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The Oregon Way

Bernie: from Hamlet to the Oregon Trail

“To Bern, or not to Bern?” asked Matthew Keating, a Sanders campaign organizer, eloquently introducing Sen. Sanders before an adoring crowd of thousands in Springfield on Thursday, April 28. “To vote, to Bern. To Bern, perchance to dream. Ay, there is the rub.”

Sanders praised Keating, remarking that in all his campaigning, Keating’s was the first Shakespearean introduction he had heard.

Ballots have now been mailed out for Oregon voters and must be returned by May 17. Given Oregon’s proclivities, its racial breakdown and its idealistic nature, Sanders will likely do well in the state, despite being effectively precluded from becoming the 2016 Democratic nominee for president.

Keating’s impassioned introduction, inspired by Shakespeare’s Hamlet, points to a valuable lesson on which Oregon voters should reflect. The play, an epic tragedy, involves a protagonist so driven by (justified) rage and hallucinations that he ends up not only destroying the target of his rage but also his closest friends, his love and himself, and in the process wipes out his country’s leadership such that an impulsive and hot-headed invader snatches control of the nation. 

Moreover, Hamlet contains just two female characters, each largely stripped of agency and mere vehicles for the desires, jealousies and tragedies of the male characters. The destruction of Hamlet’s on-again, off-again partner Ophelia following Hamlet’s much-regretted condemnation of her, is allegory for the silencing of strong women by an oppressive, patriarchal world. 

It is a storyline that should encourage Oregon voters to think hard about their ballot choice. 

Sanders famously finds inspiration in Scandinavia, as does anyone who has visited that part of the world. But his supporters in the Oregon primary might better find dire warning in the prince of Denmark. Hillary Clinton has won 25 states and 12.3 million primary votes, over 3 million more than votes for Sanders. She is guaranteed to capture enough delegates to become the Democratic answer to Donald Trump’s misogynistic, xenophobic, know-nothing campaign. 

That recognized, a wise Oregon voter might hesitate to mail in a vote for Sanders and instead strengthen the hand of the woman we need to win the presidency in November. That is what inspired me to mail in my vote for Clinton after watching Sanders’ Springfield rally.

Having thought long and hard about it, I recognize the 2016 election season is a more Oregonian tale than Hamlet. Whether from history class or from the computer game, we all know the Oregon Trail. The trek from Missouri to the fabled Willamette Valley is a far better metaphor for this long march of an election.

Starting from Saint Louis, pioneers disappointed in the overcrowded, stratified East set out shining with idealism, promised a rich, virgin land ready to fulfill the Manifest Destiny of America, a new Eden. Over thousands of dusty miles — through bloody hunting, terrible bouts of disease and treacherous river fording — that shine would no doubt dim. 

Along the trail, at the historic “Parting of the Ways” in eastern Idaho, wagon trains were presented with the apocryphal markers: a pile of iron pyrite marking one path, fool’s gold, leading the way to California and a sign on the other that read “To Oregon.” 

Those who could read, it is said, stayed on the path to Oregon. Those distracted by worthless glitz, those who perhaps might have benefited from more time acquiring knowledge, headed to California. 

The parting is a fitting metaphor for those who tire of the Democratic race and chase the false promise of the Trump candidacy.

For those who continued on to Oregon, the realization upon arrival in the Willamette Valley is that there was no virgin land, no Garden of Eden. Instead, there was a land with promise, but already full of rapacious traders, suffering terrible spring floods and with a culture of bigoted views that still haunt our state. Far from idealism, those who survived and thrived in Oregon did so through grit and stubborn determination. Even two centuries later, Oregonians struggle hard, through policy argument after rezoning battle, to create their Eden.

There is no doubt that Sanders will do well in Oregon this May; it is Oregonians’ nature to set out inspired by ideals. However, for a people born from an idealistic starting point, who persevere past the seduction of false promises, but who remain committed to steady, cumulative progress despite disappointment — fighting through greed and mud and prejudice — the candidate who fits our state is Hillary Clinton. 

For those who vote this May for Sanders “perchance to dream,” just remember that when you wake up this fall, we are in a real fight to protect our state and our country. The Clinton campaign needs your support to win. 

Ignore those who would falsely encourage sitting out the election, maliciously whispering as they did in Hamlet, “This above all: to thine own self be true.” Consider the needs of your community and your nation. 

Hillary Clinton should win Oregon this November and she should win with a YUGE margin.