Here comes the Bern – and he is here to stay

Bernie Sanders image

When 10.000 people gathered in the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Madison Wisconsin on the first of July this year, they were not going to see Coldplay or Miley Cyrus, neither were they attending a ballgame and they were also certainly not going to see a wrestling fight. Instead all those people, who exchanged enjoying the sun in one of the various parks around for a place in the long queue before the memorial, came for a politician. Somebody that they felt “values the human life over money”, as UW-Madison student Emily Opsal put it.

This politician is Bernie Sanders, a 74-year-old Senator from the state of Vermont, who, five months after said rally in Wisconsin, shows no signs of slowing down in his attempt to become the next president of the United States of America.

On the first glance, that seems pretty surprising, as Bernie Sanders does not at all possess, what you might call a presidential outer appearance. In fact, Bernie Sanders looks more like the grumpy old grandpa living next door, who seems to be constantly yelling at everything from the weather over congress up to the state of the American economy – Sanders’ thick Brooklyn accent by the way, doesn’t really help either. Unlike your grumpy neighbor however, Bernie Sanders does not only have a hashtag for his, let’s say uncommon hair, he actually has some very important things to say.

Occupying the role of the longest-serving independent in U.S. Congressional history until earlier this year, when he finally decided to join the democratic party, Sanders has, among other things, long been promoting a minimum wage to fight economic inequality, as well as tuition free education and a universal healthcare system. When given the time and attention, he can go on forever about social injustice, making statements such as “If a bank is too big to fail, this bank is too big to exist”, or, and this one just illustrates his cause perfectly, “You’ve got the top 400 Americans owning more wealth than the bottom 150 million Americans. Most folks do not think that is right”.

He admires the Scandinavian model and it therefore doesn’t really come as a surprise, that Sanders calls himself a “democratic socialist”. Given the outcome of a recent Gallup poll, which showed that a socialist, a term that somehow still makes conservative voter’s alarm bells ring, is less likely to be elected than an atheist or Muslim candidate, that might not exactly be a smart move. Sanders campaign though, is generally not about “smart moves”. Unlike Hillary Clinton and other, and I quote Jon Stewart here, “stage-managed and focus-group-driven candidates, Bernie Sanders honestly represents himself and his beliefs”.

Sanders was elected to the House of Representatives in 1990 as the first independent since Frazier Reams 40 years earlier. He voted against the resolution that authorized the use of force against Iraq in 1991 and did so once again 11 years later. He opposed the invasion of Iraq in 2003 as well as the Patriot Act and sponsored several subsequent amendments and acts attempting to curtail its effect. In 2006 Sanders was elected to the senate where he, four years later, delivered an 8½-hour speech against the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010, an extension of Bush-era tax rates. Although the bill eventually became law, this very speech caused an online petition in which hundreds of people urged Sanders to run for president in 2012, pathing the way for his candidacy four years later.

It is this mind-blowing dedication with which he keeps fighting for his progressive policies, paired with his authenticity, that convinces voters. Especially, but by far not only the younger generation, as you can see by the fact that he just won the online reader’s poll for the Time magazine’s person of the year.

What makes him stand out most though is his credibility, which is illustrated perfectly by his campaign financing. Usually, candidates rely to a large extent on so called Super Pacs, which are heavily sponsored by huge corporations. Sanders though doesn’t. In fact, he does the exact opposite, trying his best to chase them away, noting in a recent mail to supporters that “We do not want their help”, and instead relying on an extensive grass root movement. Somehow that makes him a bit more credible when he talks about “getting the money out of politics”.

Money is of course nonetheless a vital part of a political campaign such as his. In a similar yet more extreme fashion as Obama did, Sanders though proved that small donations can be enough, as he managed to receive $26 million in contributions in the third quarter of 2015, reaching one million online contributions at the end of September. As Gregory Ubbelohde’s, another Bernie Sanders supporter who was present at his speech in Wisconsin claims, that is what really sets him apart since “he is finally someone who practices what he preaches and doesn’t just sacrifice his principles to improve his career.”

It might be illusionistic to think that this 74-year-old self-declared socialist could actually win the nomination, let alone the actual presidency. But then again, who did really expect Barrack Obama to become the first black president eight or nine years ago? So why not a self-declared democratic socialist this time? Surely Bernie Sanders is a more legitimate candidate than his republican opponents. Right now, the republican frontrunners are Ben Carson, a former neurosurgeon and then of course former reality TV star Donald Trump. Both lack political experience all together, the latter mostly basing his campaign on degrading journalists and blaming minority groups for whatever people are complaining about.

Given those opponents, Sanders might in fact be the best option available. Not so much because he criticizes the system – for that he is neither the first, nor will he be the last – but more because unlike his opponents, he has proven to practice what he preaches.

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