Street Fighter

Bernie San­ders’s cam­paign runs on one idea: The rich are screw­ing you

Bloomberg Businessweek (Europe) - - Contents - By Joel Stein

Bernie San­ders can­not understand why any­one is in­ter­ested in Bernie San­ders. Sure, he has learned to toss a para­graph of bi­og­ra­phy into his pres­i­den­tial cam­paign speeches, but he gives that sec­tion less pas­sion than any other. He mum­bles some­thing about grow­ing up with an im­mi­grant fa­ther in a ten­e­ment with three and a half rooms. When asked pri­vately what this “half room” is, San­ders looks as if he’s never con­sid­ered it. “Prob­a­bly the foyer,” he says. “It had a kitchen, a liv­ing room, a bed­room, and foyer. They threw in a bath­room as well, but I didn’t count it. You know, my mem­ory of my bath­room is that one time a fish ac­tu­ally came up through a toi­let.” He pauses. “We did not cook it.”

And the self­ies—San­ders does not enjoy the self­ies. “If I had my op­tions I’d pre­fer to shake hands,” he says. Wad­ing through a selfie bar­rage at a Christ­mas tree light­ing cer­e­mony in Plymouth, N.H., he al­lows the lo­cal ra­dio DJ to put a knit cap with rein­deer antlers on him. “I was a lit­tle afraid it would tus­sle your hair,” the DJ jokes. San­ders’s hair is fa­mously di­sheveled. But San­ders has no in­ter­est in fash­ion ban­ter. “This is a real New Eng­land hat,” says San­ders. “We worry less about looks and more about keep­ing warm.” Later, vis­it­ing his cam­paign of­fice in Salem, N.H., he agrees to sign a few “Bernie” T-shirts for vol­un­teers. “This is one of the skills as pres­i­dent I will clearly need: Writ­ing your name on T-shirts,” he says. “Who would be­lieve that a grown-up per­son is de­bas­ing T-shirts all over Amer­ica?”

Bernie San­ders is more an idea than a per­son. An idea does not need to comb its hair. An idea can get away with skip­ping the task that oc­cu­pies so much of most politi­cians’ time—phon­ing the rich to ask for money—by in­stead writ­ing fundrais­ing let­ters, which con­tain words that make peo­ple with money anx­ious, like “oli­garchy.” An idea can give speeches filled with so many sta­tis­tics and num­bers that they’re really just white pa­pers with hand ges­tures. Bernie San­ders is not a leader so much as a mes­sen­ger. And his mes­sage can fit on a Post-it note: The rich are screw­ing you.

It’s the most pas­sion-in­duc­ing mes­sage of the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. San­ders has got­ten more do­na­tions—2.5 mil­lion-plus—at this point in the elec­tion cy­cle than any can­di­date in history, in­clud­ing sit­ting pres­i­dents, and twice as many in­di­vid­ual donors as Hil­lary Clin­ton. The slouch­ing, rum­pled 74-year-old, who was slouch­ing and rum­pled in his 20s, has of­ten at­tracted far larger au­di­ences to his boringass speeches than any 2016 can­di­date, in­clud­ing Don­ald Trump: 28,000 in Port­land, Ore.; 27,500 in Los An­ge­les; 20,000 in Bos­ton; 15,000 in Seat­tle. While there is no cal­en­dar of semi-nude men sup­port­ing Clin­ton, the Fe­bru­ary model in “Men Who Bern” pro­claims, “Only you can re­build the crum­bling in­fra­struc­ture of my heart.”

For an an­gry, self-right­eous Post-it note, San­ders is pretty lik­able. He’s warm, thought­ful, self-aware, brave, funny, and—in that way that hip­pies don’t care what peo­ple think of them—cool. Sit­ting near a pro­volone-filled re­frig­er­a­tor in the cafe­te­ria kitchen at Plymouth State Univer­sity, he roughly pulls his sweater vest over his head, to look more for­mal, maybe, or to stay cool, or to achieve his hair­style. He ap­proaches his son Levi, a para­le­gal at Greater Bos­ton Le­gal Ser­vices, who is about to in­tro­duce him on­stage. He picks a huge piece of lint off his son’s lapel and asks, “Is this what ge­net­ics is about? He has more crap on his suit jacket than I have on mine.”

