanders will melt. But he must be aware the political contest is now very different. He will have to make some adjustments to this new reality.
(2) Sanders has defied all forecasts and exceeded everyone’s expectations to this point. He and his organization deserve extraordinary credit for consolidating much of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party and catapulting into the lead over established candidates like Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren. Whatever one thinks of Sanders, his political strategy has been masterful. I have witnessed this firsthand here in Nevada and watched it nationwide on all forms of media.
(3) Now, Sanders faces the biggest strategic test of his campaign, one that will likely determine his fate. He can continue with the same “revolutionary” message and further solidify the Left while attracting some additional working-class support in the center…..or he can inch closer to the center and run a more conventional campaign and chip away at the undecideds. Sanders’ need not abandon progressive causes in order to appeal to more moderate voters. He simply needs to alter his tone a bit, while also stressing more common themes that will attract non-ideologues and apolitical supporters. These voters will be essential to getting the party nomination and general election victory. Sanders MUST expand his base. NOW.
(4) Accordingly, Sanders must begin to pick and choose priority issues. I suggest universal health care be his anchor. I view Sanders’ pandering to other constituencies as unfortunate and long-range disastrous. In the last month, Sanders has stressed universal health care and forgiving student debt/free college (which I oppose) as core issues….but then he’s also broadened promises to include free child care, higher pay for teachers, etc. This is fiscally reckless. Sanders has a difficult time already justifying the costs associated with M4A (it can be done, and I would love to help with his messaging, but Sanders hasn’t handled this effectively). Adding other half-dozen government programs which will cost enormous sums simply isn’t feasible nor realistic. Yes, I’m for all these things, in time. But they must be advocated in a clear and responsible manner. Overpromising what one can deliver isn’t a viable platform nor a winning political strategy (Trump’s numerous lies and broken promises, excepted).
(5) Sanders’ handling of the “60 Minutes” sit-down interview last night (watched by 15 million of the people in this country who matter) was a disaster. He’s no longer on the outside of this race. He’s on the inside with a giant target on his back. Sanders’ dismissive tone, failure to give specifics on policies, and the occasional display of anger don’t gain the confidence of the core constituency that will be essential to victory. He’s got to elevate his game. Giving the same stump speech in a sit-down interview isn’t going to broaden support.
(6) Sanders’ past comments and controversies about so-called “socialism” and regimes including the former USSR and Cuba are entirely justifiable (and for the most part accurate). Sanders has nothing to apologize for. The CEO of Coca-Cola and dozens of other companies were saying the exact same things in the 1980s when they were trying to sell Cokes and tractors in new markets like China and the Soviet Union. In fact, the friendly remarks are nearly identical. However, Sanders does need to come up with a better argument and defense that will deflect mass ignorance about this issue. Forget the old folks who somehow fear “communism” but remain complicit in supporting a Putin enabler in the White House — he won’t win over those doddering fossils anyway.
(7) I cannot stress # 6 enough. New strategy. Better messaging. Stick to the script. Any criticism of Sanders on coddling up to former communists is completely obliterated by Trump’s “love letters” to the leader of North Korea, and embrace of the world’s worst authoritarians (Saudi Arabia, Russia, The Philipines, etc.). Hammer this like a stubborn nail. It’s one thing for Sanders to appreciate some good things accomplished in Cuba 30 years ago in grainy film footage in a town hall meeting with 10 people in Burlington Vermont — It’s quite another level of shock and inhumanity for an American President to stand on the world stage and openly fellate Putin and Kim Jong Un with lavish praise. Sanders has Trump in a box here, so close him in and duct tape it shut with his own abysmal record and history.
(8) Sanders MUST make an attempt to earn the support, or at least the trust of moderate Democrats. I have serious issues with the milquetoast moderates, sure. But they are critical to the greater cause. More important, fears of Sanders’ dragging the ballot in other races are legitimate. It’s time Sanders do something to quell this rising tide of fear. Unfortunately, we can’t sweep out the corporatist Democrats. So, Sanders might be right that the DNC and “the establishment” are conspiring against him. They are! But it looks petty and is counterproductive to bitch about unfairness. This is politics. Politics at the highest level. Get in the game. Do what it takes to win, not appear like an embittered outsider who wasn’t picked first on the team.
