I must admit that I really like Bernie Sanders' newest campaign ad, the one that uses the song "America" by Simon & Garfunkel (and yes, he got their permission to use it). I'm not the only one who is impressed-- even some of his political opponents agree that this ad is beautifully done, whether you support Mr. Sanders or not. If you haven't seen it, here it is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2nwRiuh1Cug
When I first saw it, the ad reminded me in some ways of Ronald Reagan's classic 1984 political ad "Morning in America." It evoked some of the same emotions-- people who are going about their lives, happy to be in a country that's optimistic, unafraid, even hopeful. But sad to say, the current Republican candidates (who love to invoke Mr. Reagan's name) don't seem to share the optimism that he displayed-- their rhetoric is much more negative. It's all about hatred for immigrants, the need to drop bombs and declare another war, the need to build a wall, or place a ban on Muslims, and the constant fear of an imminent disaster. There are persistent references to what a mess the country is in, and constant criticisms of the president (as well as each other). For the current Republican candidates, there seems to be nothing to celebrate: America is not a very hopeful place at all.
With so much pessimism, it's nice to be reminded that there are still many reasons to be proud of America. Despite all the doom and gloom from certain politicians, every day, there are examples of altruism, kindness, and compassion. For example, I recently posted a newspaper article on social media, about a wonderful young woman I've been mentoring; she's a legal immigrant from Haiti who is trapped in a bureaucracy not of her making; she is struggling to get a college education while working two jobs and driving long distances to get to class. (You can read about her here: http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/editorials/2015/12/24/education-slow-motion-thanks-immigration-law/UX6E9US63eSl5D1nWCSV4L/story.html) To her surprise, some readers sent donations to pay this semester's tuition. Several even insisted on remaining anonymous. She cried when she learned that she did not owe the college any money this semester-- she could not believe strangers would want to help her. And yet, they did. (If you too would like to help, contact me and I'll tell you how.)
I understand that America has its share of problems. I understand that every four years, candidates promise change and often fail to deliver. And I understand that some voters are angry, and others are cynical. Donald Trump on the right and Bernie Sanders on the left, although offering two very different visions, are both benefiting from how frustrated many Americans are feeling. But beyond the rhetoric, beyond the recitations of what's wrong, there are still people who have come to look for America-- they are hoping to find the America where there is still tolerance, the America that welcomes the stranger, the America where there is still the opportunity to get a good education and find a good job, the America where it's okay to be hopeful. And despite all the partisan rancor that I hear, I continue to believe that America is a place where liberals and conservatives can work together and solve problems, instead of calling each other names. Perhaps that's why the Bernie Sanders ad made such a strong impression on so many people-- it evoked an America where it's not all about rage and hatred, but rather, about celebrating the things we all have in common. That's the America I believe in, and I too have come to search for it, in a time when optimism seems to be sadly lacking in our politics.