In something of an ecumenical stretch, a socialist Democrat seeking to become the first Jewish president in U.S. history used the Jewish New Year to reach out to one of the most prominent conservative Christian schools in the country with a message that could have been tailor made for Pope Francis.
Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, whose improbable campaign for president threatens to overtake Democratic frontrunner Hillary Rodham Clinton, traveled to Liberty University in Virginia on Monday to seek political converts with a message that fighting economic inequality was a moral obligation – regardless of your political or religious persuasion.
“When we talk about morality and when we talk about justice, we have to, in my view, understand that there is no justice when so few have so much and so many have so little,” he said during the school’s convocation address.
Sanders couldn’t have been more out of his element in light of his views in favor of abortion and gay marriage and a raft of other social issues. Yet he insisted that he and the students and faculty of the largest Evangelical Christian University in the world – founded by Jerry Falwell – should be able to find common ground on his economic program of reducing income inequality and reducing the clout of Wall Street and the “billionaire class.”
“I understand that issues such as abortion and gay marriage are very important to you and that we disagree on those issues. I get that,” Mr. Sanders said, according to media reports. “But let me respectfully suggest that there are other issues out there that are of enormous consequence to our country and the world and that maybe, just maybe, we don’t disagree on them. And maybe, just maybe, we can work together in trying to resolve them.”
Sanders has been packing in huge crowds of liberal-minded college students and soaring in the polls in Iowa and New Hampshire with his homilies on social justice and economic reform. Today he sought to woo a politically and socially far right audience with a blend of Eugene V. Debs-style socialism and Judeo-Christian and Islamic philosophy and scripture.
“I am far, far from a perfect human being,” Sanders said on the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah, “but I am motivated by a vision, which exists in all of the great religions–Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and others–and which is so beautifully and clearly stated in Matthew 7:12. ‘So in everything, do to others what you would have them to do to you, for this sums up the Law and the prophets.’ The Golden Rule. Do to others what you would have them do to you. Not very complicated.”
Sanders – the champion of liberal Democrats who favors free college tuition, universal health care, higher taxes on the wealthy, and same sex marriage – made his improbable journey to Liberty University seven months after Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, one of the most conservative GOP presidential candidates, formally kicked off his campaign at Liberty espousing a much different message.