(9) What happened to the word INFRASTRUCTURE? It didn’t come up one time in the last Democratic debate. Every American is for this. EVERYONE. So, why isn’t Sanders hammering the essential theme of democratic socialism — that instead of wasteful defense spending, tax cuts for the rich, and so on — why aren’t we building roads and bridges and high tech plants in the United States with our tax dollars? Why are we rebuilding Baghdad instead of Baltimore? I realize this is a more complex issue than simple slogans, but this is a winning campaign message. Trump lied on this. He and Republicans had two years to pass an infrastructure bill but instead, they gave huge tax cuts which did nothing for working-class people. The factory worker, the soccer mom, the single parent — everyone wants and understands the need for domestic infrastructure — good roads, clean water, bridges, airports, etc. Sanders is blowing this opportunity.
(10) Lest anyone thinks I’m now backing Sanders — I’m not. Sure, he will get my vote if he’s the eventual nominee. Anyone BLUE will get my vote. And, Sanders is entirely inside my political wheelhouse. In fact, I’m to the Left of Sanders on many issues (he’s yet to say anything about cutting defense spending, for example). What concerns me is — democratic socialism is a winning message and the ideal path forward for all societies, especially the United States. But the messenger isn’t doing a good enough job explaining it and promoting it. I fear that unless he adjusts and broadens his appeal, all the gains of the past few years on this point will be lost.
My Direct Message to Sanders:
Yeah, I know you won’t read this but…….If you want to win, start acting *presidential.” Sanders needs to morph into someone who resembles a world leader, not an insurgent demagogue from a tiny New England state rambling on with way too many promises to deliver. It’s now time for a reality check.
I have my doubts Sanders will take any of these suggestions. I think the dye has been cast. This is my analysis of where Sanders currently stands and what it will take for him to win.
My Experience at the 2020 Nevada Caucus (MJ Christensen Elementary School) Saturday, 22 February 2020
My local caucus was held today at the MJ Christensen Elementary School. Only in Las Vegas will you see a kid’s school named after a diamond dealer.
Cliffnotes, as follows:
— 28 people showed up today at my local caucus, which was held from 12 noon to 2 pm. This number was added to the 40 who voted early. Hence, 68 persons voted in my precinct in the 2020 Democratic Caucus.
— The first alignment resulted in the following tally of votes (early votes plus those present):
Viability required 15 percent of all precinct votes, meaning 11 was the magic number to be counted for delegates. This meant only Sanders was viable after the first round of voting.
— Next, each candidate’s representative (one person was selected from each group, which were gathered around tables) was given 1 minute to make a plea to get votes on the realignment (second round of voting). I was stunned at how articulate my neighbors were when speaking. Each person made a very good case for their candidate.
— Then, another vote was taken, which was called the realignment. This open ballot resulted in some surprising results as people moved around the classroom. The 28 persons who showed up were allowed to move. The other (early) votes were counted electronically on an iPad (as a second choice option on the ballot — it was entirely electronic):
(I can’t remember the exact scrap count)
— This meant that three candidates were declared “viable,” meaning they would receive delegates. The math formula for allotment was as follows:
4 delegates for Sanders
2 delegates for Warren
2 delegates for Steyer
— There was some confusion about the non-11 count for some candidates. Obviously, only the persons who showed up were able to make an on-the-fly decision. Some votes ended up being wasted. That’s the benefit of actually attending a caucus versus doing the half-assed thing and voting early. While all voting is good, I also found the line to be much shorter today than expected. I waited only 20 minutes to register and the caucus took no longer than 90 minutes from start to finish. I also got to meet some of my neighbors, which was nice.
— I was asked to be a delegate for my candidate but declined. I preferred to give that seat to a Tulsi Gabbard backer who came to support my candidate and I befriended during the caucus. The young man was in his 20s and I thought it was far more important to let a younger person be engaged in the process rather than me, who has been in these battles before. Let others have fun.
Now, my major takeaways:
1. Sanders is a force and the clear frontrunner. My precinct went for Clinton in 2016, by about 55-45 margin. This time, the two progressive candidates took 75 percent of the vote. While 68 votes aren’t statistically significant, it’s not insignificant either. Apparently, Sanders will win Nevada easily statewide, showing this state is far more progressive than 4 or 8 years ago. This gives me great hope as to the future of the movement here and the energy of young people who are the driving force for progressive causes.
2. All the Sanders supporters were young, meaning under 40. Again, the future. Great demographics of progressive causes and democratic socialism. This is particularly satisfying in a city like money-obsessed Las Vegas, which isn’t exactly the epicenter of Leftist politics.