Levi nods and says, “I’m try­ing to make you look good.”

San­ders stands out for his earthy lan­guage. His speeches are salted with the ca­sual “bulls---”s, “damn”s, and “crap”s that you’d ex­pect from a cranky old lib­eral. He doesn’t ad­just his act for dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tions or au­di­ences. San­ders is ex­actly the same, ut­terly com­fort­able and curious, whether speak­ing at the Jerry Fal­well-founded Lib­erty Univer­sity or lis­ten­ing po­litely to Black Lives Mat­ter pro­test­ers who have bum-rushed his stage and ap­pro­pri­ated his mi­cro­phone. As the na­tion de­bated Oba­macare in the sum­mer of 2009, and Demo­cratic law­mak­ers holed up in Wash­ing­ton to avoid an­gry con­stituents, San­ders held town halls in the most con­ser­va­tive parts of Ver­mont, stay­ing to an­swer ques­tions af­ter most peo­ple left. His fa­vorite tac­tic with a hos­tile au­di­ence is to de­clare that they won’t agree on some cru­cial is­sue such as abor­tion or gay rights but can come to­gether on a far more im­por­tant prob­lem: The rich are screw­ing us.

Ok­la­homa Repub­li­can Se­na­tor Jim In­hofe, Na­tional Jour­nal’s 2009 Top Con­ser­va­tive in the Se­nate—the man who, in Fe­bru­ary, tossed a snow­ball on the floor of the cham­ber to as­sert that global warm­ing is a hoax— calls San­ders one of his best friends in the Se­nate. “Bernie San­ders is unique,” In­hofe says, “in that most of the Democrats I know in the Se­nate vote lib­eral and press-release con­ser­va­tive. Not Bernie. He’s a proud, in-the-heart, sin­cere lib­eral. I’ve never heard him once say some­thing that didn’t come from his heart. That’s not true with all the peo­ple run­ning for pres­i­dent, Democrats and Repub­li­can. I hold him in high re­gard.” San­ders and In­hofe met in the early ’90s, when they were both rep­re­sen­ta­tives, and San­ders was propos­ing

On the road with a man so an­gry he scares Democrats, too

an amend­ment hik­ing taxes on the oil and gas in­dus­try. In­hofe rushed to the floor, de­bated him, and won the vote. Af­ter­ward, San­ders thanked him for offering a thought­ful, fact-based ex­change.

De­spite 25 years of friend­ship, In­hofe doesn’t know much about San­ders per­son­ally. “With ev­ery­one else in the Se­nate, they’ll dis­cuss the Ok­la­homa-Ok­la­homa State game,” In­hofe says. “But not Bernie. I don’t think he has any other in­ter­ests. I really don’t. I’ve never heard him talk about any­thing be­sides some­thing leg­isla­tive he’s all wrapped up in. It’s very un­usual.” In­hofe pauses. “I, to this day, don’t even know if he has grand­kids. Or even a wife.” The two have never gone to din­ner or lunch. “I don’t know what we’d talk about,” In­hofe says, be­fore re­mem­ber­ing that, of course, San­ders would talk about wealth in­equal­ity. “You can’t have a whole din­ner talk­ing about that.”

In Plymouth, San­ders is asked about his in­ter­ests other than wealth in­equal­ity. “History,” he says. “How com­mu­ni­ties thrive. How they flour­ish. How peo­ple don’t get left be­hind. How so­cial change takes place.” In other words: the history of wealth in­equal­ity. When the New York Times once had him pick a ques­tion from a reader out of a hat, and San­ders had to de­scribe the U.S. to a Mar­tian, it took him only four sen­tences to get to the phrase “in­come and wealth in­equal­ity.”

