Old Bernie Sanders is quite a rig. He is by miles the most exhilarating presidential uppity-comer, our Bernie – he’s the Real Deal. A real Democrat-Plus: that is to say, not just your basic Democrat — no, Bernie is the deluxe model: he’s an Independent. Democratic. Socialist. Fully loaded. The “real” Democrats, though, are giving him an awful hard time for this. They say he’s not really one of them. They say he’s a Johnny-Come-Lately. They say he’s just using the Democratic Party to get himself elected.
But a few days ago in the national news, photographs surfaced from the downstairs back bedroom of the library at the University of Chicago — photos of a student occupation from back in those heady days of creative complaint — the 1960s. The 1960s, for you young folks born in the 1980s or ’90s, was the crucible that smelted down our current crop of national leaders.
This student occupation was in support of civil rights for Black people, which is an effort that most white Democrats like to take at least partial credit for, and this occupation was led by — yep: our boy Bernie Sanders. Not everyone is buying it, however. Venerable civil rights movement figure and Hillary Clinton supporter John Lewis maintains that he never saw Bernie on the movement lines. Never even met the guy, says Lewis.
The Chicago photos, once verified and widely disseminated, should go a long way toward boosting Bernie’s approval ratings among Black voters. These pictures have also sent the nay-sayers and the hunh?-sayers scurrying for other images of Bernie’s political sympathies and thus, coincidentally, are contributing to the recasting of John Lewis as the movement’s justly revered but, alas, increasingly dotty old grand uncle. Maybe the 60s were a long time ago, John – but the anniversary commemoration of the March on Selma, where this photo (right) was taken, was just last summer. And you don’t remember meeting the guy?
Then, last night comes the astonishing report that in response to outside pressure, the Chicago photo archive had changed the captions on these images and took Bernie’s name out of them! The captions have since been put right again, but for a brief period leading up to the 2016 South Carolina primaries, the leader of the sit-in was identified as one “John Rappaport” — a real person, a contemporary of Bernie’s at Chicago, who is today conveniently dead and thus unable to thump the Sunday talk show podiums indignantly on his own behalf.
People may criticize Bernie for being a Johnny Come Lately to the Democratic Party. But if they do, they should also ask themselves (as I often ask myself): in such a moment, W.W.H.D. — What Was Hillary Doing? As it turns out, she didn’t exactly sit out the ’60s, either. As a freshly minted Young Republican she put in her time, yes mister — as a Goldwater Girl in ’64, an intern for House Speaker Gerald Ford (R-Michigan), and a campaign worker for Nelson Rockefeller the 1968 Republican convention.
This does seem to be the year of the opportunistic carpetbagger in the race for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, doesn’t it? But I’m all for ’em anyway. Feeling the Bern.