3. Biden’s turnout in my precinct was pathetic. It was shocking. Biden should perform well in my area, which is older, established, and above-average income. Apparently, Biden will do much better statewide, especially among minorities and the braindead union vote, but his showing in my area should be a serious cause for alarm.
4. Tom Steyer. Seriously? Wow. Steyer had a solid showing in my precinct and was well organized. Good spokespeople. Finishing third is quite a feat for Steyer, which won’t draw those numbers throughout Nevada, but who did gain some enthusiasm.
5. Pete Buttigieg got shafted. He was right there in votes close to Warren and Steyer but then collapsed in the realignment. I actually stopped the meeting at one point and spoke to make sure the Buttigieg people weren’t pissed and would leave thinking something was rigged. To go from nearly getting delegates to being shut out (by Steyer, no less) was a baffling outcome to all those in the room.
So, I ended up caucusing for Elizabeth Warren. Sanders has my heart on the issues. But Warren is the candidate best suited to win. I think she’s a longshot, of course. But I was proud to stand with her today.
Finally, I like caucusing. I much prefer having to take part in the political process rather than standing in line anonymously. I presume this is a minority viewpoint and caucusing will be a thing of the past, but I do like the old fashioned way of discussing and advocating for a party nominee.
I want to thank all those who read my earlier reports, commented, and even lobbied me to support their candidate. Please know that I took each instance of outreach very seriously. In fact, I was honored by your interest and swayed by your passions.
More to come, but that wraps up my report from The Lakes/Las Vegas.
FINAL FUNNY STORY: I’m not known in my community, but everyone sees me running each day, which I have been doing for the past seven years. While we were waiting during the caucus, an older woman came up to me. Marieta was sitting beside me. The woman, perhaps 70 and for Biden said, “I’ve never seen you before with your shirt on!” I looked at her and was like, “huh?” Marieta looked at her like she was crazy. Then, the lady mentioned she sees me running in warm months all the time and recognized me from the street. At least, that’s “our story” for now.
“I write songs. Then, I record them. And, later, maybe I perform them on stage. That’s what I do. That’s my job. Simple.”
THE VAN MORRISON MASTERCLASS: WEEK 9
DAY 57: “No Religion” (1995)
Van Morrison may be the most religious and spiritual muse in pop music history. I don’t think that’s an overstatement.
His spiritual and religious quest is deeply authentic. His thoughts on religion have changed drastically over the years, and are reflected frequently in his music and verse. Influenced heavily by the sounds of gospel early on, many of Van’s songs display his own soul searching and a quest for inner peace. Never one to preach, his music nonetheless resonates with believers and non-believers alike. To this day, he sometimes pops into church services unannounced and performs a song, or two — to stunned listeners watching an absolute legend in the music business sing and strum a guitar.
Van’s religious persuasion in the 1960s and 1970s was typical of the time and the culture. However, he was never self-indulgent like other popular rock acts of the day. Van’s curiosities began with Astral Weeks (1968) and have been a steady pursuit ever since. From “Into the Mystic” to “No Religion,” one of the qualities that makes him so interesting and endearing is his willingness to be brave and sometimes wrong in sharing his thoughts on divinity.
Consider Van’s brief flirtation with Scientology in 1983, when he dedicated the Inarticulate Speech of the Heart album to guru-madman-charlatan L. Ron Hubbard. That stain did not age well. Much of his studio work during the 1980s and 1990s imitated his greater spiritual aspirations and reflected a burning desire to know more. All one must do is look at the titles of his albums, including Saint Dominic’s Preview and Enlightenment and Beautiful Vision and No Guru No Method No Teacher and Hymns to the Silence and The Healing Game. Religion, spirituality, and mysticism are pillars in Van’s musical canon.
Van’s songs on spirituality are among his most powerful and deeply moving. Who can deny this? “No Religion” is among his catchier and lighter compositions, marked by a foot-tapping beat, echoing vocals with a backup singer, and absolutely brilliant lyrics. This isn’t an anti-religion song, at all. Rather, the uplifting “No Religion” is one of those poetic puzzles open to broad interpretation. Van, always coy interviews about the meanings of his songs, gruffly says, “of course it’s open to interpretation — that’s the whole point, isn’t it?”
We didn’t know no better, and they said it could be worse Some people thought it was blessing Other people think that it’s a curse It’s a choice between fact and fiction And the whole world has gone astray That’s why there’s no religion, no religion, no religion here today.
“No Religion” is from the Days Like This album, released in 1995.