Huck Gut­man, an English pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Ver­mont who served as San­ders’s chief of staff un­til 2012, and who’s been one of his clos­est friends for decades, says San­ders had two in­ter­ests when he was mayor of Burling­ton: play­ing bas­ket­ball and wealth in­equal­ity. He no longer plays bas­ket­ball. Among the long list of things San­ders doesn’t care about are par­ties (a chore) and food (a fuel).

“I ate din­ner with him al­most ev­ery night,” Gut­man says, “and ev­ery so of­ten I’d say, ‘It’s time for a good meal.’ And I’d say that I’d pay be­cause that’s the only way I could get him to have a din­ner that costs more than $15. Most of us think there are a lot of things in life that are in­ter­est­ing and worth work­ing on. But Bernie says, ‘No, no, no. The strug­gle for equal­ity is what my life is about.’ He’s not a lib­eral. He’s not a good-doer. He’s con­sumed by what he thinks is the strug­gle for equal­ity.”

San­ders has the high­est con­stituent ap­proval rat­ing and low­est dis­ap­proval rat­ing among U.S. sen­a­tors. He spends an in­or­di­nate amount of his bud­get on case­work, ad­dress­ing the in­di­vid­ual prob­lems of his vot­ers. Gut­man says San­ders deeply em­bod­ies Robert Frost’s poem Two Tramps in Mud Time. It takes place dur­ing the De­pres­sion, and Frost is really, really, really en­joy­ing chop­ping wood, when two home­less guys come by, hop­ing he’ll pay them to do it for him:

Only where love and need are one, And the work is play for mor­tal stakes, Is the deed ever really done For Heaven and the fu­ture’s sakes.

San­ders’s need is to bat­tle. He trav­els across the coun­try con­stantly, giv­ing long, pas­sion­ate speeches in a way that makes talk­ing seem like a blue-col­lar job, like Bruce Spring­steen live. In Au­gust, San­ders flew coach on South­west, car­ry­ing his own bag, to ad­dress the crowd at the Los An­ge­les Me­mo­rial Sports Arena. Back­stage, his wife, Jane (he also has grand­chil­dren, Se­na­tor In­hofe), tried to per­suade him to wear a tie. San­ders seemed an­noyed. Really, a tie? Should we be talk­ing about ties right now?

Sarah Sil­ver­man, the co­me­dian, was on hand to in­tro­duce San­ders. Daniel Kel­li­son, a TV pro­ducer who’s cre­at­ing a se­ries of videos for the cam­paign, went to get food-truck bur­ri­tos for Sil­ver­man and him­self. Kel­li­son was half­way through un­wrap­ping his own when he felt some­one look­ing at him. Says Sil­ver­man: “Bernie saw it and, with his in­cred­i­ble brand of ab­so­lutely charm­less charm, said, ‘Whose is this? I’m hun­gry. Can I have half?’” Kel­li­son re­mem­bers be­ing as­ton­ished: “I said, ‘Is any­body look­ing out for this guy?’ It’s such a mom and pop or­ga­ni­za­tion.” San­ders has al­ways run an un­der­dog’s cam­paign. Af­ter grad­u­at­ing from the Univer­sity of Chicago and try­ing a bunch of jobs, San­ders spent most of 1972-76 run­ning in Ver­mont as a third-party can­di­date for gov­er­nor (twice) and se­na­tor (twice), once get­ting 4 per­cent of the vote. In 1981 he won a weird, four-way race for the mayor of Burling­ton by 10 votes, stun­ning ev­ery­one. The so­cial­ist mayor briefly be­came a na­tional story, but he served for eight years, and the city boomed. He also started run­ning for Congress, this time tak­ing only two elec­tions to win, and be­came the first in­de­pen­dent elected to the House in 40 years. He spent 16 years in the House be­fore run­ning for Se­nate in 2006—with the back­ing of the Demo­cratic Party, which he of­fi­cially wouldn’t join.

