Friday, July 31, 2015

Bernie Sander's Unlikely Rise to Stardom

I will confess that for a long time I have liked some of the statements that Bernie Sanders and his followers have posted on Facebook.  He has a blunt way of talking about America's problems and is an unapologetic liberal in the good sense of the word.  Yet never did I expect his campaign for the presidency to take off as it has.  But then, neither did Hillary Clinton who so far remains way ahead of Sanders in polls.  Like his positions or not, Sanders is blunt speaking and direct.  He's in someways the polar opposite of Donald trump, but on speaking out he is cut from similar cloth.  The difference, of course is that Sanders believes what he says whereas the Donald merely likes to hear himself talk and to cause sensation.  A piece in The Atlantic looks at Sanders' unexpected rise.  Here are excerpts: 

There’s no way this man could be president, right? Just look at him: rumpled and scowling, bald pate topped by an entropic nimbus of white hair. Just listen to him: ranting, in his gravelly Brooklyn accent, about socialism. Socialism!

And yet here we are: In the biggest surprise of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, this thoroughly implausible man, Bernie Sanders, is a sensation.

He is drawing enormous crowds—11,000 in Phoenix, 8,000 in Dallas, 2,500 in Council Bluffs, Iowa—the largest turnout of any candidate from any party in the first-to-vote primary state. He has raised $15 million in mostly small donations, to Hillary Clinton’s $45 million—and unlike her, he did it without holding a single fundraiser. Shocking the political establishment, it is Sanders—not Martin O’Malley, the fresh-faced former two-term governor of Maryland; not Joe Biden, the sitting vice president—to whom discontented Democratic voters looking for an alternative to Clinton have turned.

[T]ruthfully, the socialism rap has been blown out of proportion as well: Sanders accepts “democratic socialist” as an accurate descriptor of his philosophy, but he never sought it as an identity.

“The campaign is moving so fast the infrastructure can’t keep up,” Sanders confesses. “It sometimes reminds me of a military campaign, where the front line of the army is moving faster than the supply chain.” Since Berniemania began this summer, he and a small band of aides have been scrambling to turn it to their advantage.

Sanders and his team have a bracing habit of saying things politicians and their aides are not supposed to say—a minor violation of norms that reminds you how accustomed we are to being lied to in politics.

Another basic tenet of campaign spin is that consultants must never admit their candidate isn’t totally perfect, but Sanders’s people apparently missed that lesson as well.

Sanders is drawing a steady quarter-to-a-third of the vote in Iowa and New Hampshire, pulling within 10 points of Clinton in some New Hampshire polls. Some Clinton aides have begun floating the notion that she could lose one or both of those early-voting states, though this seems like an attempt to lower expectations. But Clinton is still the favorite of Democratic voters nationally by nearly 30 points. She has the money, she has the endorsements from the party elite, and she has the massive teams of staff and advisers.

When Sanders set out to run, he tells me, his main fear was that doing so might prove harmful to his ideas. . . . But the ideas that I am talking about—if the campaign did badly, then it would give the establishment the opportunity to say, See, Sanders ran on a platform calling for single-payer national healthcare system, and he did really poorly,” he continues. He ran on a platform calling for the creation of millions of jobs through rebuilding the infrastructure—nobody really supported him. He talked about income and wealth inequality; it didn’t go anyplace. Those aren’t really good ideas!

Now comes the ultimate test of Democratic unity: a dynastic, centrist, seemingly unstoppable frontrunner—someone who, despite decades in public life, had to convene a committee of 200 advisers to figure out where she stood on economic issues. Finally, the left has been pushed to the breaking point. It has turned, in protest, to the most un-Clinton-like candidate there is—the nutty Vermont uncle of Democratic politics.

At the press conference, I meet Les Bailey, a retired ironworker who lives in Marion, Iowa. He has a salt-and-pepper goatee and wears his hair in a mullet under a black Vietnam-veteran cap. In 2008, he wore himself out walking miles and miles knocking on doors for Barack Obama. Now, he thinks Sanders can win Iowa in a similar upset. “This is not the country I fought for, where billionaires buy elections and anyone can get a gun,” he says.

Every Sanders crowd is full of die-hards like Bailey, passionately committed to their unlikely hero. Every Clinton crowd, on the other hand, is full of lukewarm rank-and-file Democrats who will not hesitate to tell you they have some qualms about supporting her. As Sanders’s press conference ends, a line is forming around the block for the party Clinton is about to throw in the basement of the same building. “I’m with Hillary because I don’t have any choice,” a retired schoolteacher named Elwood Garlock tells me as he waits to pass through the metal detector. “I think she’ll be good. But it would be nice if she’d take up some of Bernie’s ideas.”

It is easy enough to see where Berniemania is coming from. Anti-establishment passion, left and right, is in the air. People are angry all over, fed up with a system that isn’t working, an elite that doesn’t listen, a politics perpetually conducted within a narrow, unrepresentative band of acceptable opinion. “I think there is a lot more anger and frustration on the part of the American people toward corporate America, toward the political establishment, toward the media establishment, than I think inside-the-beltway pundits perceive,” Sanders tells me. If he does nothing else in this campaign, he will have succeeded in driving home that point.

Sanders’s campaign is a temporary vehicle for those still na├»ve enough to see American politics as a vehicle for transformation rather than a hopelessly corrupt compromise. Yet he is also the product of a specifically liberal moment, when rising inequality has powered new skepticism about the adequacy of American-style market capitalism.

We have some very specific proposals,” he says. “We want to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. I believe we need a massive federal jobs program to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure—trillion-dollar legislation, over a 5-year period, which would create 13 million jobs.” Sanders points to his longtime opposition to trade deals, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is currently under consideration. His opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline. His support for single-payer healthcare, tuition-free public college, and worker-owned companies.

“Those are my views,” he says, a sarcastic edge creeping into his voice. “I suspect you will find them different from Secretary Clinton’s.” 

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