DAY 58: “Allow Me” (1987)
Van Morrison has composed some extraordinary instrumentals. One of his best songs is off of the self-produced Poetic Champions Compose album, which included three new instrumentals among the 11 total tracks. Many critics at the time didn’t like the personal and musical metamorphosis, leading Van to become even more bitter and resentful. Rolling Stone magazine dismissed the album as “mood music” emblematic of Van’s “slump” during the mid-1980s.
I don’t see this period as a slump at all, but rather a compulsory transformation galvanized by maturity. By his 42nd birthday, Van wasn’t destined for the oldies tour. He steadfastly refused to become a nostalgia act, jumping around a stage like James Brown or Mick Jagger, both well into their own mid-age crisis. Even the cover photo shows Van, not as the rock icon from his earlier days. He’s no longer that Van — nor in appearance, not in character, not in live performances, and certainly not in terms of his music. This is the look of someone with no regard for how he’s perceived. He is his own toughest critic.
Instead, Van turned deeper within himself. He continued pushing musical boundaries and writing new material. Van also expanded further in his selection of instruments. Each album between 1987 and 2012 — an astonishing 25-year period — seemed to be very different from the last, darting from jazz to soul to country to folk to R&B to Celtic, interspersed with the occasional live album, various covers and tributes, as well as collaborations.
“Allow Me” closes the Poetic Champions Compose album, which was recorded in London. The song is almost extinct so far as any reference points or known background material. Van rarely if ever performed the track live in concert, which certainly would have surfaced had it been done. Accordingly, as best as I can conclude, this is yet another nearly-forgotten treasure. Neil Drinkwater, a session pianist is wonderful, but Van steals the song with his work on the alto sax.
Here, allow me…..
DAY 59: “When I Deliver” (1975 — Unreleased Bootleg)
A fundamental element of this ambitious project is making new discoveries. When digging, one never knows what’s unearthed. Not only are we venturing far beyond the customary hits, but sporadically, we also discover songs that were never included on any Van Morrison compilation. Accordingly, these “lost tracks” have been heard by only a small number of listeners.
Consider two shelved albums from Van during 1975 which never made the transition from rough studio cut to vinyl to radio airplay. Mechanical Bliss, an amazing 10-track album was inexplicably shelved, presumably at Van’s direction. These hidden gems were forgotten. Until now.
The Genuine Philosophers Stone is a three-disc bootleg series of outtakes from Van’s most prolific period as a singer-songwriter, when his plethora of studio and live recordings simply could not fit on the commercial album space intermittently released by record companies. The thing was and is, musicians don’t work according to the strict confines of a timetable. Such pressures are the basis of resentment. Instead, when the music just flows, it’s time for Van to dart into the studio, assemble a few musicians, and let the magic happen.
That’s precisely what occurred in mid-1975 when Van’s recording contract called for a new album release, to which the unpredictable and incontrovertible Northern Irishman basically told the record company they’d have to wait until *he* was satisfied with the release. Ten years earlier, Van had been bombastic at the release of his first solo album (Blowin’ Your Mind in 1967) totally without his consent. Resentful of record companies (even to this day), Van took glorious joy in his revenge, accusing the business side of indifference to artist pursuits. He made them wait, and was summarily dropped from his contract. And so, Van shelved two albums that had been set for release in 1975.
The good news for us “Vanatics” is, these recordings are now buried treasure awaiting discovery. Many of the best-quality tracks ended up on the astounding 1998 double-album release of spurious outtakes, The Philosophers Stone. However, quite a few of these hidden gems never made it to the public’s ears.
Here’s a marvelous recording that has a definitive R&B feel, written by Van, titled “When I Deliver” Notice the track seems to start off with an uncertain sense of direction, and then finds a groove about 90 seconds into the 6-minute song. Even the timing changes. Some lyrics appear to be spontaneous. Van, on vocals, also inserts some harmonica. It’s a fascinating glimpse into Van’s free-flowing creative process. Too bad this song wasn’t polished and crafted into a release. It’s got a nice soulful appeal that reflects Van’s deep connection to R&B.
Go ahead. Take six. Have a listen to this unreleased recording from the back corner of Van’s musical vault.
“Let’s do that again, that feels good…..”
DAY 63: “The Healing Game” (1997)
Two of Van Morrison’s most powerful songs are about healing and include the word in the song title — 1979’s “And The Healing Has Begun,” and “The Healing Game,” the title track from the 1997 album.
