Tuesday, May 3, 2016
Bernie Sanders Still Gets No Respect (But He Should)
To say the least, this has been a bizarre year for politics. I mean, who would have predicted that a brash New York billionaire, who has been married three times and has a tendency to make outrageous claims and use schoolyard taunts on his opponents, would be the presumptive nominee for the Republican party? And who would have predicted that massive numbers of people (many of them young, first-time voters) in both red states and blue states would become passionate supporters of a 74-year old self-identified Democratic socialist from Vermont, best known for his thunderous oratory against corporate greed?
When the 2016 election season began, many Republicans expected former Florida Governor Jeb Bush (who had a famous name, conservative credentials, and millions of dollars in SuperPac support) to quickly become the party leader. And although some Democrats had their doubts about Hillary Clinton's electability, she too had a famous name, she had served as a senator and a Secretary of State, and few doubted that she would become her party's nominee.
Last year at this time, none of the pundits were predicting that Donald Trump would eliminate all the "establishment" candidates and win decisive victories in a majority of primary states; in fact, most of the pundits treated his candidacy as a media stunt, or even a joke. Similarly, I can't recall anyone who took Bernie Sanders seriously when he challenged Mrs. Clinton. The mainstream media had just about anointed her as the Democratic nominee, and nobody expected Senator Sanders to be around for very long; after all, who but a small bunch of old hippies would support some 74-year old guy from a small New England state who talked about a "political revolution"?
As it turned out, both Mr. Trump and Senator Sanders touched a chord with frustrated, angry, and alienated voters. Their styles were very different, and in many cases, their issues were different too; but their voters were equally certain that these two non-traditional candidates were the only ones who spoke the truth. As a result, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have each had a major impact on the presidential race. Mr. Trump has now, for all intents and purposes, sewn up the Republican nomination-- much to the chagrin of the Republican establishment. Mr. Sanders, for a number of reasons (some not of his making) is far behind in pledged delegates, but he has received millions of votes, raised an amazingly large amount of money from individual donors (typical donation $27, and he refuses to have a SuperPac), and won a respectable number of states. Although Mrs. Clinton and the Democratic establishment wish he would just go away, he shows no signs of doing that. (Note to fans of Hillary: I have nothing against her. I just find the case that Bernie is making much more compelling.) Meanwhile, even in the face of long odds, Senator Sanders has vowed to fight on.
That shouldn't surprise anyone who knows him. I've followed Bernie's career for years, and he has a long record of consistently fighting for what he believes in-- for example, he has been a champion of workers' rights, and has long railed against income inequality. Contrary to claims by his opponents he's anti-business, he is not at all opposed to capitalism-- but he is opposed to corporations that treat their workers with disdain while negotiating huge bonuses for their executives; and he is opposed to corporations that manipulate the tax code to avoid paying their fair share, or park their assets in the Cayman Islands. Frankly, as someone who has worked for companies where all of us consistently produced at a high level yet we rarely got even a small raise (while the company's executives got lavish salaries and perks), I can relate to his message. And I'm not the only one.
To be honest, I never expected Bernie to get as far as he did. And much as I like him, I never really thought Bernie would be able to win the nomination. But I did expect that once he began winning some states and attracting large and enthusiastic crowds to his rallies, the mainstream media would cover his campaign more thoroughly. They never did. On a regular basis, I saw reporters and anchors either ignoring him or giving him a bare minimum of attention. I even saw anchors mocking his stump speech, or cutting him off whenever he began to talk about corporate greed. And more often than not, when anchors did interview him, it was to ask when he was getting out of the race. And yet, night after night, when it came time for Donald Trump to give a speech, the same media outlets faithfully covered his every word, even if much of what he said was also his standard stump speech (with a few insults or rude remarks thrown in from time to time), and even though he had not yet come close to winning the nomination of his party.
It's fairly obvious that the mainstream media have their favorites. Donald Trump, with skills he honed in reality TV, often provides a boost to network ratings-- or as Les Moonves, the chairman of CBS, admitted: "Donald Trump's candidacy may not be good for America, but it's damn good for CBS." (Actual quote. Not an urban legend.) Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, has inspired millions of young voters, raised issues seldom discussed by traditional politicians, and run a dynamic and exciting campaign-- but he's not telegenic in the way Mr. Trump is, and he's not a ratings machine. So he doesn't get the coverage Mr. Trump gets. In a way, that's a sad commentary... both on the state of our politics, and on the state of our media.