Monday, March 14, 2016

Booknote: Bernie

Ted Rall, Bernie. Oakland: Seven Stories Press, 2016.  ISBN: 9781609806989.

Genre: comics and graphic novels
Subgenre: politics, biography
Format: paperback
Source: Berea branch of the Madison County (KY) Public Library

This is a graphic novel biography of Bernie Sanders. It is an excellent book that both goes over the life of Vermont's U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders and explains the political landscape as we enter the 2016 presidential election and how we got there. After laying the background, the book then moves to look at Bernie Sanders. We start with him as that "socialist senator from Vermont." In 2011, he begins a rise in the left, in part propelled by the Occupy Movement as some people begin to say enough is enough. Ted Rall shows us Bernie's life and career with color, a little humor, and with conviction. The comic ends just as Bernie enters the presidential race, making it a very timely reading for the 2016 election season.

The book's art is very good. Rall's unique and somewhat quirkly art style captures Sanders well. It suits Sanders' image yet maintains the man's credibility and character. In addition, Rall does blend in some real photographs at key moments of the story, such as looking at Sanders' youth. The photos work very well to enhance the story.

This is a book that I highly recommend. It is a very timely selection for the 2016 election season in the United States. A strength of the graphic novel is that it is an accessible story. It explains in simple and clear language how we got here, and what the high stakes really are. For libraries, especially public libraries, this book is a must have. The book is also a great way to learn about the candidate. It is an easy read, but it is also a substantial read. The book includes a set of notes to provide good documentation of Sanders' positions and the politics discussed in the book; this is good for readers who wish to learn more. Rall does a good job of humanizing the man; we see Bernie's flaws as well as his virtues, which makes for a good biography and politics book.

5 out of 5 stars. 

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Additional reading notes: 

To help us understand where Sanders comes from, the book starts with a history of the Democratic Party and its turn to the right after Nixon defeated McGovern in a landslide in 1972. The Democratic Party has continued its rightward direction to this day.. Let's be honest. Hillary Clinton today, as the Rude Pundit said in one of his recent columns  is what a moderate Republican used to be. The book even recalls that Jimmy Carter, beloved humanitarian now, was not exactly an angel in office. He was a savvy politician who did turn to the right as well and was quite hawkish in his diplomacy and foreign policies.

And then came the Reagan presidency, and the rightward turn of the Democrats kept on going:

"Liberal concerns--poverty, environmental degradation, racism, discrimination against women, rising income inequality-- disappear from speeches by Democratic candidates. The media ignores these issues as well. Two-party politics becomes a debate between center-right and right-right" (36).

This explains why today the GOP is rabidly extreme right-right, and Hillary mostly runs a center-right campaign. Sanders, who the media often minimize is attempting a left move for the Democratic Party, but it is an uphill battle. The book, in a brief and concise way, explains how we got to this point in time. 

While Obama has his many good traits, certainly when compared to the obstructionist extremist right wing GOP, there is still this:

"The voices of the dispossessed are not heard in Obama's America. Neither major political party talks about income inequality, which has been growing steadily since the 1970s" (62).

And there is also this:

"America isn't poor. There's always money for war: to invade Afghanistan, to invade Iraq, to build so many new military bases that--this is true-- even the Pentagon might not know how many there are. What there isn't is money for average people. Unemployment benefits run out after a few months. After those paltry assistance payments end, it's your tough luck, your problem. If you're jobless or poor, you are on your own" (65).

As Ted Rall argues, the fact Bernie draws so much support from the young shows there is a hunger for new leadership and ideas. However, if in the end, there is nothing more than a coronation, or,

"If Bernie turns lame, or stays true and loses the nomination or the election, the hundreds of thousands of voters who turned out will never do so again. They will become jaded and cynical, muck like the young men and women who canvassed for Obama in 2008, only to find out after the election that their politics bore little resemblance to his" (190-191).

Therein lies a danger. Keep alienating the young, the poor, the disenfranchised, and there is the road to oligarchy and the loss of democracy. Now certain loyal Democrats love to whine and chide other Democrats they see as not toeing the party line. Many women support Hillary for no other reason than she is a woman or "it's her turn." Women may know Hillary is a warmonger, Wall Streeter, and free trader, but to them "first woman president elected" sounds really good. If that is the main thing the establishment candidate has, it really is not much, and our nation needs more at this crucial time. Overall, this will be a very interesting election season to watch. 

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This book qualifies for the following 2016 Reading Challenges:

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