The Healing Game is a concept album built on street singing. Just as many American cities produced street harmonies from the 1950s through the era of “Boy Bands,” kids hanging out on corners, singing late at night, Belfast (Northern Ireland) also had a thriving street music scene. Van was a part of that as a teenager. The primary sound to come out of this movement was something called “Doo-Wop.”
Doo-Wop can be heard throughout The Healing Game, including the title song. This is among Van’s most thorough compositions. It starts slowly with the Hammond organ (Van’s trademark sound of this period) and builds into a wall of sound. Not so much music as a transformative experience, Van floods the microphones with love and spirit.
The horns, and specifically two sax solos steal the song. If you’re into horns, this is about as great as it gets. Check out the crescendo of horns in this song and note how they blend into the melody as the volume gradually rises and the scene becomes something more akin to a gospel choir.
This live track of “The Healing Game” was recorded in 1999 at Rockpalast in Germany. This was the American Bandstand of Europe, which was seen by 25 million viewers a week. Just about every major rock act of the day appeared at one time or another on Rockpalast. Note the video quality isn’t great, but the audio is just fine. Listen to those horns!
Van did many versions of “The Healing Game,” which is texturally rich and complex and allows the opportunity for spontaneity. Also, note that Candy Dulfer on the sax. She’s fabulous.
“The Healing Game” is an astounding musical composition, and one of the rare tracks that’s actually better in a live setting, as this video shows.
“Sing it out loud! Sing it in your name! Sing it like you’re proud! Sing the Healing Game!”
DAY 61: “Help Me” (2010)
Van Morrison has never recorded “Help Me” in-studio before, which is odd because it’s one of his favorite songs to perform live in concert. The Sonny Boy Williamson II classic was first released in 1963. It’s set to the standard 12-bar-blues contour, a familiar chord pattern and song structure, which is the basis of so many great blues recordings.
Van has frequently performed “Help Me” in recent years.
One of his better shows took place about ten years ago during the BBC Four sessions, with a stellar band and enthusiastic live audience. Van’s vocals are as strong as ever in this show, but the most interesting elements are his sax intro and interlude later on the harmonica. Van frequently plays assorted instruments, both on his recordings and during his live shows, but rarely do we see him doing all three — vocals, sax, and harmonica — all within the same track.
This entire performance is among his better engagements in the past decade. I’m not a fan of his recent shows (nothing since 2012 has impressed me), though it’s hard to be critical of someone who has written such an extraordinary catalog of songs and continues to evolve as he releases new material (four new albums in the past three years).
Van can be tempestuous while onstage. You never know what you’ll get. So many of his live shows are filled with spontaneity, which can be a double-edged sword. Most of the audience prefers to hear Van sing his classics in the way they were originally written. Dismissive of all expectation, Van often wanders off on tangents trying his best, it seems, to make the hits sound as different as possible. As one can imagine, this upsets and disappoints a sizable percentage of most audiences.
Even during this performance, which was a live telecast on the BBC, we witness moments with Van turning to various members of the band and barking out instructions. We also hear Van’s customary “grunts” and “yeah’s” which are genuine moments of satisfaction from the most cantankerous of singer-bandleaders.
Well worth a listen and a viewing. Check out Van doing the Sonny Boy Williamson II classic, “Help Me.”
DAY 62: “And the Healing Has Begun” (1979)
We all suffer loss. We all feel pain. We all endure hardship. We all long for recovery. We all need to heal.
And so, the healing has begun.
Van Morrison’s gifts to us are his transparency and vibrancy. Somehow, he’s able to seize the most common human emotion of all, the sorrow of loss, and magically uplift us with a simple lyric and catchy melody. Among his most evocative songs of recovery comes from the 1979 album, Into the Music. The song is titled, “And the Healing has Begun.”
Clocking in at nearly eight-full minutes, the track had no intention of being released as a single, nor receiving any radio exposure, nor even promotion from Van’s live performances. It was released among a three-album flurry of eclectic recordings put out by Van during the peak of the disco era, 1979-80 when he was singing and recording against every contemporary musical current. The stong didn’t stand a chance of critical exclamation nor popular public reception.
Not that any of that mattered to Van.
