MARSHALLTOWN, IOWA – Bernie Sanders will not be president.
Everybody knows this and no one’s afraid to say it. The indictments are numerous.
He doesn’t look like a candidate with his oft-feral wisps of white hair and his gruff physical presence.
He doesn’t talk like a candidate with his democratic-socialist platform, comprised of economic issues with repeated emphasis on poverty and inequality.
And he doesn’t come from a traditional breeding ground for viable candidates, instead, he hails from Vermont, which was responsible for Sanders’ previous unelectable counterpart Howard Dean, a state so liberal and independent that it’s continually reelected a democratic-socialist in the first place.
He’s also old. Seventy-three going on seventy-four. If elected, which seems like one of the longest shots in political history, he’d be a young seventy-nine by the end of his first-term and in no condition to be re-elected.
Admittedly, the odds are astronomical.
Sanders, upon entry, was branded, accurately, as a fringe candidate whose purpose and ultimate potential was as a counterbalance on the far left of Hillary’s center-left juggernaut, a safety that drew her nearer the platform of the emerging Democratic territory while never seriously challenging or doing damage to her chances.
Again, Bernie Sanders will not be elected president.
Well. When is someone going to tell Bernie Sanders that?
The word in Iowa is that Bernie (or Uncle Bernie as his most strident supporters call him) is outperforming. That he’s drawing oversized crowds everywhere he goes. That he’s going to finish a distant, but respectable second, and that he’s already succeeded in pulling Hillary left, as evidenced in Saturday’s Roosevelt Island speech, which echoed what is now considered entry-level democratic ideas, a platform so populist it would’ve been considered radical five years ago and is now only common sense due to the hard work and diligence of firebrands like Bernie.
He will lose though.
In New Hampshire.
South Carolina and so on and so on, until his modest war chest finally gives up like a suspect engine in a suspect used car.
So, why are the crowds getting bigger?
So, why is word of mouth growing stronger?
The United Auto Workers Hall he spoke at Saturday should seat sixty and that’s how many chairs there were. Twenty minutes out and there were more people than seats, the old auto workers scrambling to find extra chairs as the people were still streaming in.
The official numbers put it over two hundred, but what they don’t make note of is that these are not your traditional political event attendees.
They are poor.
Literally hungry, literally tired, and very, very pissed off.
I recognize them because these people are my family. I grew up caring about economic issues because my people are generations of factory fodder, the type of folks who were bled dry by manual labor and never even given the dignity of wages equal to their sweat before their very jobs were swept out from under their feet by NAFTA and globalism and the allure of slave-like conditions.
These are Iowans who have worked and been hobbled by a fundamentally rigged system that has rewarded morally reprehensible business and trade practices. People who have never ever put thought into retirement because they are more concerned with just living another day. People who were suffering even before the Great Recession and people whose suffering has only worsened as the economy has left them behind.
By three, the stated time of the meeting, it starts, which is a rarity in a world where promptness has never been even a passing concern. Sanders is obviously ready as he walks out during his introduction, drawing a surprised cheer from the crowd.
To put it mildly, Bernie is unlike any politician I’ve ever seen in person. He obviously despises stagecraft and he holds the podium like he’s bracing for a car crash. He is devoid of polish and I don’t think he’s even the slightest bit interested in remedying that problem, which is a mortal sin in national politics.
But most of all, he is angry.
Not the type of strategic anger that many politicians follow in their scripts – the writers having underlined and bolded certain Stress Points, or, as is popular, printed them in red as if spoken from God on high – or the type of anger that politicians like to slip on like a blazer when it suits them. Sanders’ anger is like a righteous fury a prophet might wield to frighten his wayward flock.
It begins with a whisper.
“We…live in the wealthiest nation in the history of the world…”
And gradually it grows.
“…problem is…that almost all that wealth…rests in the hands of super wealthy families…”
And then, it is THERE.
“…there is something profoundly wrong…when NINETY-NINE percent of all new income generated in this country goes to ONE-PERCENT…it is GROTESQUE and it is not WHAT THIS COUNTRY IS SUPPOSED TO BE.”
It’s jarring. The people shift in their seats, not out of fear or discomfort, but because they’re growing outrage that matches Bernie’s as he reads the roll call of problems: the wages, the lack of sick time and vacation time for workers, the giant banks, outrageous student debt, terrifying infant mortality rates, inequality among people of women and people of color.
