Bernie Sanders reminds me very much of myself the first time I ever played Final Fantasy XII. Growing up, most of the games I played were very, very linear in terms of what you could do at certain points of the game you were expected to be at. You start a role-playing game at Level 1 in an area full of Level 1 or slightly higher enemies, moving on to an even slightly higher level boss fight. Then you move on to the next area, and the pattern repeats as your character gets bigger, stronger and better armed, until eventually you’re at the end of the game beating something massive you never could have tackled at the beginning.
Final Fantasy XII, though, was the first game I ever played where right there at the start of the main game, there was an enemy you simply can’t beat. A single Wild Saurian roams the desert right outside Dalmasca. It’s about Level 30. You are Level 1, and alone, and your gear sucks, and you have little to no magic or skills and no access to the Quickening super moves that can turn the tide. It is virtually impossible to win this fight at this time. If you try, the Wild Saurian will eat you. I tried half a dozen times, convinced there must be a trick I was missing. The game simply wouldn’t be so unfair as to give me a monster I couldn’t beat, right?
Now imagine that Bernie Sanders is me, and the Wild Saurian is the terrible, backwards-ass country three decades of conservative insanity have wrought.
It’s always struck me as odd that Sanders is seen as a revolutionary figure given how virtually nothing he says is particularly new or original. Hillary Clinton was pushing for a single-payer health system back when I was borrowing ten bucks from my mom to play Mortal Kombat II at the local Sellers Brothers. Barack Obama advocated for it as well. These are not new ideas, but sometimes I get the distinct impression that a lot of Sanders supporters aren’t aware of this.
Those who are more informed will point to Europe and its socialized health systems, better ways to provide higher education and the like. They have those things, so why can’t we? The dragon is there; we just have to kill it!
Look, Clinton, Obama and a ton of other liberals in this country didn’t back off single payer because they wanted to do it, or because a bunch of shadowy corporate masters pulled their strings. They did it because THEY DIDN’T HAVE THE LEVELS! They didn’t have them as players because we as a country didn’t have them, and we still don’t.
You have to remember those programs and systems in Europe didn’t spring up out of whole cloth on the back of one reformative figure with a dream. Looking into the history of England’s National Health Service, it took some time. It was the result of decades of incremental changes to laws and to the national mind-set on how best to deliver health care to people.
Meanwhile, America built a system based on employment, and any conversation about socialized medicine was treated with deep suspicion brought about by Cold War attitudes toward the Soviet Union and its brand of socialism. A ton of people in this country still think of the USSR whenever you bring up the word socialism. By the ’90s and Clinton’s efforts to address a system that was clearly inferior to what the rest of the world had, everything had metastasized. Throw in the Bush administration, a period of unpaid-for and expensive war that is almost old enough to drive now and a global recession, and we’re still very, very under-leveled.
Everything Bernie Sanders does, from focusing on rallies over get-out-the-vote initiatives to his demonization of the rest of the Democratic Party to his apathy in raising money for down-ticket races, smacks of a guy who thinks he is definitely going to slay that dragon despite the fact he is alone and armed mostly with dreams of victory. His plans involve the United States having a multi-year sustained 5 percent economic growth rate, which is about as likely as my copy of Final Fantasy XII glitching and granting me a Zodiac Spear in the first chest. Sure, if it happened, I could kill that dragon and a whole lot of other things, but it’s not going to, and planning on it is a good way to get my character perished.
Clinton, though, is level grinding. She’s raising millions of dollars to put in the down-ticket races that will have the arms and spells that will help battle the monsters whose attacks take the form of bullshit anti-trans legislation and the attempt to eradicate abortion rights. She’s got a pretty good plan to mine resources from the rich and Wall Street rather than blowing them up. She wants to build on the healer we’ve been putting upgrades into rather than trying to start over with a new character. She’s out there every day fighting those low-level enemies one wolf at a time because that’s how you level up a candidate and a country. She’s grinding, and it’s why she’s going to win and why she should win.
In a video game, when the over-leveled monster eats you, you just go back to the last saved point and you either try again or give up. It doesn’t cost much. For a country, though, especially one with a lot of big enemies inside it, the cost is higher. We can’t afford to waste a presidency on a fit of anger by poking the dragon in the ass with a substandard sword just because we hate the dragon. Obama has spent the past eight years improving our stats and lives through level grinding, and every time I hear Sanders speak, he sounds like Leeroy Jenkins getting ready to mess that up in a suicide charge. Don’t get me wrong; I love it when an under-leveled character takes out a beast he or she shouldn’t be able to, but I’m not willing to risk the Affordable Care Act on it, and would rather have a candidate who values grinding over grandstanding.
Jef's collection of stories about vampires and drive-thru churches, The Rook Circle, is available now. You can also find him on Patreon, Facebook and Twitter.