“And the Healing has Begun” has aged remarkably well over the past four decades. because it’s melody and message remain timeless. The backing violin is stellar, very reminiscent of Van’s earlier period in collaboration with the Caledonia Soul Orchestra, which heightened many recordings from Van’s most creative songwriting period. Van was customarily dismissive when asked about the song many years later. He stated:
“Well, it’s all about healing, isn’t it?….it comes back to this question: what’s your original face? Know what I mean? Who are you really? There are so many different kinds of healing but, if you are in alignment with yourself, then that in itself is going to be healing. If you’re trying to be something other, like something superficial, trying to be someone you’re not, then that would take you away from your true center. Really, if you’re asking about those songs and those albums, then it’s about getting back to the true center within yourself. That healing thing. It was nothing new. Music has always been about healing, hasn’t it?” (Credit: Van Morrison Song Meanings)
Yes, it’s about healing.
Van would end up writing two of his very best compositions about healing. This recording is the first. The other is “The Healing Game,” and album-title track composed some 15 years later.
Far from being a sad song, this emits spontaneous joy from start to finish. Part jam-session, part gospel revelation, and seemingly pure spontaneity, Van has written an elixir of ecstasy.
From whatever pain we need to recover, this song is a salve for our souls.
DAY 63: “Linden Arden Stole The Highlights” (1974)
“Cleaved their heads off with a hatchet, Lord he was a drinking man.”
Now for something completely different. “Linden Arden Stole The Highlights” is an obscure track off the Veedon Fleece album. Clocking in at under 3 minutes, it’s a tale burst about a fictional character named Linden Arden, presumably an Irish immigrant in America.
This isn’t a song, so much as poetry. Linden Arden‘s inner demons are revealed when he drinks, and this vice becomes his undoing. Taking the law into his own hands wields weighty consequences.
Scrutinizing the songwriting process can produce more questions than answers. As with the greatest art, melodies and lyrics often flow from the subconscious. Indeed, many of Van’s songs are not written by him at all, at least not consciously, it seems. While onstage, in the studio, and most often while composing when alone, a mystical trance takes over. Inspired by the poets and the bluesmen, he channels the energy and the mysticism in some temporal excavation.
This song is very Irish, very explosive, very unpredictable, very abrupt, very intense, very graphic —– and very, very, Van.
“Linden Arden stole the highlights With one hand tied behind his back Loved the morning sun, and whiskey Ran like water in his veins Loved to go to church on Sunday Even though he was a drinking man When the boys came to San Francisco They were looking for his life But he found out where they were drinking Met them face to face outside Cleaved their heads off with a hatchet Lord, he was a drinkin’ man And when someone tried to get above him He just took the law into his own hands
Linden Arden stole the highlights And they put his fingers through the glass He had heard all those stories many, many times before And he did not care no more to ask And he loved the little children like they were his very own He Said, “Someday it may get lonely.” Now he’s livin’, livin’ with a gun.”
Miss a previous weeks’ lessons? No problem. Here are direct links to all the prior installments:
(Translated from Latin, means to “doubt everything.”)
If Karl Marx was alive today, he’d be a frequent guest on news and talk shows. He’d be a regular on CNN, MSNBC, and perhaps even FOX News. Imagine Marx sitting opposite Sean Hannity or Tucker Carlson.
Think of Geraldo Rivera, only with brains and integrity.
Marx was not a political fanatic, nor was he an extremist — certainly not when you examine his many writings. In fact, back in his day, during the mid-to-late 19th century, Marx is what we’d now call a social commentator. He wrote about politics, economics, and current events. Think of a leftist version of Jeanine Pirro, only much better looking.
Talking heads didn’t exist back then, not as a television entity nor with David Byrne. So instead, Marx scribed all of his ideas. Those ideas were published in various newspapers and periodicals, including even in outlets based in the United States. He also wrote a few notable books, which weren’t particularly well-received when they were initially published, which is another way of saying Marx was way ahead of his time. Too bad Marx didn’t have an agent. He might have ended up as a capitalist.
Marx doesn’t merit our reverence, though he has come to personify a global movement. Many patriarchs of what we now call “socialism” pre-dated his work and expressed similar ideas with far superior clarity. Indeed, Marx is no ideological messiah. But he doesn’t deserve universal scorn, nor any condemnation, either. Based on several passages of his writings and his character revealed later by those who knew him best (and chronicled these encounters), it’s accurate to say Marx would have been mortified to see the terrors later perpetrated in his name long after his death, carried out more than half a century later in places like the Soviet Union, Mao’s China, East Germany, North Korea, and other bastard regimes.
