Bernie Sanders is being taken seriously in (and out of) Iowa

“Objects in your rearview mirror are closer than they appear.”

That was what Kurt Meyer, the Democratic Party chairman for Worth County, Iowa, reportedly told Hillary Clinton’s political director after more people showed up to Bernie Sanders’s event in the small town of Kensett on Saturday night than the town’s overall population. Earlier in the week, Sanders drew 700 people to a rally in Davenport. As the New York Times noted yesterday, that’s the largest rally any candidate has held in the state so far this election cycle, and puts Martin O’Malley’s 50-person event in the same town on Saturday to shame.

As Iowa State political science professor Steffen Schmidt tweeted from a Sanders campaign event at a brewery in Ames, “Hillary should worry:”

Since announcing his candidacy, Sanders has shown signs of life in what was originally thought to be a one-horse race for the Democratic nomination. A recent Quinnipiac poll had him pulling fifteen percent of the Democratic electorate. For perspective, that’s higher than any candidate earns in RealClearPolitics’s polling average for the Republican nomination (Jeb Bush is in the lead with 14.8% of the vote).

As Georgetown professor Michael Eric Dyson told a roundtable on ABC’s This Week yesterday, “Bernie Sanders is proving there is a little bit of socialist in a lot of people on the left.”

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Sanders is saying things that liberals have been dying to inject into presidential politics for a very long time. As Matt Bruenig pointed out, writing for Demos, when Sanders told John Harwood that, “The whole size of the economy and the GDP doesn’t matter if people continue to work longer hours for low wages and you have 45 million people living in poverty…You don’t necessarily need a choice of 23 underarm spray deodorants or of 18 different pairs of sneakers when children are hungry in this country,” he was widely dismissed by mainstream journalists when in fact this was one of the most substantive debates currently permeating our political discourse:

Whenever someone argues that we should distribute the national income more evenly so as to reduce poverty and inequality (as Sanders does), the very first thing someone says in response is that doing so will reduce growth and innovation. Sanders is mocking this argument, saying he’d gladly cut poverty and inequality even if it meant a reduction in superficial product innovation.

If the company that determined there was big money to be made by innovatively telling teen boys that using a certain brand of deodorant would cause attractive women to have sex with them decided not to go through with creating Axe because taxes were too high, Bernie is saying he is OK with that. You might have less brands to choose from on the deodorant aisle, but on the plus side kids will get to eat.

That’s a much more serious challenge to economic inequality than any Republican or Third Way Democrat such as Clinton could ever dream of. It’s a challenge that makes sense to the millions of Americans who in the back of their minds understand our current system forces too many to choose between food and heat, while allowing them to also choose between Old Spice and Dove.

It’s a conversation that any other presidential contender would be unwilling to make, even if they know it makes sense, because their money would dry up and they’d get called a socialist on a Sunday news show. Bernie Sanders is not weighed down by any of that, nor is he weighed down by any of the other obligatory campaign scripts that are already making the media — to say nothing of the voters — frustrated with Clinton. As Jeb Lund wrote in The Guardian:

Bernie is not polished, because Bernie does not give a fuck. Bernie has shit to do, which is ostensibly why he was elected. For his pre-announcement – days ago – he walked outside the US capitol, took questions for ten minutes, then walked back inside to resume being a Senator. This approach is or is not a problem, depending on how hypocritical you think people are. Few people have spent their lives lamenting that politicians were insufficiently blow-dried. (NO. Make the hairTRUMPIER.) Most bemoan the plasticity of candidates and the lack of real priorities signified by omnipresent flag pins and a slightly different red tie than the guy next to him…

…Bernie is not rich and he does not spend his time figuring out how to convert political problems into wealth opportunities for people who are already rich. Many people depict this as a liability – mostly rich people who consider choosing the government to be exclusively their purview, and the sorts of people who become rich by overcharging rich people for campaign ads, advice and strategy. Both of these groups will tell you that Bernie has no chance, because it is in their bottom-line interests to make demonstrations of a lack of fealty to wealth seem politically anathema.

