Checking in on Bernie

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You mean he's still there? Mainstream media made a commendable effort to ignore Bernie Sanders in the hope he'd vanish, like kids covering their eyes with their hands. They said: He's too familiar. He's too old. He's too white. He's weak with African-Americans. He has problems with women. Besides, all Democratic candidates now embrace his policies. Then the polls appear and he and Biden are far ahead. Joe they get, but Bernie? I sympathize with the mainstream media: they lack the tools or vocab to deal with him. They get seasick, for instance, when he calls himself socialist. Who does that?

Redbaiting rides again. Or tries. It's not every day you can time travel back to an era like the Cold War. In fact, it may be essentially impossible. I've tried to bring those years alive for the young and it's daunting. It's easier to conjure Camelot than reds under the beds or the Cuba Missile Crisis. You mean JFK was really ready to incinerate the Earth rather than "blink first?" This may be why redbaiting and name-calling don't seem to work. Once literally out of sight, the grisly horrors of Cold War "socialism" might become unimaginable.

It's frustrating not just for the right but anyone on the left with a foot still in that fading reality. So leftists argue over whether Bernie's "socialist enough" -- like the ancient debate among Trotskyists (they were dissident communists) on whether the Soviet Union had degenerated socialism or deformed capitalism. Meanwhile the young cheerily poll as more socialist than capitalist.

Too old? This is perplexing. He does poorly with his peers yet is well ahead among the young. Here's my thought: it's because he seems as angry as they are, for similar reasons, and has been all along. His anger, like theirs, is real. It's not just this year's flavour in the Democratic party. If there's anything those of us no longer young have trouble grasping, it's the fury of the young over the unfairness they're burdened with. But age has not withered his rage.

Too white? On this, pundits are mystified. Why are two old white guys leading in the age of diversity? That mindset should've been done in by Obama. What matters isn't who the candidate is, but what they'll do for those who are diverse. Obama did little, partly because he didn't want to look like the puppet of minorities, but mainly because he preferred joining the Establishment himself. It'd be nice to have both but if you must choose …

Too cranky? Doesn't smile enough? Personally I think he has a great smile. But I'd support him solely because he doesn't start each answer at a Town Hall with, "Thank you [FIRST NAME], for that question." It's why he wins the authenticity sash. And there's the fire this time, because he's actually running with a real chance. Last time he ran dutifully, because no one else would, in order to raise concerns he's been passionate about forever.

The Sanders ego. By which I mean its overt absence. When any other candidate hears a crowd chant their name, a grin starts at the corners of the mouth. Enjoying the adulation is basically irresistible. Not him. It's as if he's impatient for them to stop so he can start ranting about issues. The only other extremely famous figure I can think of who lacks that kind of visible ego is Noam Chomsky. I have no idea how they do it.

Bernie the populist. OK, now we're at ground zero for politics today. It's not due to the populus, it's due to the people's enemies, who make populism inevitable. What defines populism as left or right, depends on who that enemy is seen to be. At his opening rally in Brooklyn, Bernie said, "They have the money but we have one thing they don't have: the people."

Kamala, Cory and Beto can't ever say that, since, though they may claim the people, they also take the money. Biden couldn't be less populist. He says, "Guys, the wealthy are as patriotic as the poor. I know Bernie doesn't like me saying that, but they are."

But can he beat Trump? In a walk, I'd say, if it didn't sound ageist.

This article was originally published in the Toronto Star

Image: Phil Roeder/Flickr

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