Even with all the donors and crowds, this cam­paign might be an­other one of his many quixotic runs. He’s more than 20 per­cent be­hind Clin­ton in na­tional polls of Democrats. She’s got 455 en­dorse­ments from gov­er­nors, sen­a­tors, and rep­re­sen­ta­tives; he’s got two con­gress­men and Jesse Ven­tura. He has three la­bor unions to­tal­ing about a mil­lion work­ers back­ing him; she has 18 unions rep­re­sent­ing nearly 12 mil­lion work­ers. Iowa re­quires a lot of or­ga­ni­za­tion, and while he might win in New Hamp­shire, Su­per Tues­day in­volves a lot of Southern states that are low on the white lib­er­als who love San­ders.

Win or lose in an elec­tion, he’s al­ways stuck to his mes­sage. And it’s pos­si­ble that peo­ple will keep re­spond­ing. Robert Re­ich, an econ­o­mist who was sec­re­tary of la­bor un­der Bill Clin­ton, says that any­one who car­ried on Oc­cupy Wall Street’s at­tack on grow­ing in­equal­ity would have at­tracted the same sup­port. Mas­sachusetts Se­na­tor El­iz­a­beth War­ren, he says, per­haps more so. “Es­sen­tially, Amer­ica faces a choice be­tween au­thor­i­tar­ian pop­ulism, rep­re­sented by Don­ald Trump, and re­form pop­ulism, rep­re­sented by Bernie San­ders. If we don’t make the choice in 2016, we’ll be making it in 2020 or 2024,” Re­ich says. “I am amazed at the en­thu­si­asm amongst young peo­ple for Bernie. But he seems to be very aware that this isn’t a per­son­al­ity cult. His ego is very much un­der con­trol.”

San­ders makes no at­tempt to seem fun or milk trends. While Hil­lary Clin­ton’s Twit­ter feed gets down with tweets like, “Yaas, queen,” San­ders’s feed is un­apolo­get­i­cally wonky. While War­ren will tackle in­come in­equal­ity, she sounds like a Har­vard pro­fes­sor.

San­ders with a sup­porter at Plymouth State Univer­sity on Dec. 5

San­ders sounds like a guy who at least con­sid­ered cook­ing a toi­let fish.

It also helps that he isn’t be­holden to any­one, for any­thing. While San­ders is run­ning for the Demo­cratic nom­i­na­tion, he’s still not a mem­ber of the party. He doesn’t have an af­fil­i­ated su­per PAC col­lect­ing and spend­ing money on his be­half. Fewer than 300 of his supporters have given the in­di­vid­ual max­i­mum of $2,700 dur­ing the pri­mary and as a group are re­spon­si­ble for less than 2 per­cent of his cash; Clin­ton’s al­most 18,000 max­i­mum donors ac­count for nearly two-thirds of hers.

He will not al­low him­self to be taken off mes­sage. He gets fu­ri­ous when peo­ple talk to him about non­sub­stan­tive is­sues, re­fus­ing to take a moder­a­tor’s prod­ding to at­tack a vul­ner­a­ble Clin­ton at the first Demo­cratic de­bate by say­ing, “The Amer­i­can peo­ple are sick and tired of hear­ing about your damn e-mails.” To New Hamp­shire vot­ers, most of the po­lit­i­cal ads on TV ap­pear the same: Chris Christie nod­ding thought­fully at town halls, Marco Ru­bio smil­ing while shak­ing hands, Jeb Bush on a lot of fac­tory tours. The San­ders ads have charts.