Bernie Sanders is the kind of politician everyone says they want. And when a politician is transparently genuine, as opposed to transparently fake, voters — surprise! — pay attention. It’s what they’ve asked for in every election since there have been elections, and their request has almost always been ignored.

In Bernie’s case, this transparency is augmented by the fact that — as Lund notes — the voters are way more liberal than either the press or their own representatives believe them to be. So Sanders’s candidacy fills the two biggest voids in the presidential field: that of progressives and that of actual people.

Bernie Sanders speaking at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, via John Pemble / Flickr

Bernie Sanders speaking at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, via John Pemble / Flickr

Beyond organic support, Sanders is proving more than capable of running a modern campaign that can raise money and disseminate his message. He’s already Internet famous, winning a Shorty Award in 2012 for best member of Congress on social media, and he’s currently sending the highest-engaging emails of any candidate. His staff, volunteers and voters are excited in the same way that Hillary’s are pragmatic, and the same words could have been written about Barack Obama in 2007.

Sanders’s momentum on the campaign trail over the weekend drowned out Martin O’Malley’s lackluster Baltimore campaign launch that was met with protestors shouting him down over the expansion of the city’s aggressive policing practices. As FiveThirtyEight noted, if there is a serious threat to Hillary Clinton in the primary, it will come from Sanders and not from O’Malley.

Oh, and you probably missed it because it doesn’t matter at all, but Lincoln Chaffee announced over the weekend that he’s going to announce his candidacy (for serious this time) on Wednesday. Again, there isn’t any contrast that any of the other members of the likely Democratic field can draw against Hillary that Sanders isn’t already doing and doing better.

For now, Sanders and Clinton are running a perfectly congenial race. Clinton has operated as if Sanders doesn’t exist; Sanders has pivoted every time he’s pressed to attack Clinton, reframing questions about Clinton’s high speaking fees and moderate policy positions to instead attack Wall Street decadence and pitch his ideas for addressing economic inequality, starting with making public college tuition-free.

It might not take that much of an increase in Sanders’s poll numbers to make all of that change.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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58 Responses to “Bernie Sanders is being taken seriously in (and out of) Iowa”

  1. HeatherENowak says:

    44$/[email protected]


  2. DoverBill says:

    Have you perused the list of republican candidates, lately?

  3. RyansTake says:

    It’s a primary. Let the media take a crack at him. If they crush him, then Hillary wins.

    If we don’t try, it’ll never happen.

  4. RyansTake says:

    The beauty of his campaign is by running in the Democratic primary, he can’t be labelled a spoiler. He’s not creating a three way race.

  5. retaliate says:

    Look at what they tried with the essay.

    We’re getting pretty resilient to their bullshit and far quicker to call them out on it.

  6. kirsi rinne says:

    ☑✦☑✦ $88 per h0ur @mi12//


  7. ComradeRutherford says:

    I can see why. because it describes your viewpoint EXACTLY. Bush III and Clinton II are nearly identical, the Power Behind The Throne will get their way if either of those two are elected, and We The People will be worse off for it.

  8. ComradeRutherford says:

    I like Real Democrats, not Fake Dems like Hillary, Bill and Obama, that’s all. I don’t vote for Republicans like Hillary that claim to be Democrats when they are OBVIOUSLY nothing of the sort.

  9. Indigo says:

    Bub? You’re doing an amazing job of making Sanders’ followers sound like a goon squad.

  10. WarrenHart says:

    I dont compare real life to a cartoon.

  11. ComradeRutherford says:

    I’m not the one refusing to support Democrats in the 2016 presidential race, that’s you, bub.

  12. Bill_Perdue says:

    He’s already gone right. He’s basically an opportunist giving left cover to an extremely right wing party.

    He’s a zionist, an anti-Palestinian racist.

    He’s a tool of the MIC. “Sanders never opposes any defense spending bill. He stands behind all military contractors who bring much-needed jobs to Vermont. … Senator Sanders rarely misses a photo opportunity with Vermont National Guard troops when they are being deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq.”‘

  13. Indigo says:

    Intellectually bankrupt, eh? Too bad.

