The Case for Bernie Sanders
The New York Times published a piece over the weekend about the political prospects of Bernie Sanders, a politician who apparently does not kiss enough babies:
“[Sanders] rarely drops by diners or coffee shops with news cameras in tow, unlike most politicians. He hardly ever kisses babies, aides say, and does not mingle much at fund-raisers.
“His high-minded style carries risk. As effective as his policy-laden speeches may be in impressing potential supporters, Mr. Sanders is missing opportunities to lock down uncommitted voters face to face in Iowa and New Hampshire, where campaigns are highly personal.”
The media response to the Sanders campaign has been alternately predictable, condescending, confused and condescending again.
The tone of most of the coverage shows reporters deigning to treat his campaign like it’s real, like he has a chance. John Cassidy of The New Yorker, for instance, swore he wouldn’t be patronizing about the Sanders run. “Indeed, I welcomed Sanders to the race!” Cassidy wrote recently.
But Cassidy’s hokey “Welcome to the 2016 Race, Bernie Sanders!” piece from last spring had a small catch. It basically said that Sanders was welcome because he would be a boon to the real candidate, Hillary Clinton.
“[Sanders] can’t win the primary,” Cassidy wrote. “And he will occupy the space to the left of Clinton, thus denying it to more plausible candidates, such as Martin O’Malley.” (!)
Noting that Sanders held positions that were “eminently defensible, if unrealistic,” Cassidy nonetheless said he was glad Sanders was running, because he would “provide a voice to those Democrats who agree with him that the U.S. political system has been bought, lock, stock, and barrel.”
This passage he wrote just after arguing that Sanders cannot win and was only useful insofar as he would help the bought-off candidate win.
So what Cassidy really meant is that the Sanders campaign was allowing people who are justifiably pissed about our corrupted system to blow off steam, before they ultimately surrender to give their support to the system candidate.
And he welcomed that! But he wasn’t being condescending or anything.
Cassidy referred back to that old piece recently, after he became among the first of many pundits pronouncing Hillary the knockout winner of a debate that most actual human beings seemed to think Sanders handled quite well. Cassidy went so far as to ask, “Did the media get the Democratic debate wrong?”
He thought and thought on this, then decided he/it didn’t.
“Based on Clinton’s manner,” he wrote, “and her deftness in evading awkward questions, I think she delivered the best performance.”
Campaign-trail reporting is like high school: a brutish, interminable exercise in policing mindless social rules. In school, if someone is fat or has zits or wears the wrong clothes, the cool kids rag on that person until they run home crying or worse.
The Heathers of the campaign trail do the same thing. Sanders is just the latest in a long line of candidates – Howard Dean, Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul, to name a few – whom my media colleagues decided in advance were not electable, and covered accordingly, with a sneer.
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