His lib­eral cre­den­tials are car­toon­ish; Garry Trudeau has put him in Doonesbury as a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of an­t­i­cap­i­tal­ism. As an un­der­grad­u­ate, not only was he ar­rested for protest­ing, but he was also a mem­ber of the fol­low­ing ex­tracur­ric­u­lar or­ga­ni­za­tions: The Young Peo­ple’s So­cial­ist League The Congress for Racial Equal­ity The Stu­dent Non­vi­o­lent Co­or­di­nat­ing Com­mit­tee The Stu­dent Peace Union In the 1960s, he lived on a kib­butz in Is­rael for a few months and moved to Ver­mont, where he first lived in a maple sugar shack and cooked food over a cof­fee can filled with a roll of toi­let pa­per soaked in lighter fluid—a poor man’s Sterno that his friends called a “Berno.” He recorded a spo­ken-word al­bum cov­er­ing folk songs. He made a doc­u­men­tary about five-time so­cial­ist pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Eu­gene V. Debs and has a plaque cel­e­brat­ing him in his Se­nate of­fice. Dis­gusted with the Democrats’ turn to the cen­ter af­ter the Rea­gan years, in 1991 he started the Con­gres­sional Pro­gres­sive Cau­cus, which now has 68 mem­bers in the House. His brother, Larry, who first got him in­ter­ested in lib­eral is­sues, is a Green Party politi­cian in Eng­land. In 1988, Bernie and his first wife hon­ey­mooned in the Soviet Union. As mayor, he earned his ad­min­is­tra­tion the nick­name “San­dernistas” when he vis­ited Daniel Ortega, the pres­i­dent of Nicaragua, and de­clared Puerto Cabezas the sis­ter city to Burling­ton. In speeches, he refers to the au­di­ence as “broth­ers and sis­ters.” When he be­came the rank­ing mi­nor­ity mem­ber of the Se­nate Bud­get Com­mit­tee last year, he hired Stephanie Kelton as the Demo­cratic Party’s chief econ­o­mist on the com­mit­tee. Kelton es­pouses Mod­ern Mon­e­tary The­ory, a branch of eco­nomics so far left that it re­jects Key­ne­sian­ism and holds that gov­ern­ment sur­pluses are dis­as­trous.

San­ders had, un­til 2015, five dig­its’ worth of credit card debt, even though it’s hard to imag­ine he could have ever spent that much. “I’m not much of a money per­son,” San­ders says. “To me, grow­ing up in a fam­ily that never had a lot of money, the ma­jor dif­fer­ence be­tween my life then and get­ting a Se­nate salary is the se­cu­rity of know­ing that the tele­phone com­pany is not go­ing to shut off our phone, the elec­tric com­pany isn’t go­ing to shut off my elec­tric­ity, that I can go to a restau­rant tonight, pay the bill, and the credit card will have money in it. I’m not much of a big spender. I prob­a­bly have more clothes than I have ever had be­cause I have to be a se­na­tor and a can­di­date.”

In his per­fect Satur­day Night Live im­per­son­ation of San­ders, Larry David claimed the can­di­date owned one pair of un­der­wear. “I have two pairs,” cor­rects San­ders, go­ing along with the joke. “I bought an ex­tra pair of un­der­wear. I said to hell with it. You have to have at least two pair on a cam­paign.” The two sound so nat­u­rally alike that when David called San­ders on his cell phone, San­ders was heard on the Acela train declar­ing, “I know it’s really you. Be­cause you sound just like me.”

As a gauge of his nat­u­ral charisma, he came in last of three can­di­dates when run­ning for pres­i­dent of James Madi­son High School in Brook­lyn. Dur­ing speeches and de­bates, San­ders jabs with his in­dex fin­ger, an act of ag­gres­sion seem­ingly banned from U.S. pol­i­tics when Bill Clin­ton took to making a fist and mov­ing his thumb like he was click­ing through slides. “Cool, fun pres­i­dents have got­ten us into trou­ble,” says Pat­ton Oswalt, a co­me­dian who’s vol­un­teered to in­tro­duce San­ders at speeches. “We need the guy in the non­tai­lored suit who just wants to sit at a desk and be bor­ing and get s--done. Ge­orge W. Bush was eight years of Michael Scott from The Of­fice, and some­times I have that prob­lem with Obama.” Amer­ica, Oswalt be­lieves, is the Bad News Bears and San­ders its Wal­ter Matthau.