  14. ComradeRutherford says:

    I remember that very well. The MSM were ordered by the Powers That Be to take him out of the race, and so they did.

  15. ComradeRutherford says:

    I can’t vote for Fake Dems like the Clintons or Obama.

  16. ComradeRutherford says:

    Bernie has never run a single attack ad in his entire career, and he’s publicly said he’s not going to start now.

  17. ComradeRutherford says:

    With your attitude (especially reciting far-right, anti-union talking points) no union will ever again have any political power…

  18. ComradeRutherford says:

    IATSE, the film and theatrical stagehands union is one of the most powerful, but smallest unions. No one hears about our wins against management.

  19. ComradeRutherford says:

    Bernie is a Real Democrat, he wouldn’t ‘go right’. But he’ll never be allowed anywhere near the White House. He’ll either be Deaned (MSM will latch on to a nothing and lie about it all day for weeks until he drops in the polls), or Wellstoned (killed). If, by some miracle, he does win, even after GOP-controlled DIEBOLD ‘tabulates’ the votes, he’d be Kennedy’d in the first year.

  20. ComradeRutherford says:

    Why do you hate America?

  21. ComradeRutherford says:

    “Sanders’ refusal to attack Clinton’s record looks like a “tell” to me”

    That’s because you don’t know Bernie. He has never, ever run a single negative ad in his entire political career and he said publicly that he’s not going to start now. Negative ads are a Republican tool, only used by Republican tools.

  22. ComradeRutherford says:

    With Republicans like you, why even vote? You are so eager for Republicans to win you want us all to vote for Republican Hillary Clinton.

    Here is your point of view, your narrow minded Corporate-owned-candidate-only bigotry was even lampooned by the Simpsons back in 1996:

    Homer: America, take a good look at your beloved candidates. They’re nothing but hideous space reptiles. [unmasks them] [audience gasps in terror]

    Kodos: It’s true, we are aliens. But what are you going to do about it? It’s a two-party system; you have to vote for one of us.


    Man1: He’s right, this is a two-party system.

    Man2: Well, I believe I’ll vote for a third-party candidate.

    Kang: Go ahead, throw your vote away.

    [Kang and Kodos laugh out loud]

    The field in front of the Capitol has now become a working ground where humans are whipped by aliens and used to carry materials.

    Marge: I don’t understand why we have to build a ray gun to aim at a planet I never even heard of.

    Homer: Don’t blame me, I voted for Kodos.

  23. ComradeRutherford says:

    How dare anyone even think of voting for anyone other than Corporate-controlled Hillary Clinton???

    If everyone votes for Bernie he still can’t win because he’s “unelectable”!!! it doesn’t matter if he gets 60% of the vote, he CAN’T WIN!!! Please, people, whatever you do, don’t vote for a Real Democrat! You MUST only vote for Corporate Raider Clinton!!! Because she is slightly better than her friend Jeb Bush.

  24. taxicolor says:

    That’s what I say too!

  25. just_AC says:

    I like what I have heard from Bernie so far. No, I don;t know everything about his stands. To me, his not attacking Hillary makes enormous sense. If he attacked her, what would that say to the populace? It is still early in the campaign. He MAY attack her as the campaign gets closer to the nomination. If nothing else, his viability will force Hillary to change her stances on issues.

  26. 2karmanot says:

    It is expected that Bernie will be attacked as the new spoiler, the Ralph Nadar of this next election. But, I would urge everyone to consider that he is the only voice of what remains of the old Republic’s tattered Democracy. We knew Bernie from the Vermont days and I tell you that he is exceptionally qualified and the genuine article. Always and evey time when asked he responded and his office covered every petition—personally— to solve problems large and small for his constituents. Bernie Is one of the last standing genuine heroes in this pathetic sewer of an oligarchy. I will never, ever vote for Killery Clinton….ever. And yes, I may live to see this country finally collapse under its own malignant ruin.

  27. Bill_Perdue says:

    Sanders is a ‘genuine’ support of racism against Palestinians and a ‘genuine’ supporter of the drive by US corporations to use the US military to attack countries from Tunisia to Indonesia and steal their land or resources.

