Bernie Sanders has become an unexpected hero for a lot of Americans.
The candidate for president of the U.S is a socialist and America is spooked, but such spooking has taken place among those liberal, left-wing, large city enclaves rather than on ranches in Texas and in Walmart parking lots in Georgia. That candidate is Sen. Sanders, a good-natured, older gentleman from peaceful Vermont, not a reincarnation of Lenin or Guevara, but still, older.
When Sanders first announced that he was going to be a candidate, only left-wing East Coast campuses and activist groups in New York and Seattle were glad; the elite in these cities that read The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times at breakfast instead snorted unenthusiastically. At the beginning of the Democrats’ campaign (when it was known that Hillary Clinton's opponent would not be Elizabeth Warren and a search was on for a second candidate) the difference in support between the former first lady and secretary of state and the senator from Vermont was enormous.
It was widely considered that there was, in truth, only one candidate – Hillary. She represents liberal America, she has the experience (and a name!), she was the one who could stop the Republican monster in the form of Bush, Cruz, and later on, Trump. After all, the Democrats must have known that after two terms under Barack Obama, the Republicans would be even hungrier for victory, more determined, and above all else, more radical. Which is why Democrats, who intend to win a historic third consecutive term, did not give too much credence to second and third league participants. And in the beginning, that is where Sanders was thought to belong.
After all, Sanders has all the traits of an "anti-candidate." He is, well, not particularly good-looking, and speaks at times with a comical Jewish Brooklyn-like accent, which makes him a figure that is more in line with a Woody Allen movie than with the Oval Office. He is one-track-minded; all he sees are evil banks and a corrupt Wall Street; he would probably notice conspiring bankers even in the middle of Montana or at an Iowa rally. He is not capable of outdoing his opponents in a quick and eloquent manner, and instead of shooting at them with sound bites, he aims to pummel them with his stick of righteousness and fairness.
Still, all those "cons" made him a not-so-apparent hero for many Americans, who, regardless of the circumstances, want someone who "states things as they are" rather than someone who is just a political product.
Republicans have tested such politicians, with various results, for a long time. The silver-tongued Sarah Palin is probably an example of the biggest failure, but a number of other tough ladies and gentlemen of the extreme right-wing show that rough diamonds sometimes shine prettier than polished ones. And so every radical – no matter whether the issue was the right to possess firearms, hammering homosexuals and "feminazis," or Darwin-like laissez-faire – was quick to find a representative among Republicans. And Democrats had, and still have, their Hillary; prepared for every circumstance and equally politically-correct on every occasion, striving to be liked by everyone at all costs. Smiling at Wall Street on one side and reaching out her hand to workers at Boeing assembly plants on the other, Clinton is not a historic hero for many voters. Sanders thus filled the gap that standard Democrats could not and did not want to fill; he stepped up and shouted "Revolution!"
Sanders tenaciously points out who’s guilty (reminder: banks, Wall Street, banks), but, at least, he is doing something. Unlike Hillary, he isn't just promising continuation, but a change that will finally fix the broken system. And it has quickly transpired that the American establishment's accusation that democracy is being killed with kid gloves is reaching more people than just the orphans of the Occupy Wall Street movement.
That said, in terms of common sense, this should not surprise anyone. Sanders' diagnosis is simple and logical: corporations and business lobbies are empowering politicians with huge campaign contributions (which the infamous “Citizens United” decision enabled); those politicians that collect the most win the elections, after which all of American politics boils down to a plenary little congress consisting of long-winded vassals from big businesses that write the law to suit their sponsors. We have to end this, Sanders says, and finally start to collect taxes from the richest. Those that are guilty of financial malpractice need to be imprisoned, and instead of waiting for wealth to start trickling down, we have to raise the minimum wage and help the middle class get out of this crisis.
For years, the Republicans ruthlessly struck at all of Washington. Evil politicians were at fault for every problem that a poor farmer from Montana or a taxi driver from Colorado could have. Nobody won the race to the White House on the waves of that rage, but in the last few years, a few candidates managed to soundly boost themselves; for all that, at least three of them today are standing on the right.
It was a matter of time before someone tried to use this tactic on the left. Of course, Sanders is not a fanatical bigot who looks like a vampire trying to overcome a heroin addiction (Ted Cruz) nor is he Hitler from Charlie Chaplin's "The Great Dictator" who favors big money and hairstyles that are so awful that if they could walk, they would throw themselves into the abyss (Donald Trump). And yet Sanders scares people; liberal America is not at all happy with the perspective of another "radical" in the race.
What is that menacing radicalism supposed to look like in practice? Let's look at the participants' last debate. Sanders pointed out that Clinton took a few hundred thousand dollars for “speeches” from a big bank – one of the banks involved in the financial crisis. Although the financing of campaigns and the "revolving door" between politics and business has been a hot topic for quite a long time, pointing out a specific amount to your opponent shortly before the first round of the primaries was a painful blow. And it has been quickly "meme-ficated"; videos of Sanders' pin caused quite a stir on Facebook. The (not entirely true) message that Bernie brushed his opponent off with one statement went global. In response to Sanders' move, the liberal elite only consolidated its support for Clinton.
But the thing that has changed since the first debate is the level of support for Sanders and his surprising popularity on the Internet, with all the usually funny jokes that attempt to turn the grey-haired senator into the forefather of American hipsters.
What's more, while going through his latest turn, Sanders stumbled upon a fluke.
Before the Iowa caucus, an ad aimed at him appeared which was paid for by right-wing supporters. The ad stated that he was too left-wing for Iowa based on the popular belief that socialism and all forms of left-leaning philosophy are a fairy tale designed for jaded city slickers, not for the hard-working people of the Midwest. The ad, however, was broadcast in a way that was so off base that it was hard not to mistake for a promotion. A female voice warns: "Bernie wants to provide free college for our young people; no tuition, completely free. Now Bernie is doubling down on Medicare for all, which is basically single payer, government-sponsored health care. No big insurance companies, just more government spending, paid for by raising taxes on Wall Street, big business and the super-rich. Senator Bernie Sanders – too liberal for Iowa." The ad is illustrated with photos of smiling young people and scenes from a doctor’s office where care is being administered by a black nurse. Free colleges? Health care? What a nightmare!
Ultimately, the ad "frightened" people about Sanders so badly that it led to a tie with Clinton in the state he was supposedly too liberal for. The next primaries are coming up, as well as the four debates that Clinton herself requested, although her staff admits that she is losing the battle for the youth support which might be essential in this campaign.
Maybe it's time to start feeling afraid.