THE BLOG
07/28/2016 05:10 pm ET Updated Jul 29, 2017

Bernie Sanders, Moral Hero

At a time when so much in this world is wrong, a leader who "does the right thing" -- the moral thing -- is triply important: He advances the cause of rightness in a world of wrongness; he heals that hurting world; and, because his quest is moral, he provides his followers with the tools and the banner to carry on.

Bernie Sanders, in raising the moral question of inequality of income, has performed an act of incomparable value and one long overdue in our skewed capitalist system.

To hear Bernie state explicitly, over and over and over until he was hoarse, that it is not right -- it simply is not right -- that so few Americans enjoy economic security while the vast majority do not: How elevating, how tonic, how necessary! That millions and millions of Americans responded demonstrates that his quest to address the rightness and wrongness of things has struck us in our deepest and best selves.

And now, at the Democratic national convention, when Bernie had to concede the race for President to his opponent Hillary Clinton: To urge his delegates to support Hillary, as he did in his speech, then, during the roll call, to urge that Hillary be selected by acclamation -- what grace, what magnanimity. And, when booed by his own supporters when he urged party unity, Bernie continued to make the moral argument -- "It is easy to boo, but it is harder to look your kids in the face who would have to live under a Donald Trump presidency": More grace and magnanimity, in what must have been a heart-breaking turn.

Of course, income inequality isn't Bernie's only issue. There's also his call for free public college and universal healthcare, among others. But all these issues relate to the vast and growing imbalance of income -- and all are now included, thanks to Bernie, in the 2016 Democratic party platform.

It takes a special kind of courage to undertake a moral quest -- knowing the overwhelming forces arrayed against you, knowing the sheer inertia of a system long in place. But Bernie was no hapless Don Quixote, tilting at windmills. He is bigger and better than that: Our capitalist system simply has to change and Bernie simply -- simply? -- got into the arena to declare that simple truth. That's what moral heroes do: They do the right thing, no matter the obstacles and no matter how long the endurance test.

Moreover, it takes a special courage for someone in, shall we say, the later chapters of life to press and prosecute a moral campaign, all-consuming as such campaigns are. Hopefully the very rightness of his campaign against income inequality will give special meaning to his "last hurrah" as a presidential candidate.

Moral leadership is rare. How rare? History presents some few examples: Jesus, Joan of Arc, Abraham Lincoln, Dietrich Bonhoeffer (German theologian who defied Hitler), Martin Luther King, Jr. It should be noted all these historical figures died for their moral cause. Moral heroes, touching on core things, arouse strong reaction.

Sadly for our world, amoral behavior is far more prevalent than the moral kind. Breaking example: Donald Trump saying he hopes the alleged Russian hackers of the Democratic national committee's emails will find Hillary Clinton's missing State Department emails. If that isn't treason -- literally inviting foreign espionage -- it's in the zone, and done merely for political gain and/or moral-free whim. It's simply unimaginable Bernie would say or do anything so odious.

Like the big majority of Democrats, I would have been happy with either Bernie or Hillary as our presidential nominee. My admiration for the Senator grew and grew as he showed himself more and more a Mensch. I did want him to specify how he would achieve his costly program, but apparently he felt it was politically unwise to do so. He did succeed, however, in making his case: There is considerable public support for a "political revolution" on the inequality question.

Now, Democrats have to win big in November, not only to keep the White House, but also take back the Senate -- where Bernie, by rights, should have his pick of committee chairmanships. And where Bernie can lend support to President Hillary Clinton as she tries to "do the right thing."

Bernie Sanders will of course fight on, because moral leaders have to. Given the inexorableness of their mission, they can't give up. (Vacations are allowed, though.) Equally important, and promising, Bernie's cause -- income inequality -- will live on, because it is propelled not by "special interests," but by its moral rightness.

Bernie Sanders, moral hero: A grateful nation thanks you. Who will step up next?

Carla Seaquist's latest book is titled "Can America Save Itself from Decline?: Politics, Culture, Morality." An earlier book is titled "Manufacturing Hope: Post-9/11 Notes on Politics, Culture, Torture, and the American Character." Her early career was in civil rights.