  28. Bill_Perdue says:

    He might pull an Obama. He has a lot of ill-informed support from gullible people who refuse to absorb the lessons of the regimes of FDR, Truman, JFK, LBJ, Carter. Clinton and Obama. They all played left then turned right.

    It makes little difference which of the two main capitalist parties win. They have essentially the same program.

  29. Rose Alysha Aldea says:

    Bernie is running for the Democratic nomination and has stated various times that he will not be running in the general election if he fails to gain the nomination. If he loses, he will support Hillary because the absolute last thing he wants is for the Republicans to gain the Presidency. Listen to his message and then choose who is the best candidate between Hillary and Bernie (and O’Malley and Chaffee) based on that. Do not just vote for Hillary because she seems like an inevitability. There is no real democracy in thinking like that. Besides I have heard many of my Republican friends and family say that they would vote for Bernie in a general elections, so I think that he actually does have the ability to inspire a substantial segment of Republicans to vote for him, whereas Republicans tend to hate Hillary with a passion.

  30. White&Blue says:

    Thanks for the link Jon. Now the race is even more interesting than before.

  31. mark_in_toronto says:

    If the current system forces too many to choose between food and heat, what about the voting system that forces a choice between bad or worse?

    This election (as with many before) will be a perfect example of how a Plutocracy works. Watch the machinery in action as the new Trans Pacific Wall Street gets exactly what it wants.

    Yes, Bernie is genuine and he would make a great president, but he will be strategically used by the machine as a placebo. And as with all of the machine’s diversions, will work perfectly.

  32. lynchie says:

    Morning Joe had Huckabee on this morning and let him spout bullshit. He did 20 minutes unpaid politiking and Joe was on his taint with everything he had. the show was on the hardships of companies and the rich in Connecticut (GE, Aetna, etc.) and how they are threatening to pull out of the state unless the government backs off its pledge to raise corporate taxes. Joe says it is despicable to treat companies this way, the job creators crap again.

  33. Indigo says:

    Winning the nomination is pretty far fetched. I can’t see Sanders as anything more than a straw man on the ballot for those who just have to “make a statement.” Thing is, the only thing I see in a vote for Sanders is a toss to the GOP to take over for the next eight years. And I’d rather not see that happen. Not like that.

  34. Indigo says:

    And for every insult directed at Hillary (her hair, her age, her pants suits) is another hundred slapping your comment down as irrelevant.

  35. Indigo says:

    That’sa gerrymandered fact. The only problem there is that our system is already gerrymandered to keep reform out. And that’s the end of the story. Sanders for President is just another way of saying “throw the Democrats out!”

  36. WarrenHart says:

    The only threat Bernie Sanders is is he could throw the election to the Republicans other than that he hasn’t got a chance in hell.

  37. Matthew Bryant says:

    You might want to vet Sanders. It shouldn’t be hard, he has quite the record being a mayor, representative and senator. Check out his record. Then look at his past, speaking at Civil Rights protests in the 60’s, being at the Million Man March with MLK Jr. etc. The man is genuine.

    The reason you don’t see him attacking Clinton is because he wants the election to be about the issues, not a he said she said rat race.

  38. Bill_Perdue says:

    You’re confusing pro-Democrat union mis-leadership with union

    Unions have discriminated against workers of color in the past”. This is not the past. For the most part the majority of unions have fought racism since the 1930’s.

    “they have used violence” all violence originates with the boss class, management and the rich.

    “they have abided corruption within their leadership” The union left is has been changing that for over a decade.

    ILWU International Longshore and Warehouse Union dockworkers – watch for new west coast strikes

    Railroad Workers United


    Chicago Teachers Union – successfully beat back scabs Obama and Emanuel

    Teamsters for a Democratic Union

    National Nurses United – – fastest growing union in the AFL-CIO

    United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America

    Wal Mart Strikers

    United Food and Commercial Workers

    Teachers are competent – school management is incompetent.

    Cops should never be protected by unions and should be driven out of the ALF-CIO, the CLC and CTW.

