Bernie Sanders is, on first blush, a grumpy old man with crazy white hair who’s constantly yelling numbers into microphones about income inequality. He’s been doing it for decades. He’s an aged but lifelong fringe liberal who found a political home in the ultra-liberal (by US standards) state of Vermont and has kept lobbing attacks on the economic right from his stronghold surrogate state. He has diffused the potency of the Republican’s longheld verbal threat that Obama is a socialist and if you support him, you’ll be a socialist, living in socialism! Bernie has diffused that because he is a self-confessed proud socialist. He’s also running for President of the United States in 2016.
The 2016 Republican field is a fascinating array of over 20 officially running candidates who range from the fairly qualified to the absurd (pronounced Trump). The Democratic side had just one serious candidate, Hilary Clinton, the sole occupant since LONG before she officially announced. And we (who follow US presidential races this far out) waited and waited for another candidate from Obama’s party. Would Senator Elizabeth Warren, the tough talking economic populist who rode a wave of scathing rhetoric against the banks after the GFC throw her hat in the ring? Apparently not. Would current Vice President Joe Biden try to convert his long earned political capital on The Hill to a run for the Oval Office? Sadly, recent family tragedy may have prolonged any immediate plans for an official launch.
So who, with any profile, would prevent the coronation of Clinton? She looked set to go head to head by default with the eventual Republican candidate. A Republican candidate who had been skilful enough to battle their way through (probably) two dozen other right wing candidates and subsequently sharpened from the debate, campaign trail and media exposure. It looked like nobody would step up to the plate to run against Clinton on the Democratic side. That is, until Senator Sanders, after a few weeks of flirting with the media, officially decided to run.
The move was seen universally as a protest run. Possibly even by Sanders himself. It was necessary, to be sure. Beneficial for the left. So that Clinton could articulate her arguments and vision for the country and solidify and defend her political convictions – but ultimately his run would not serve as a real challenge to the pre-eminent Democratic front runner and former Secretary of State. Except that’s not how Sanders’ run is developing.
Sanders’ announcement was immediately met with cheers from the Left, as this self-styled socialist with a lifetime history of consistent liberal positions on everything from gay rights to economic policy would surely pull Clinton to the left. But as more and more people found out about what Senator Sanders has stood for his whole political life, more and more people started to realise they actually really like this guy. And having him in the running for President was a hugely exciting concept. A man who is constantly ranting to any media outlet who’ll dare have him on about redistributing wealth away from the top percentiles of America to the working class. Bleating about strengthening the social security system for the most vulnerable. Loudly calling out the deplorable incarceration statistics of black men in jails within the world’s famed exporter of freedom.
As these messages began to spill out, Sanders has begun to draw crowds that previously couldn’t possibly be imagined for such a ‘fringe’ candidate. 5,000 in Minnesota. 7,500 in Maine. 10,000 in Wisconsin. While other candidates were being caught out for hiring rent-a-crowds to boost photo ops at their events, Sanders was surprising even himself by constantly having to upgrade the arenas he was speaking in to meet demand for those wanting to catch a glimpse of the far Left’s political messiah in person. The mainstream media has struggled to capture the phenomenon of Bernie-mentum in real time. Editorial teams in the Beltway are having a hard time turning yesterday’s page three story of a “No-shot candidate” to a “Surprising outside chance hopeful” front page headline.
A recent Reuters-Ipsos poll of national favourite candidates just put Sanders at 22.9% among Democrats, a number that a month ago would have been unthinkably close to Clinton’s current 48.3%. Sanders has raised money without a so-called super PAC – a political fund-raising apparatus which opens up unlimited amounts of secret corporate donations as a result of the Citizens United ruling in the US Supreme Court of 2008. Even candidate Clinton has decried the Supreme Court decision and existence of super PACs but simply didn’t see anyway to operate without one. Sanders did – and he raised $15m in two months with an average donation of around $40.
The total may have been a third of Clinton’s but the average individual donation is critically important because when it’s low, it shows how many people are willing to give what they can to support their candidate. And as Joe Biden said: There are only so many people willing to ask their friends to write $2700 cheques to politicians. The Clinton campaign did not release a breakdown of the campaign’s own direct donations but claim over 90% are under $100. The total average is sure to be far higher than Sanders’, reflecting a smaller group of richer people supporting Clinton. For reference, in the super PAC world – one such group supporting Clinton called American Bridge raised $7.7m with an average donation of $140,000.
Bernie Sanders’ 73 year old Brooklyn rasp may remind you of your pissed off grandpa and he may look like someone gave a vagrant an extreme make over but more and more people are getting excited by the content of his message and strength of his political convictions. His steadfast far left political ideology may finally be garnering the support he’s been after for decades. His long-time attack on the status quo is finally gaining huge support with an American (and global) audience still reeling from bankster-inflicted financial crises and Euro austerity nightmares. With a spotlight on him, a rock solid liberal track record and a hunger for media attention (in stark contrast to Clinton’s hermit behaviour toward the press so far) – we may all be about to seriously feel the Bern