Af­ter San­ders’s speech in Plymouth, Kim De Lutis, a Cana­dian who’s raised chil­dren in New Hamp­shire, says she’s be­com­ing a U.S. cit­i­zen just to cast a ballot for San­ders. She’s seen him more than once in a diner in Montpelier, Vt. “You can’t miss him,” she says. “He’s got that crazy hair, and he’s al­ways work­ing. He’s real. I don’t get caught up in the celebrity makeover all the can­di­dates have.”

San­ders be­came a na­tional po­lit­i­cal fig­ure in the way politi­cians did in pre­vi­ous cen­turies: by giv­ing a speech. On Dec. 10, 2010, he gave an 8 ½-hour speech against ex­tend­ing the Bush tax cuts that seemed like a fil­i­buster, ex­cept that he wasn’t hold­ing up any vote. It was so pop­u­lar it was pub­lished as a book.

Even more than most can­di­dates, San­ders is bet­ter at iden­ti­fy­ing prob­lems than offering so­lu­tions. Most of the plans he does of­fer re­quire turn­ing Amer­ica into Scan­di­navia. The an­swer to all prob­lems, he ar­gues, is some­thing like an $18 tril­lion Great New Deal, $15 tril­lion of which is for a “Medi­care for all” health plan. It in­cludes more So­cial Se­cu­rity, a $15-an-hour min­i­mum wage, free pub­lic col­lege, fam­ily leave, more pen­sions, and a lot of in­fra­struc­ture jobs, as Mr. Fe­bru­ary al­luded to. This would all be paid for by “a tax on Wall Street spec­u­la­tion,” a tax on the rich, and a higher busi­ness tax. In the Bernie San­ders drink­ing game, ev­ery time he men­tions a free gov­ern­ment pro­gram, you drink some­one else’s beer.

San­ders is wag­ing class war­fare, but it’s a fight he feels was started by the rich, who “rigged” the econ­omy—one of the words he re­turns to most of­ten. He uses class war­fare terms from an­other cen­tury, call­ing in­vestors “spec­u­la­tors” and his child­hood apart­ment a “ten­e­ment”; he refers to “es­tab­lish­ment” eco­nomics, cor­po­ra­tions, me­dia, and pol­i­tics—his version of the Right’s “main­stream.” He’s not a con­spir­acy the­o­rist, but he does be­lieve a very small group of very rich peo­ple are controlling our elec­tion re­sults, our in­for­ma­tion, and the dis­tri­bu­tion of our re­sources. When asked what his wealthy friends think of his rant­ing against the im­moral­ity of the mon­eyed class, he says, “I don’t know that I have too many wealthy friends.”

San­ders prefers hat­ing the rich. When Hil­lary Clin­ton was asked in a de­bate if cor­po­rate Amer­ica should love her, she re­sponded, “Ev­ery­one should. I want to be the pres­i­dent for the strug­gling, the striv­ing, and the suc­cess­ful.” San­ders does not. When asked be­fore a speech in Keene, N.H., what he would say to re­as­sure the Bloomberg Busi­ness­week read­ers who work on Wall Street, or have mil­lions of dol­lars, or run a hedge fund, and might be afraid he wants to tax them back to the Carter Age, San­ders puts down the manila folder con­tain­ing his talk, which he de­liv­ers with­out a TelePrompTer. “I’m not go­ing to re­as­sure them,” he says. “Their greed, their reck­less­ness, their il­le­gal be­hav­ior has de­stroyed the lives of mil­lions of Amer­i­cans. Frankly, if I were a hedge fund man­ager, I would not vote for Bernie San­ders. And I would con­trib­ute money to my op­po­nents to try to de­feat him.” Then the only so­cial­ist ever elected to the U.S. Se­nate goes back to work­ing on his pre­pared re­marks.

