Spend anytime around an American politician and you are often confronted with what seems like a paradox. On the one hand, they are clever and socially agile enough to rise in politics, win office and get rich without going to jail. On the other hand, they are astoundingly clueless about the lives of their fellow citizens. It’s as if they have learned about America from a book on their way here from another planet.
A story I often tell to illustrate this is the time I was helping setup for a party at a Congressman’s home. The landscaping guys failed to show up so someone would have cut the grass around the back patio. No one knew how a lawnmower worked. The staffers, the Congressman and his kids were baffled my a Toro push lawn mower. They spent an hour examining like it had fallen from the sky.
Anyway, this all around otherness was on display when Bernie Sanders dropped in on the hood this week.
Hoping to reach African-American voters nationally in his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, Sen. Bernie Sanders on Tuesday toured the West Baltimore neighborhood where Freddie Gray was arrested — and likened the poverty he observed to that of the Third World.
The independent senator, who describes himself as a democratic socialist, walked the streets of Sandtown-Winchester for about 20 minutes, joined by community leaders and a swarm of cameras that mostly blocked his view of boarded rowhomes and crumbling marble steps. A handful of residents joined the spectacle, and occasionally broke out in chants of Gray’s name.
The scene provided dramatic visuals of the economic inequality Sanders has made the center of his campaign, offering a new backdrop from which to argue for a higher minimum wage, tuition-free public college and tougher federal regulations of the nation’s banking sector.
“Anyone who took the walk that we took around this neighborhood would not think you’re in a wealthy nation,” Sanders told reporters later at the Freddie Gray Empowerment Center in Bolton Hill. “You would think that you were in a Third World country.”
I would imagine Bernie was thinking, “Holy crap! Look at all these…abandoned houses.” Sanders is from Vermont, but he spends little time there as he is the consummate Washington hack. Even so, his home state is one of the whitest places on earth. It has about 6,000 black people according to the last census. In other words, Bernie saw more brothers on Tuesday than there are in his entire state.
The funnier part is Sanders was probably being honest in his astonishment at seeing the ghetto. The last time he had any proximity to the ghetto was over 50 years ago when he lived in Brooklyn. After that he was off to college and a world of socialist white people debating about how to help those brown people they saw through their telescopes. The ghetto was a place that existed in theory for a guy like Sanders.
Even so, it’s amazing that a man could be on earth for 70 years and not have some idea of life in the black ghetto. It’s not like Vermont does not have television or newspapers. Yet, there was Bernie, flabbergasted at seeing blown out houses, broken streets and throngs of jobless blacks milling about with nothing to do other than mill about the neighborhood. Even a chump like Sanders had to sense he was way out of his league.
As Sanders toured West Baltimore, the trial of the first of six police officers charged in Gray’s death entered its seventh day in a downtown courtroom.
Before Sanders arrived in Bolton Hill, a campaign aide asked a group of about a dozen supporters not to cheer him.
The group, which included a woman who held a large banner that read “Bernie Sanders for President,” obliged; as a result, his arrival was more somber than a typical campaign appearance.
Sanders began the tour at the CVS at North and Pennsylvania avenues that burned during the riots. He walked to the corner of Presbury and North Mount streets, near where Gray was arrested, and looked up at a large mural of Gray.
Sanders then met with prominent faith leaders in Bolton Hill.
Residents yelled as Sanders passed by, and some joined the media throng. One shouted “He’s the only candidate without a super PAC!” — repeating a point Sanders has often made.
“We don’t want Trump,” shouted another.
Some held signs pointing to long-standing complaints with the city’s public housing: “We deserve safe and livable housing.”
“I’m impressed,” said Michael Williams, a West Baltimore man who described himself as a Hillary Clinton fan. “There has never been a person running for president to come to our neighborhood.”
The distance between the people and their rulers is never more obvious than when a guy like Sanders visits the ghetto for a photo-op. Baltimore has been governed by men like Sanders for half a century. The reason it is like a third world country is it has been ruled by third world men. Eventually, the only people left were third world too.Everything Bernie thinks is a great idea has been done in Baltimore and it is a third world shit-hole as a result.
Sanders, however, can’t see that. Fanatics have no concept of the past. As far as he is concerned, he has been “fighting to fix the ghetto” his whole life. He really believes it. That’s the paradox. Sander is a smart guy, but he is consumed by a religious zeal that blinds him to that which is obvious to most people. Instead of sporting a black hat and beard, Bernie’s religion is Progressive politics. He’ll die before giving it up.