The speakers even struggle. Buzz in and out. There’s a palpable tension as to whether they’ll survive each successive line.
As he rails against the proposed Trans-Atlantic Partnership, they lose their battle and what few aides there are scramble to set up a portable speaker as the senator never skips so much as a beat.
Now, wrath only carries a politician so far. If that weren’t true we would already be living in a military dictatorship, which our process has thankfully steered us clear of time after time. No. The candidate, in order to have any success, must cut their anger with something else, something more palatable. Some use style, a certain flair that makes the pissed off more attractive, while others like Mike Huckabee or Chris Christie, rely on humor, down-home folksiness. Sanders, it seems, employs a particular brand of common-sense, of truth, to make the rage go down.
Bernie, who has advocated on every campaign stop and television appearance for political revolution, has been called a radical time and time again, but recently a Washington Post article confirmed what a lot of insiders had already been talking about amongst themselves: a majority of Americans actually agree with where he stands on the issues.
Politics aren’t that hard of a business. It is a rough and tumble trade that mixes exceptional degrees of joy and heartbreak and narcissism, but it’s relatively simple. These issues we’re always arguing, these wedge topics we’re already battling over, everyone is mostly on the same page with the exception of a half dozen or so hot-button debates. After that, it’s relatively understood that America has a problem with wealth inequality and employment. The difference between Democrats and Republicans and their solutions usually have to do with how these problems are addressed, or even whether they need to be addressed now or later, the former routinely advocating increased taxes for wealthy Americans and the latter denying every proposed raise for fear of slippery-slope wealth distribution. But nobody on either side would deny that Americans are working harder and longer for less than they ever have in the past. It’s simply untenable to deny that fact.
Bernie is simply venting the building frustration of the people in no-nonsense terms and reaping the benefits. He’s unwrapped the process the way Americans have begged their leaders to do for years and the people are coming in droves to simply hear their own frustrations erupting from the mouth of one of D.C.’s own. They want somebody to stand behind the podium and toss away the divisive bullshit and focus on the day-to-day, everyman problems that have plagued their families for generations.
It’s an old act, one that has been employed for as long as there’s been an America to scrutinize, but very rarely does the actor win an election. Instead, they serve as the canary in the coal mine, a reminder that eventually the inequality and the criminal neglect must be answered lest the proletariat grabs their pitchforks. When a Bernie Sanders or a Eugene V. Debs emerges from the cracks of the tried-and-true political process and gains some traction, political operatives and bosses know it’s time to slide the scale a little toward the middle, but not enough, still, to change much except for the perception.
That’s why Hillary Clinton found herself in Roosevelt Park chirping about evening the playing field and pledging to “bring the banks in line.” There’s growing frustration to cash in on, a complaint which has to be heard or else The Game Will Be Up.
Bernie’s riding the wave in the meantime. In a different world, one in which we chose presidents for their ideals and convictions, he might even stand a real chance. In this one, he’s an also-ran in the making.
The scenarios are all so easy to divine. Hillary is going to win in a landslide. All the polls tell us this. Even if she self-destructs in the wake of some unbelievable scandal, all of her support, and Bernie’s with it, will trickle off to either Martin O’Malley or some candidate who hasn’t entered the race yet. If, and this is a Huge If, Sanders were able to secure the Democratic nomination – the odds-makers have him a 30-to-1 shot – he would surely be doomed in a general election against whoever the GOP muster.
It does not work out. At all. Ever.
“I’m a college student,” a twenty-something girl in the audience who was obviously unaware of these facts said during the Q&A phase of the program, “and I don’t have any money and I don’t have a lot of time or power, but I hear what you have to say and I think you’re right. About everything. What can I do to help?”
Holding onto the podium like it might leave him, Bernie chewed his lip, thought it over. He told her to talk to her friends, her family, tell her what she’d heard and what he was saying. Then, a hitch in his voice, he said, “And don’t you let anyone tell that these things we talked about today aren’t possible. Don’t let them tell you America can’t do these things.”
And you know, for a second there, you had to believe him.
Photo: Bernie Sanders – Caricature (Painting) by DonkeyHotey