Each night be­fore a speech, he futzes with it, ag­o­niz­ing over the lines even though it’s es­sen­tially the same speech he’s given for four decades, the word “Rock­e­fellers” re­placed by “Kochs.” It’s a mes­sage that isn’t all that dif­fer­ent from that of Franklin Roo­sevelt, who was elected dur­ing a time of great in­equal­ity. In 1936, run­ning for re­elec­tion, Roo­sevelt spoke at Madi­son Square Gar­den: “We know now that gov­ern­ment by or­ga­nized money is just as dan­ger­ous as gov­ern­ment by or­ga­nized mob. Never be­fore in all our history have th­ese forces been so united against one can­di­date as they stand to­day. They are unan­i­mous in their hate for me—and I wel­come their ha­tred.”

On Jan. 5, at Man­hat­tan’s Town Hall theater, San­ders de­clared his own war on or­ga­nized money, de­cry­ing Clin­ton for tak­ing Wall Street dol­lars in both speak­ing fees and cam­paign do­na­tions, and vow­ing to break up the six largest banks, bring back the Glass-Stea­gall Act, ar­rest some bankers, ban bankers from sit­ting on the Fed­eral Re­serve Board, make the credit rat­ing agen­cies non­prof­its, al­low post of­fices to of­fer bank­ing ser­vices, cap credit card in­ter­est rates at 15 per­cent, and limit ATM fees to $2. “The re­al­ity is fraud is the busi­ness model of Wall Street,” he said. “It is not the ex­cep­tion to the rule. It is the rule.”

It’s been only slightly eas­ier for many Ver­mont busi­ness lead­ers to deal with San­ders. Win Smith, chair­man of the Ver­mont Busi­ness Round­table, and owner of the Su­gar­bush ski re­sort, says the Ver­mont busi­ness com­mu­nity doesn’t party with San­ders much. The Round­table’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor meets reg­u­larly with Ver­mont’s other se­na­tor, Demo­crat Pa­trick Leahy, but has seen San­ders twice in 15 years. “He clearly does not view big busi­ness as pos­i­tive. There are not a lot of big busi­nesses in Ver­mont, but he has a ten­dency to broad-brush ev­ery­body,” says Smith, who spent 28 years at Mer­rill Lynch, the last 10 as chair­man of Mer­rill Lynch In­ter­na­tional. He finds San­ders’s eco­nomic rants against Wall Street abra­sive. “In my opin­ion it is naive and it is a shame. I don’t know that he truly un­der­stands how the cap­i­tal mar­kets func­tion and how they have to func­tion.”

Wade Black, who runs Scars­dale Eq­ui­ties, a bou­tique in­vest­ment firm in New York, and do­nates to San­ders, dis­agrees. “I think he un­der­stands mon­e­tary pol­icy. That great ha­rangue he gave Alan Greenspan [in 2003] shows that. He prob­a­bly has a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of the fi­nan­cial in­dus­try than Ben Car­son does. He may have a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of how cap­i­tal­ism works than Don­ald Trump does,” he says. Pres­i­dent San­ders, Black be­lieves, will make Wall Street more com­pet­i­tive, so the vit­riol against his oc­cu­pa­tion doesn’t bother him. “It’s a metaphor. There’s not go­ing to be a Kristall­nacht in Lower Man­hat­tan. He’s talk­ing about reg­u­la­tion, not shut­ting down the stock ex­change. Peo­ple turn their logic cir­cuits off as soon as they hear the word ‘so­cial­ism.’ ”

Un­like Trump ral­lies, which have violence in the air, San­ders’s events present a more mel­low rad­i­cal­ism. The first thing you learn at a San­ders rally is how many

songs there are about rev­o­lu­tions. Be­fore he ar­rives, the speak­ers blast Steve Earle’s The Revo­lu­tion Starts Now and Bob Mar­ley’s Revo­lu­tion. But the one that best fits the scene at a soc­cer field in sub­ur­ban Las Vegas on a foot-numb­ingly cold night is Tracy Chap­man’s Talkin’ Bout a Revo­lu­tion. She sounds so calm and thought­ful, like noth­ing is about to hap­pen more vi­o­lent than a spilled latte, as she strums her gui­tar and slowly sings:

