observations and opinion
The mass media and the political experts are at a loss to explain why the wild and wooly senior citizen Senator from Vermont is so damned popular. What’s the secret to Bernie Sanders? I don’t think there’s any mystery to it at all.
When in 2000, John McCain suddenly became the hot candidate in the New Hampshire Republican Primary, I happened to be there. I felt he was something different. I even followed his campaign bus to a small town to hear him speak. He was something different – he won in New Hampshire – but then was destroyed by the machinery working to make George W. Bush the nominee.
That was 16 years ago and this weekend, when I should be trailing the new maverick, Bernie Sanders, across small towns in the Granite State, I am instead home. I have no doubt my family in Nashua would have put me up for a few days – hell, I could still get down there for primary night – but there’s a lot going on at my office. Reality and all that, you know?
It’s a pity, because I would have loved to have seen this primary up close. Hillary Clinton is a legend and, polls notwithstanding, still the most likely winner of the Democratic nomination and the November election. Meanwhile, Senator Sanders – “the Bern” as some call him – is a comet crossing the political firmament. A white one, a loud one, a bright one. It would be wonderful to see him baying at the moon, like the old Vermont hound dog he is, repeating his mantra about campaign finance, Wall Street and health care.
All the polls say Bernie will beat Hillary Clinton on Tuesday, although the media talking heads don’t understand why. I actually heard a CNN reporter say bluntly that their own poll “puts Sanders thirty points up, but nobody believes it.” That’s a rare expression of candor, when you think about it. After all, he was talking about CNN’s own poll.
There are plenty of theories about why Bernie tied (or maybe even came out ahead) in Iowa. The state is full of left wing maniacs, after all. And in New Hampshire, well, Sanders lives just across the state line so it’s a local thing. The dogcatcher in Montpelier would be at 20 percent in the poll, if only she had put her name on the New Hampshire ballot. And so on.
The grander explanations have it that “Americans are angry” – hence their apparent attraction to wacko no hope candidates like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. A more sophisticated view might posit that Democratic voters have the luxury of flirting with Bernie now, because they know they’re marrying Hillary tomorrow (now that she’s against DOMA, that is).
If in fact the Democrats marry Hillary, and she carries them across the White House threshold again in November, then Bernie will just be a fuzzy memory, a fling with a white haired old fellow who liked to bellow and complain. He was the risk they could take, because he was no risk at all.
But I don’t think that’s it. I don’t think that’s it at all. I have another theory about why Bernie Sanders attracts the support of so many voters and poll respondents: they think he is right.
They think he is right that the economy is “rigged” in favour of the most affluent and powerful. They think the tax code rewards sleight-of-hand instead of hard work. They think the U.S. and world economies were sent into a death spiral of debt and danger in 2008, by people who profited from it and who kept those profits. They think the system is dangerously unfair, grossly unequal and hopelessly unhelpful to the average citizen. They think health care really IS a human right, and not a stroke of luck.
The Bernie voters also think, probably, that nothing can better until the cancer of private money infecting politics is removed. Money is not speech, actually. It really isn’t. Money is money (money is in fact, a government document authorizing a bank to credit someone with a certain amount of wealth. That’s all it is – a license to spend, issued by the government).
And then there are the personal contributions of wealthy people and companies to certain candidates, like Hillary Clinton. Bernie voters probably think that taking millions of dollars from the people who benefit from a system, as it stands, must mean something. Maybe it’s not “selling your vote” or selling your soul, but it’s something.
The test for this, after all is to answer a simple question: would people smart enough to get that rich, support a candidate who would remove any of their advantages? Do you think a wealthy individual or an organization would give money to a candidate – Hillary Clinton, for example – if they believed she was going to change how they do business? If they believed she intended to work for fundamental, progressive reform, would they really hand her millions of dollars? I don’t know – it just seems like a good question to ask.
If you asked Bernie, “would millionaires give money to Hillary because they thought she would take their money, change their business practices or put some of them in jail?” the Senator would probably smile ruefully, shake his head and say again how much he respects Secretary Clinton. He’s a true gentleman, that Bernie.
Maybe if I had made it down to New Hampshire this weekend, I could have tried to ask that question of Hillary. She would smile and shrug and say it’s not important and that she’s “a progressive who likes to make progress.” And I might ask her, “what progress, precisely, have you made so far?” but then again, I doubt there would have been an opportunity for a second question. Even in New Hampshire.
Did Iowans vote for Bernie because they’re all crazy socialists, and so is he? No. Bernie, regardless of what he calls himself, ain’t much of a socialist (no offense Bernie). Will New Hampshirites vote for Bernie because he lives across the state line and sometimes comes to shop at North Conway or Exit 1 in Nashua? I think not.
In both states, those Democratic voters – and many more – support Bernie for one basic reason: they agree with him. They think he means what he says, and they think what he says, is true.
The real mystery is why so many “experts” and members of the political media don’t grasp the simple fact that a lot of people agree with Bernie Sanders. Should they allow themselves to think that, they may suddenly be at risk of considering whether, in fact, Senator Sanders has a better understanding of reality than they do. They would have to avert their eyes from the funhouse mirror of present day politics and look at the facts. And then they would have to contemplate an even more alarming thought: the people know something.
Or maybe they just like Bernie’s hair. I don’t know, it’s just a theory.