Presidential Candidate Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT)
Never underestimate a guy from Brooklyn.
Speaking in Boston this week to a crowd of 20,000, Sanders was aware he was holding the largest Democratic Primary rally ever held in the history Massachusetts. His numbers beat the 10,000 person crowd Obama pulled to see him in 2008. Speaking in Boston he proudly pointed out that his campaign had raised considerable sums of money because "650,000 Americans had made contributions averaging $30 a piece." That brings his election war chest raise in the third quarter to $26 million, bumping up against Hillary's 28 Million. (His second quarter close he was at $12.2 million.) It's a stunning achievement from a candidate the mainstream media keep calling 'fringe'. Perhaps if he wins the Presidency the mainstream media will upgrade his status to 'marginal.'
Sanders' campaign announced September 30th that they have reached one million online donations. That also outpaces Obama's 2008 campaign, which by comparison hit that number in the following February of his campaign cycle.
Sanders is a candidate who has famously said "I don't take donations from corporations, because I don't represent their interests," It's hard to believe someone actually said that out loud. Bernie Sanders, a grass roots candidate if there ever was one, is keeping pace with corporate candidates. But it was hard to believe a New York Jewish Independent candidate could be elected mayor of Burlington Vermont in 1981, or a Congressman representing Vermont in 1990, or 16 years later as a Senator from Vermont, and just three years ago being re-elected to that office with 71% of the popular vote. I'm guessing Sanders is used to being hard to believe.
His notoriety may be based on his fearlessness. He's not afraid to plainly discuss the issues and tell you his position and how he'll vote. He voted against the Iraq war. He voted against the Patriot Act. He wants to raise the minimum wage to $15, to make colleges free, to break the income inequality cycle, to tax wall street. I'm guessing if the Emperor walked by with no clothes, he'd be the guy to point that out.
That's troubling for other candidates who are entrenched in the Washington shuffle, the dance move where you avoid, dodge or just stay silent on sensitive issues.
So what to do with the candidate who has passion where others have deep pockets? One who has pluck where others are groomed? In fact after you listen to him, you realize he's not just talking like the other candidates, he's almost preaching. "Welcome to the political revolution," he told the overflow crowd in Boston to cheers. Preaching isn't a bad term for the way he communicates. He has the passion, focus and tireless prose of someone who is trying to change minds, if not from the pulpit, then from the soapbox. He's not just parroting talking points or telling people what they want to hear, he's trying to convince you about things he believes in deeply. Whatever his point might be, you feel he won't come out of his office whistling a different tune after a lobbyist's check crosses his desk telling him to change his mind.
That might be why he seems out of place. No, wait there's another reason. He doesn't talk badly about his opponents, and he doesn't trash talk those that degrade him.
When Sanders is asked to criticize the competition, or provoked to respond to negative campaigning by his opponents, he doesn't take the bait. He calls out stupid questions for what they are, famously telling Ana Marie Cox who asked him about Hillary's $600 hair cut in August, a story which was trending across the nation at the top of every news cycle; "Ana, I don't mean to be rude here. I am running for president of the United States on serious issues, O.K.? Do you have serious questions?"
That's a moment that should not be shrugged off. Top trending stories are the ones that get eyeballs. A savvy modern candidate would know any response to a trending question, even a stupid one like this, would put him at the top of a viral story and keep him relevant, significant; all the buzz words a phalanx of 20 year old search engineering hires would guarantee any candidate. His refusal to engage is part of his problem. Or maybe it's not. He has a larger Facebook following than Clinton and Jeb Bush combined. So someone's liking what they hear.
The media hopes he'll go away. The Democratic National Committee would like to dismiss Sanders, hoping he'll have a crisis, so that no one rivals Hillary Clinton as their heir apparent. The problem is, his only crisis seems to be one of integrity. The problem is he seems to have more of it than anyone else.
His record number of turn outs at his rallies may have initially surprised him. That they show no sign of stopping is beginning to surprise others. It implies his popularity is crossing over into the main stream and just can't be ignored.
No one seems to be more irritated by Bernie Sander's success than the media, who try very hard to create their own exciting narratives about other 'unelectable candidates' like Donald Trump, Scott Walker, what had been Jeb Bush and currently Ben Carson. They also attack Clinton unreasonably on issues that seem non-starters, from Bhengazi, cleared of all charges by two Republican committees, and her email 'issue', which has been determined as legal and identical to past Secretary's of State.