The fact is, Marx only commented on the events of the 19th Century, a period of vast social upheaval, the industrial revolution, and grotesque inequity. He couldn’t have foreseen the bloody horrors to come (done in his name). Like Jesus or Mohammed fronting similar popular movements some millennia earlier, we don’t hold them responsible for horrors like the Crusades, Islamic terrorism, or the worst catastrophe in the history of the world — The Jim Bakker Show. The mullahs twist Islam. The Falwells and Grahams twist Christianity. And Lenin twisted the hell out of Marx, worse than a dishrag. Pol Pot would have been utterly inconceivable to this struggling academic from Trier, Germany living in the 1830s. Besides, Pol Pot just sounds way too weird to be taken seriously, unless its a marijuana dispensary.
Marx got many things right. He also got some things wrong, which goes with the territory when commentating on unstable political and economic systems with lots of moving parts. He never proposed forming any kind of political movement, though several grotesque variants materialized which dragged his name and historical reputation through the mud. He declined opportunities to join parties and organize revolts. Marx became a victim of history. I would go so far as to say he was a tragic figure. The average (uninformed) American places him somewhere in the company of Adolf Hitler and Charles Manson. Such is the fallout of a supposedly free society with allegedly the greatest access to information than any civilization in history. America, fuck yeah.
Leninism, Stalinism, and Maoism have become the nuclear holocausts of political thought. Like Marx’s writings, the idea of fission may have initially been scientifically correct. What was actually done with the knowledge becomes a far more explosive topic.
But that’s not how our popular attitudes gel or how meanings evolve. Ideology isn’t organic. Rather, it’s evolutionary and politically pasteurized by the events of the day and then seasoned with bias. We always seek simple answers to complex questions. Capitalism = Good. Karl Marx = Bad. End of discussion. Now, turn on the ballgame and grab me another beer. U-S-A!
Indeed, real understanding takes work. Why read or study or think when you can wave a flag? Plowing through deliberate disinformation takes even more work. Overcoming historical misrepresentation even takes courage. Most of all, it requires an open mind, in a world that largely consists of nonsense barreling down the lunatic fringe assembly line. Like trying to pour wine into a corked bottle. Nothing gets in. Even the most advanced societies are a giant cork of ignorance. Closed societies, especially those impoverished or tied to religion, are locked in a barrel.
Nonetheless, Marx and his ideas deserve to be understood accurately, instead of the amalgamation of knee-jerk emotions and the lightning rod for evil that they’ve become. Marxist to contemporary politics what a pedophile is to daycare. It’s an unthinkable prospect.
Given how loosely Marx’s name gets tossed around — especially with the misnomer of “Socialism” being such a timely topic — now is a perfect opportunity to look more closely at this fascinating man who lived from 1812 to 1883.
As you read further, I’ll later pose a question: Is being a Marxist — that is, believing in the words and ideas expressed by this social commentator — really so extreme? Ponder that question. Then, take this short test I composed based on his life and his writings.
Here are 25 things about Karl Marx you might not know (taken from various biographies I’ve read):
(1) Marx wasn’t Russian. He never once visited any of the countries which would (allegedly) later come to practice his philosophy. Marx was born in what’s now Germany. He lived in one of the more enlightened societies in the world, a time and place filled with cultural and artistic expression.
(2) Marx’s parents were Jewish. However, they later converted to Christianity (Protestantism). This was reportedly to avoid fears of rampant antisemitism in central Europe. Young Karl Marx was baptized in the Lutheran Church. Tell that to your Sunday School class.
(3) From early adulthood, Marx openly claimed to be an atheist. Oddly enough, that self-proclamation — highly unusual for its time — made him even more of a social outcast than if he were Jewish. His rejection of religion certainly hurt him professionally and economically much of his life.
(4) Marx and his wife had six children. By all accounts, he was a devoted father. Marx created funny nicknames for each of them.
(5) Marx was burdened by health problems during most of his life. He had severe liver problems, suffered from rheumatoid arthritis, endured migraine headaches, and complained constantly of toothaches.
(6) Marx was an insomniac. He often slept no more than three hours a night.
(7) Marx loved the arts. He initially wanted to become a theater and drama critic. But his father talked him out of this career pursuit insisting there was no way to make a decent living attending opera and plays and writing about the theater.
(8) Marx was immensely popular with his peers while studying in college. He often paid for parties and nights out on the town with friends. He dated often. His out-of-control spending habits left him and his parents in debt.
(9) Marx attended universities in Bonn, Berlin, and Jena. He earned a Ph.D. and was a Doctor of Philosophy.
