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Blubaugh: Coronavirus doing what Sanders couldn’t

Last week, with most people focusing their attention on the coronavirus while working from home, binge-watching Nefflix, creating pandemic playlists on Spotify and, apparently, making frequent trips to the landfill, a pretty big national news story came and went with little fanfare.

Sen. Bernie Sanders dropped out of the presidential race, conceding he wouldn’t be able to win the Democratic nomination. It registered barely a ripple, whereas six weeks earlier such an announcement would’ve caused a tidal wave. Of course, six weeks earlier it wouldn’t have happened. He was leading the race at that time and seemed a decent bet to win the nomination.

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Of course, things change quickly. The coronavirus has shown us that, with nearly 20,000 dead in this country, unemployment going from negligible to ubiquitous and so many freedoms formerly taken for granted now taken away in an effort to save lives.

Sanders had to stop campaigning because of the coronavirus, but he was done by then anyway. In four days, he went from the Democrats’ delegate leader and favorite to square off with President Trump on Election Day to being wholly usurped by Joseph Biden. Sanders got smoked in South Carolina on Feb. 29 and nearly swept on Super Tuesday, March 3, when Biden won 10 of the 14 states. Other candidates who had figured prominently in the mix proceeded to drop out and then it was just a matter of whether Bernie would stick it out as he did in 2016.

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It was a rather anticlimactic ending after a stunning rise. Who would’ve thought a socialist senator from tiny Vermont, an old, white man with tousled hair who talks with his hands and yells when he talks, could lead huge numbers of heretofore largely apolitical young people on a movement to the far left.

Sanders, the candidate, had many drawbacks, but at least everyone knew what he stood for — significantly reducing wealth inequality and implementing universal health care. He never got any traction from the right nor much from the Democratic establishment.

Ironically, while the coronavirus crisis silenced his voice on the national stage, its impact is making his points for him more effectively than he ever could.

Millions have lost their jobs and, for at least a good percentage of them, that means losing health insurance at a time when coverage is absolutely essential. If the United States had universal coverage, as most of the civilized world does, losing one’s job wouldn’t be such a double-whammy.

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As for income inequality, the consequences of that will become even more apparent as the crisis continues and we realize how many were just surviving, certainly not thriving in their paycheck-to-paycheck lives, more and more unable to pay for essentials like food and rent.

We will also see how disproportionately those with lower incomes fall victim to the virus itself. Far more vulnerable because of preexisting conditions or horrible diets they didn’t have the money to take care of and far less able to work from home and stay safely in quarantine, they will be found to have gotten sick and died at a far higher rate than the middle class and the rich.

The coronavirus is, apparently, making even those who weren’t listening to Bernie notice this.

One recent poll found that 41% of adults are now more likely than they were before the pandemic to support a government-run care system covering all Americans. Since the outbreak, 1 in 4 Republicans have even come to this conclusion.

Other ideas that used to seem “out there” are sounding better and better to those from both sides of the aisle affected by the coronavirus, such as paid family leave, universal sick leave, and a livable minimum wage. Heck, Andrew Yang’s universal basic income suddenly seems palatable to many who suddenly, through no fault of their own, have little or no income.

Anyone who has seen firsthand the job Carroll County Public Schools is doing in getting out thousands of meals each day that include fruits, vegetables, milk, juice, snacks and protein — to anyone under 18, regardless of means, regardless of whether they attend public school ― has to be wondering why we, as a country, aren’t giving all kids a free lunch every day.

And even if, in theory, most people are against socialism, in practice, they seem to be getting more comfortable with it. Few companies will be turning down any bailouts; few individuals will be sending back their stimulus checks. “Handout” isn’t such a dirty word these days.

America will never embrace government limiting individuals’ ability to be successful or government completely subsidizing those who simply don’t want to work. But the coronavirus crisis is convincing many who Sanders couldn’t that the system could use a serious tweaking.

Bob Blubaugh is the editor of the Carroll County Times. His column appears Sundays. Email him at bob.blubaugh@carrollcountytimes.com.

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