Sanders supporters claim a media bias against him. A September study by broadcast news monitor Andrew Tyndall of the three major networks, ABC, NBC and CBS showed that the 2016 GOP coverage outweighs Democratic coverage by 338 minutes to 128 minutes. And that within the Democratic coverage, Clinton has received 82 minutes and Sanders... wait for it... 8 minutes. Trump, not surprisingly has received 158 minutes and Jeb Bush, currently polling at 4%, has received 43 minutes. If one wasn't sure of media bias, there it is in black and white. But Sanders' under the radar campaign's massive numbers and funding draws is showing the radar has a serious blind spot. The big question is, does that matter?
Whatever your take on Sanders, there's no denying he's affected the tone of the campaign. Over the course of this summer Sanders incessant requests that Clinton take a position on many issues she has avoided or waffled on, has undoubtedly pushed her to the left.
In February Obama vetoed the Keystone pipeline, and sided with the progressive voices in the Congress, like Sanders, who fought against it for years. Hillary Clinton was either silent or on record as 'inclined to be for it'. That is until taking a stand just recently this September that she was against it. Sanders has supported Gay marriage since the 1970s when he was running for Governor. He voted against the Defense Of Marriage act in 1996, signed by Hillary's husband. And the Senator from New York from 2000, is on record since then saying marriage is between a man and a woman. It took the historic June 26th announcement this summer by the Surpreme Court that Gay marriage is legal nationwide, to have Clinton came out supporting it on Twitter. Sanders has railed against the Trans Pacific Partnership for the last two years. Clinton has pushed the TPP policy forward for the last two years. That is, until just two days ago, literally, when she indicated disapproval for the first time on the PBS news hour.
This kind of waffling behavior is not new, not unusual, not unexpected . It's politics as usual played by both sides. Progressive supporters have grown used to Clinton's silence on many left wing issues, just as right wing supporters grow used to their candidate's silence on issues they hold dear. Candidates like these know those supporters will more than likely vote for them as they have no one else.
Until Bernie Sanders showed up saying the Emperor has no clothes.
Ironically he may have tossed his hat into this ring, merely despairing of yet another election cycle of corporate heavyweight contenders with slick tv spots and talking points, all of which avoided the real problems facing every day Americans. Politics isn't supposed to be clean, it's supposed to be an argument, a debate a disagreement and the best positions should win. Not the best monied candidate. Perhaps that's all he wanted. To force a discussion with real content, acknowledging the immense economic shift in this country. The shocking reality that more than 45 million people live below the poverty line, the discussion that Citizens United upended our election process and put it up for sale. The argument that income inequality is destroying the middle class in our country. That students are smothered under student debt, because some banker's mathematician determined there was a new lifetime debtor market in addition to mortgages, and students were good investments.
He's introduced legislation this year to abolish private prisons, to make public colleges tuition free by taxing wall street, to limit the skyrocketing price of pharmaceutical drugs, to make election day a national holiday. The list goes on. You can't say he's not trying. Some of his detractors say he's a firebrand, difficult to caucus with because his convictions run so deeply. I'm trying to remember why that's a problem in a grid-locked bought-off Congress.
In the wake of the recent, tragic, epidemic of mass domestic shootings, the opposition are now pointing to Sanders as a gun supporter, hoping that will count against him. Perhaps a sign that his successes can't be ignored and he needs to be acknowledged as a serious candidate. Unfortunately the establishment will be disappointed to find that Sanders' gun support crisis is also a false argument. Sanders represents one of the most rural states in America. So of course he supports hunters and their gun rights. 20 years ago, however, he supported the assault rifle ban, while others were winning elections railing against it. He didn't support the Brady Bill years ago, but with a lifetime rating of D- from the NRA, he's not exactly a gun nut. Does he support hunter's and their rights? Always has. Does he listen to law enforcement and support background checks while wanting to regulate automatic weapons? Always has. His positions are consistent.
Like him, or hate him, you have to acknowledge he's had an effect. Sanders came out of the gate talking about all these points just this spring. He has changed the face of the campaign by talking about the issues and forcing other candidates to respond. He has forced his opponent to take stands on issues she's either been silent on or not committing to for years.
He's drawing bigger crowds than he was told he could. He's raising more money than he was told he could. And he just doesn't stop. The establishment would like him to go away. He's inconvenient, he talks about real problems and he calls others out on their silence and lack of clarity. It's exciting. It makes you remember why elections are important.
For many who have decided that elections don't matter, you realize Bernie Sanders is the reason you vote.
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