(10) Marx lived in poverty during most of his life. While they collaborated, his close friend Friedrich Engels provided him money on which to live every month.
(11) Marx met his lifetime writing partner Engels at a street cafe while living in Paris in 1843. After a two-year residency, they both moved to Brussels where they remained for another two years. After that, they moved to Cologne along with their families. Remarkably, the duo long associated with communism spent most of their lives in Germany, France, Belgium, and England — democratic countries that would become the bulwark against the movement during most of the next century. However, one can also say these nations are among the models of modern democratic-socialism. So, perhaps Marx’s ideas did gain fertile ground.
(12) Marx’s personal hero was Spartacus. He was a Roman slave and leader of a popular uprising and revolt during the Roman Empire.
(13) Marx’s personal motto was “nothing human is alien to me.”
(14) One of Marx’s early political writings was an expose on the gross mistreatment and exploitation of vineyard workers along the Rhine River. The controversial story caused quite a stir and led to unskilled workers’ rights being debated seriously for the first time.
(15) Marx did not invent communism. This term essentially means private property rights are dissolved in favor of common (shared) ownership. Such ideas were first proposed by French philosophers, including Jean Jacques Rousseau, in 1762. Those ideas would spark the French Revolution, a generation later.
(16) Karl Marx had drug problems, but that was much more common than is usually reported. Because of his intense pain and multiple ailments, Marx often took heavy doses of arsenic and opium, which in those days were thought to cure for some health problems. He found it so painful to sit down that he often wrote while standing.
(17) Marx spent most of his life working as a journalist. His writings were revolutionary at the time. Some of his ideas included abolishing child labor, providing free public education to all citizens and making school attendance mandatory, and implementing a gradual income tax based on personal income. Virtually all western societies would adopt these “revolutionary” ideas within the next 70 years.
(18) Marx was a fast and prolific writer. One of his most famous books, The Communist Manifesto, was completed in only six weeks. Das Capital, the first edition of his masterwork was also written in a short amount of time.
(19) Marx was an outcast and a refugee. A year after The Communist Manifesto was released in 1848, Marx was expelled from Prussia (modern-day Germany) and stripped of his citizenship.
(20) Marx was highly-principled and ideological. At the time he was expelled from the country, Marx was the editor of a progressive newspaper that featured stories on economic inequity and unfairness. When he learned that the paper would be shut down by authorities, the final issue of the paper was printed in red ink. That act of defiance later became the basis of red being associated with communism.
(21) Marx knew English and lived in England for a time. After being expelled from Germany, he found a job as a reporter in England and moved to London.
(22) Marx even wrote for American readers. While in London, Marx wrote for an American newspaper called The New York Daily Tribune. He served as one of the paper’s European correspondents. Marx initially wrote in his native German language which was translated into English once it reached New York. However, Marx learned English well enough to eventually write all of his columns in the English language. He was fluent in at least four languages.
(23) Marx had a strong grasp of American history and society. Among the many topics covered by Marx was the issue of slavery in America. He wrote passionately about its terrible inhumanity. When The New York Daily Tribune changed management prior to the American Civil War, it also changed its editorial position on this issue and was no longer an abolitionist paper. Despite needing the job at the time, he parted ways with his employer.
(24) Marx got the geography for his ideas wrong. His ideas were intended to be applied to the most modern industrialized societies, such as England, Germany, and France. Instead, they were adopted in Russia (and later China) which were overwhelmingly agrarian societies and lacked the proper political and economic infrastructure to achieve success.
(25). Marx saw the signs of what was to come. Late in his life, Marx attended a political rally that had formed and taken his name. When he found out what they believed and wanted to accomplish, he famously proclaimed, “If they are Marxists, then I’m not a Marxist.”
While writing about this topic, I came up with a couple more:
(26) Marx loved poetry and often wrote about romance. He penned dozens of poems, later judged to be quite respectable. These poems were discovered after his death and were published in 1929.
(27) Marx is buried in England. His body rests in London, at Highgate Cemetery.
So, do these revelations change your idea of Marxism?
In this poisonous political climate of such grotesque historical ignorance, enlightenment clouded by the poisonous shroud of social media, let facts be separated from fiction.
Next time someone is labeled as a “Marxist,” it would be wise to remember who Karl Marx truly was and reflect upon those beliefs. Demagogues who insist on using Marxist as a slur reveal a lot more about their own ignorance than the target of their derision. In fact, based on the points above, the Marxist tag might rightfully be construed as a compliment.