Poor peo­ple gonna rise up And take what’s theirs Don’t you know you bet­ter run, run, run, run, run, run, run

The peo­ple gath­ered here—old hip­pies, col­lege kids, im­mi­grants, union work­ers break­ing with their lead­er­ship’s choice of can­di­date—look sim­i­larly re­laxed, like they’re less in­ter­ested in ac­tual revo­lu­tion than in at­tend­ing a graduate sem­i­nar about revo­lu­tion. It’s a very se­ri­ous crowd for Las Vegas—not one per­son is va­p­ing. Still, San­ders’s call to elect him—and then stay in­volved, chang­ing the sys­tem with con­stant mil­lion­per­son marches on the cap­i­tal—seems im­pos­si­ble with this laid-back crew. Then again, the Bol­she­viks were hu­man­i­ties stu­dents in cof­fee shops, and the Tahrir Square pro­test­ers were col­lege kids with Twit­ter ac­counts. The one ob­vi­ous revo­lu­tion song that isn’t played is the Bea­tles’, with its “Don’t you know it’s go­ing to be all right/Shoo bee doo wop.” San­ders em­phat­i­cally does not be­lieve it’s go­ing to be all right.

The rea­son a wonky sep­tu­a­ge­nar­ian can even con­vinc­ingly talk about revo­lu­tion is that San­ders is so gen­uinely an­gry. Of­ten, he doesn’t play nicely. As mayor of Burling­ton, he was once in­vited to speak at a United Way fundraiser. His speech, per­haps for the only time, lasted just a few min­utes and con­sisted of telling peo­ple that the United Way shouldn’t ex­ist—that ask­ing for dol­lars from work­ers’ pay­checks to do the gov­ern­ment’s job was shame­ful. As mayor, he stron­garmed a real es­tate group that was go­ing to con­vert low-in­come hous­ing to lux­ury con­dos by pass­ing laws specif­i­cally to thwart their ef­forts. The right­eous can be ruth­less.

Madeleine May Kunin, who was gov­er­nor of Ver­mont from 1985 to 1991, had to run a gu­ber­na­to­rial cam­paign against San­ders and a Repub­li­can at the same time. “When you’re in a small ra­dio stu­dio—and in Ver­mont all the ra­dio stu­dios are small—and some­one is at­tack­ing you from the right and the left, there’s not much oxy­gen,” she re­mem­bers. “He used to be much more ag­gres­sive. One time he was at a rally for women and he claimed to be a bet­ter fem­i­nist than I was.”

In Novem­ber, San­ders met Killer Mike at a bar­ber­shop the rap­per owns in At­lanta. They faced each other on gi­ant red leather bar­ber chairs for an hour, as the hip-hop star in­ter­viewed the se­na­tor. At one point, Killer Mike com­pli­mented San­ders on his civil rights work in the 1960s. “That’s some bomb s---. That is ab­so­lute dope,” Mike said. San­ders, oddly com­fort­able as al­ways de­spite clearly not know­ing what any of that meant, re­sponded, “If I can use some bomb s---, we saw our friends get­ting the s--- kicked out of them and get­ting beaten to hell. They were the brave ones.” At the end of the hour, Mike shook his head in ad­mi­ra­tion. “I wish to stay as an­gry as you,” he said. The rap­per said he fears get­ting soft, but vowed to yell out his bar­ber­shop win­dow about in­jus­tice af­ter his mu­sic ca­reer ends.

San­ders pumped his fist and smiled broadly. “That’s be­ing hu­man,” he said. “If you see stuff that’s bad and you don’t re­spond with—what did King call it?—‘the ur­gency of the mo­ment,’ then you’re not alive.” <BW>

With his wife, Jane (left), and on­stage at New York’s Town Hall on Jan. 5

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