Bernie Sanders is a force of nature. This might not surprise anyone in Iowa or New Hampshire, or folks who saw him on the 2016 campaign trail, but like so much of what is going on in the country, it is an absolute shock in Washington and New York.
While over the course of 2019 other Democratic hopefuls have risen and fallen, two constants have remained atop the national polls: Joe Biden and the junior senator from Vermont. Yet only now, in the slow holiday news cycle, has the political press begun to notice the latter.
A Thursday headline in The New York Times sought to explain “Why Bernie Sanders Is Tough to Beat.” “Suddenly, Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign is being taken seriously,” Politico announced early that same day.
Reporters might be forgiven dismissing Sanders in the spring of 2015, when the 73-year-old entered the national stage to wage an openly socialist campaign against Hillary Clinton. He was too old, his ideas too radical.
In the year and a half that followed, he filled gymnasiums and auditoriums with roaring supporters and rose within a point of the front-runner, peaking at 46 percent of Democratic voters nationally and bowing out just a few points below. This, despite party leaders, columnists, commentators, and donors, as well as the Democratic National Committee, obediently lining up to destroy any and all opponents of Her.
For a few weeks, the press ruminated on how it had all happened in what passes for the Sacrament of Penance in our profession: Write activist columns and stories over and over, then play neutral spectator who is thinking deeply and writing a too-long, soul-searching essay on missed signs. In a religion where likes and retweets are a substitute for Our Father’s and Hail Mary’s, absolution is granted only when the article is tweeted to your friends.
This is not a joke. After Donald Trump won the election, half of Washington and New York could be seen online beating their chests and rending their garments, with headlines like “How Did the Media — How Did We — Get This Wrong?” and confessions on how the media made Trump.
The postmortem consensus for a week or two was the press was too insular, Twitter-obsessed and removed from America geographically, economically, religiously and politically. Voters, they decided, might have legitimate gripes. Maybe, they mused, Hillary Clinton didn’t pay enough attention to the white working class.
Then, like so many goldfish, they sank back into their lukewarm fishbowls and forgot. Within weeks, Trump won because racists, sexists, and Russia. Within months, Sanders was once again an old man, too radical to win a primary.
But back in Iowa and New Hampshire, Sanders is once again filling gymnasiums and auditoriums. He has been for months. Yet while the press pounced on the withering numbers in Biden’s crowds, they glanced over Sanders’ massive crowds. There were much bigger stories to cover, you see.
Vanity Fair flew Annie Leibovitz to a dirt road in Texas to photograph Beto (pronounced “Beh- ¡toe!), then famous for losing to Ted Cruz. Political reporters went shopping with Kamala Harris,” “the female Obama.” In “a pitch-perfect example of … bias,” they reported with a straight face that Pete Buttigieg, a darling of white liberals in media and finance, is a “pitch-perfect example of understanding and leadership.”
While Democratic candidates have pushed for a $30 trillion Medicare for All plan, citizenship for illegal immigrants, forced racial busing, and a “Green New Deal,” somehow the press continued to write Sanders off as too radical. While a 71-year-old Liz Warren and a 77-year-old Joe Biden have vied to take on the 73-year-old president, the 78-year-old has been thought too old.
These ideas are just as clearly radical as these politicians are old, but once again reporters and party leaders ignore the party faithful for their own story lines.
Trump shot through Republican favorites Marco Rubio, Scott Walker, and Jeb! Bush before screaming straight at Her, propelled by a populist rage. It was born in the despair left behind when America’s elites made trillions sending jobs overseas, in unending wars the politicians and generals have no idea how to win, and in a true feeling of being completely ignored by an increasingly global elite.
The president has made large strides to help those people, but he has few allies in either party, so ask yourself: Has this discontent dissipated? Have the feelings in this country subsided? Is all calm now? Are we good?
Or might Bernie Sanders win the Democratic nomination for president?