  39. hidflect says:

    Hillary has too many cracks in her foundation to win. And I’m not just talking about her face. What’s she gonna do? Come on stage in her powder blue, double-breasted pantsuit, hair quaffed to perfection, her diamond rings and gold bracelets glinting gently in the floodlights gauzed to soften her face, stand up to the mike with her grimaced little, liver-lipped smile and say, “I feel the plight of the inner-city Blacks..”?

    Whatever she she gets up and says, there’s a leering horde of millions in the media’s audience on the left and the right ready to tear apart the Madame of Fraud that she is. Basically, she is Romney. Right down to the hairspray. Anything these corpo-robots ever mouth in emulated emotion is given the jaded eye of cynicism. That’s why she’s said basically nothing for months. Her handlers have their heads in their hands furiously trying to work out how to put better lipstick on this pig. Turning over daily issue after issue in their minds trying to imagine an optic that doesn’t end up an awkward and embarrassing backlash.

    She’s sold out to so many donors and wealthy parties that she’s known like butter on toast, coast to coast (as the salesmen say). Unfortunately, for all the wrong reasons. And for every issue that’s crafted for her to babble into the mike, there’s a hundred comments like this one slapping her down, and deservedly so.

  40. mf_roe says:

    Sanders keeps people opposed to Clinton from looking outside the box, that’s more important than nickle & dime contributions. Sanders’ refusal to attack Clinton’s record looks like a “tell” to me, Obama demonstrated that it was an effective tool. Bernie has no problem ATTACKING the Oligarchs yet he can’t point out Clinton’s service to them?

    We didn’t vet Obama, and we paid a price. Vetting Sanders will do him no harm if he’s legitimate but could keep the option for an alternative open if he is nothing but a diversion.

  41. mf_roe says:

    I support Unions in principle, but I also hold them responsible for a lot of wrongdoing. Unions have discriminated against workers of color in the past, they have used violence, they have abided corruption within their leadership, in public service unions they have protected bad cops and incompetent teachers. They are in short just like any other political alliance no better than they have to be to win support.

    To regain real power Unions must control enough economic muscle to force capital to negotiate. I’m not sure that there is enough power on labor’s side of the equation any longer. Show me a nation wide general strike lasting just one week, I don’t think that’s possible and I’m not sure that the .1% would even notice. To them it would be fires in the ghetto.

  42. mf_roe says:

    As always we agree more than we disagree. I’ve lived in Texas most of my life, in the ’50s & ’60s all the politicians had (D) behind their names. But the state was far from liberal and socialist = commie = Satan. Now that they all have (R) behind their names the only big difference is that they don’t even try to hide their hypocrisy is fashionable to worship at the altar of capitol.

  43. nicho says:

    Oh, for heaven’s sake. Does no one remember 2003? Howard Dean had the same traction Bernie has. In December 2003, he was considered “unbeatable front runner.” Then the corporatist media set their sights on him. After a withering three-week media barrage, he was considered “unelectable,” and John Kerry walked all over him.

    There is no way the Hillary Brigade is going to let Bernie make it to the convention. They will tolerate him now because it allows her to hoover donations out of the pockets of her faithful. Without someone like Bernie in the race, Hillbots are not going to be sending their rent money to her cause.

  44. Bill_Perdue says:

    That verges on science fiction.

  45. Bill_Perdue says:

    While he was in office people with my politics correctly opposed FDR as a strikebreaker and warmonger.

    We don’t see the question of the electability of another rightist as important. Sanders is a supporter of racism and the MIC. Our strategy is to use elections to promote union growth and a decent standard of living for working people and to create a government of workers. We’re enjoying notable success in that.

  46. Bill_Perdue says:

    I’ve already used quotes from it to make the case that Sanders and Warren are stalking horses for HRH HRClinton. Like the CBC and ‘Progressive’ caucus they’re just right cover for a right wing party moving right. There aren’t any leftists in Congress, just a few centrists and tons of rich rightists.

