Keeping the Fire Bern-ing

Bernie Sanders is the president America needs. If only he could get his message out there.


Bernie Sanders

Jacquelyn Martin / AP

I’m going to come right out and say it: Bernie Sanders is the most worthy and most needed presidential candidate this country has seen in my short lifetime, and perhaps, if I may be so bold, of the last half-century. I feel the Bern.

To the moral progressive who has lost all “hope” of any positive change coming from within this country’s broken political system, Bernie Sanders is saying more than Obama ever did to renew the h-word. He has shifted the economic focus of the Democratic presidential debate to the obscene wealth inequality and even more obscene income inequality that exists in America. He has made it a priority to overturn Citizens United and combat the money that has eroded the democratic process. He has verbally demonstrated unwavering support of minority communities as they battle right-wing denial of systemic racism. He has been an advocate of true feminism and has supported the marriage equality movement regardless of its popularity level. He has gone through great lengths to express the urgency of the environmental crisis. He unapologetically emphasizes his belief in healthcare as a right rather than a privilege. And in a federal legislative branch that is dripping with the influence of corporate and special interests, he has taken a stand against their poisonous effect on American politics. In a way, Bernie Sanders is challenging his fellow presidential candidates to actually be truthful in their portrayal of the state of the union.

And speaking of H-words, in this first leg of candidate announcements and initial image-making, Bernie has set himself up fairly well to make a good-faith run at upsetting what was thought to be a shoo-in dynastic Democratic nomination. He has raised 15 million dollars for his campaign, which doesn’t seem like much when you compare it to Hillary’s 45. But when you start to think that the Bernie train has been running without holding a single fundraiser, and that most of its fuel has come from small donations, Hillary’s 45 million from big-name donors (and soon to be lobbyists and PACs) just doesn’t seem as impressive.

Bernie Sanders is undoubtedly the people’s Democratic nominee, as made evident by the gargantuan crowds that gather to hear him speak, yet he still struggles in the demographics that he should be dominating. Although he is creeping up on Clinton in key early states like Iowa and New Hampshire, he is still 30 points behind among Democratic voters nationally, and Clinton is rocking 60 percent support among likely “Democratic voters of color.” Although polls this early in the race mean comparatively very little, these statistics are still concerning, as surprise rockstar candidates like Sanders tend to rule their best demographics early in the race (that is the closest I will ever come to comparing Bernie Sanders to Donald Trump).

But just because Bernie does a much better job at directly addressing the concerns of minority communities than Hillary doesn’t mean that minority communities are where he is most popular (see the Netroots Nation debacle). Where the Bern is hottest is among white, educated progressives — the very demographic that tends to populate his home state of Vermont. His focus on economic issues and the moneyed roots of systemic American injustice really hit home among those with liberal educations, but they take a while to sink into the collective minds of those of other backgrounds.

And that’s where Hillary is able to fend off the Sanders offensive with her massive decade-long branding effort. Hillary has years’ worth of endorsements already lined up, from teachers’ unions to feminist organizations to minority interest groups. So even though Bernie might be a hundred times more sympathetic to these groups’ causes (I feel it appropriate at this point to point out the irony of Hillary’s logo containing a red arrow pointing rightward), Hillary is winning the name recognition game which does not necessarily fit into Bernie’s political ethos.

All in all, Bernie is going to have to make some moves if he’s going to want his “political revolution” to continue to expand. Joseph Schwartz in an article in Jacobin outlines what he thinks those moves have to be. Among them are “hire a diverse staff, and reach out to communities of color;” “outline a plan to tackle key issues;” recognize that “it’s not just the economy;” “call out political opponents;” and “don’t forget that race matters.” In other words, Bernie Sanders has to be more political, a realization that people in his core support demographic are dreading to come to. Being seen as transcending the shadiness and shallowness of the political scene is one of Bernie’s most attractive features,so it will be interesting to see how he navigates these waters in the next few months.

Will he become just another one of the dogs scrapping at power any way he can? Doubtful. Will he keep to his idealism and in doing so become irrelevant because of lacking name recognition? Perhaps. Or will he skillfully navigate the shark tank that is the presidential nomination process, convincing the country of its own brokenness? We can only “hope.”


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