Support for Sanders presidency gathers steam
Candidate with battle cry for ‘political revolution’ poses a serious threat to Clinton
WASHINGTON— In the early 1970s, a young left-wing radical from New York, Bernie Sanders, would run into a young political science professor, Garrison Nelson, in a library at the University of Vermont. Sanders would tell Nelson about his plans to challenge the influence of the billionaire Rockefeller family.
“I would just laugh. I’d say, ‘The man is delusional,’ ” Nelson recalled. “I’d smile and send him on his way to go to the movies and figure out how he was going to ‘undo the Rockefellers.’ ”
The young radical is now an old radical. Saying the same contemptuous things about billionaires in the same Brooklyn bark, he has become a legitimate contender for the Democratic presidential nomination.
“I’m stunned. Stunned. It’s beyond belief,” said Nelson, who remains a Sanders acquaintance. “When I see these crowds, in California, in Texas, I say, ‘My God, this is just unreal.’ ”
Twenty-seven thousand in Los Angeles. More than 25,000 in progressive Portland. Eight thousand in conservative Dallas. Sanders, a 74-yearold “democratic socialist” with little regard for traditional campaign requirements such as smiling, has drawn the biggest crowds of any candidate from either party.
Calling for a “political revolution,” Sanders has overtaken favourite Hillary Clinton in the first two voting states, Iowa and New Hampshire. Last week, he announced the feat that finally got America’s moneytalks political class to take him seriously: he raised $26 million (U.S.) over the past three months, just shy of Clinton’s $28 million and better than Barack Obama over the comparable period in 2007.
He collected that cash while refus- ing to hold swanky fundraisers — or many fundraisers at all — and while railing against the corporate titans whom candidates usually ask to write cheques. The haul came largely from grassroots donors who contributed online. The average donation, his campaign said, was $30.
Brad Cooley, a 19-year-old computer science student at Arizona State University, had never heard of Sanders until he came across his name this spring on Reddit, where Sanders has amassed a zealous following. Cooley now gives Sanders $5 every month. When he has some spare cash, he chips in another $10 or $15.
“He’s the only politician that’s ever made me excited for politics or for being part of the political activity in this country,” Cooley said.
Every Democratic primary produc- es a liberal alternative to the establishment choice. None — not Bill Bradley, not Howard Dean — has offered a platform nearly so ambitious. Sanders, a two-term Vermont senator elected both times as an Independent, is pushing the kind of unabashed big-government agenda that Canada’s NDP might deliver if it set up shop in the United States and evicted all its centrists.
And he is doing it with unrestrained anger. Though he is a career politician, he radiates an anti-establishment rage that resonates in the era of stagnant middle-class wages, growing income inequality and billionaire-backed Super PACs.
His crusty sincerity is especially appealing to voters who believe the cautious Clinton is inauthentic in her professed concern for “everyday Americans.” In substance and in style, he is exposing Clinton’s weaknesses. “Bernie is talking to the middle-and-below guy that is just screwed, and nobody else is really addressing what’s happening to them,” said Peter von Sneidern, 70, a retired motorcycle shop owner and the former party chair in the New Hampshire town of Temple.
Sanders calls income inequality “the great moral issue of our time.” He says he would pursue a Scandinavia-style universal health care system, make public universities free, double the federal minimum wage to $15, spend $1trillion over five years to repair infrastructure, break up big banks and change the Constitution to curb the campaign clout of “the billionaire class.”
Like conservative critics of Donald Trump, Clinton supporters say Sanders would get eaten alive by opposition operatives in a general election.
“I know that the (Republican) Karl Rove team has one goal in mind, and that’s to get Bernie the nomination. Because he’s their dream candidate to run against,” said Bert Weiss, the Democratic chair in the New Hampshire town of Chatham. The drama-hungry media can make Sanders’ chances sound better than they are. Among the non-white voters particularly important in the South, Clinton leads 76 per cent to 16 per cent, according to a recent NBC poll. And Clinton’s overall lead, while shrinking, is still large: Clinton is ahead of Sanders 65 to 35 per cent, a recent YouGov poll found.
Dan Payne, a Boston-based Democratic analyst, said the upcoming debates are a “big, big hurdle” for a candidate he describes as “rude.” Nelson believes Sanders is unlikely to do much better than his current 30-odd per cent of the national vote.
“But he’s already had an impact. He’ll have a major speaking role at the convention, and he’s already pushed the agenda.”
Sanders’s fervent fans — the Reddit soldiers and the New Hampshire retirees alike — are convinced he can win. Cooley cites Obama, who trailed Clinton by a similar margin at this time in 2007. Von Sneidern cites Jesus Christ.
“Somewhere,” von Sneidern said, “I saw something that said, ‘Somebody thought that a socialist Jew couldn’t get anywhere? Well, you celebrate his birthday every December.’ ”
“Bernie (Sanders) is talking to the middle-and-below guy that is just screwed, and nobody else is really addressing what’s happening to them.” PETER VON SNEIDERN MOTORCYCLE SHOP OWNER
Bernie Sanders, who considers himself a “democratic socialist,” has passed Hillary Clinton in the first two voting states, Iowa and New Hampshire.