    Democrats are responsible for DADT and DOMA and for scuttling ENDA, even their version of ENDA which shamelessly panders to the cults. They’re responsible for NAFTA and the deregulation bills that caused the crash of 2007-8 and for seeking a ‘grand Bargain’ to hobble Social Security and Medicare.

  47. mf_roe says:

    If elected he will be treated like Jimmy Carter, like a red headed stepchild., by the CorprateDems.

  48. 2patricius2 says:

    I’m certainly taking him seriously. But if he can win the nomination is a big question. And if he is nominated and wins the presidency, he will not be able to do all that much unless he has solid backing from an overwhelmingly liberal Democratic House and Senate.

  49. mf_roe says:

    Actually superior to what we will get from either branch of the Corporate Party.

  50. angryspittle says:

    Bernie is basically running on the 1956 GOP platform. Yep, a damn radical socialist.

  51. mf_roe says:

    Ever consider that these same criticisms are valid for FDR? Of the choices we are likely to have Sanders is “closer” to the Left than any of the others. I’m sure there are others that you prefer and I’m sure they have almost no chance of being HEARD let alone being competative

  52. mf_roe says:

    Certainly not of your stripe, Bill. But the closest thing that exists in Congress today.

    Tell me what you think of this:

  53. Bill_Perdue says:

    He’s not a socialist, he’s a social democrat and worse, a Democrat. .

  54. Bill_Perdue says:

    Bernie Sanders is not a socialist, he’s a social democrat who has unbreakable ties to the Democrat party.

    He caucuses with them and votes with them. “Like the Godfather, the protection offered by the Democrats demands some occasional unpleasant returned favors. Sanders not only had to dutifully vote for Bill Clinton’s budgets but his Three Strikes crime bill as well. He joined in with a bipartisan bellicose “support the troops” resolution as Bush II invaded Iraq. This advocate for single-payer health care reform cut a last minute deal for some money for community health centers in exchange for his crucial vote for the disastrous Affordable Care Act.

    Sanders is a supporter of zionism, the racist view that mainly European colonists have the right engage in pogroms against Palestinians, steal their land and force them to work, when they can, under an apartheid system much, much worse than that in south Africa.

    Sanders is a consistent supporter of the warmongering of the Clintons, the Bushes and Obama. ” Sanders never opposes any defense spending bill. He stands behind all military contractors who bring much-needed jobs to Vermont. … Senator Sanders rarely misses a photo opportunity with Vermont National Guard troops when they are being deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq. … Sanders is the darling of the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee and the right-wing Likud government of Israel. He has done everything within his power to keep the myth of Islamic terrorism alive. He never questions the U.S. government’s unconditional support of Israeli acts of genocide and ethnic cleansing against the Palestinians.

    Voting for Democrats or social democrats only serves to perpetuate the income inequality, racism, misogyny and homophobia inherent in capitalist politics.

  55. mf_roe says:

    I will vote for Sanders if he gets the nomination — but that is far from a done deal at this time. Hands down, he is a better choice than anyone else running. But to expect him to be a transformational President might be more than a little optimistic. He promises to change things, but unless he is supported by the Dems and the Dems regain at least one chamber of Congress all he will be able to do is Veto and make EO’s.

    My fear, is that Sanders’ primary run will effectively undercut any possibility of a third party or Independent Progressive getting the traction to challenge Clinton if Bernie fails to get the ticket. It will be a sad end for Bernie’s career if he serves to insure Shillary’s uncontested place as the only alternative to the Repug.

    His refusal to challenge Clinton’s record troubles me. I hear his claims of never running negative ads — well I can accept not using ATTACK ADS of the type the Repugs will use, but if he accepts Clinton’s record and allows it to go unchallenged I have to wonder about his credibility as a Socialist. I think it is important to establish with Independent Voters his distance from Clinton, if he keeps saying he thinks she has done a good job something smells.

  56. White&Blue says:

    The future election is definitely becoming more and more interesting. It’ll be fun to see how much pressure he can put on the other candidates, especially corporate Hillary. BTW is it true that Rick Santorum will be running in the race as well? I may have heard something like that in my country’s news but I’m not sure.

  57. Soyat says:

    Bernie Sanders 2016!

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