There was a Bernie Sanders rally Friday night, right here in Tucson, Arizona and I decided to attend. In the end, I was surprised and disappointed. Let me explain why…
I am not a #FeeltheBern kind of guy. I am actually a supporter of Martin O’Malley, not because I think he’ll win, but because he not only has a strong record of saying the “right things,” but because he’s actually done those things. I also like his campaign because it contains a lot of specifics. No one thinks O’Malley will win, but he is contributing to the conversation about what comes next for both the country and the Democratic Party.
The same is true of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Or, it should be, anyway. Clinton is likely to win the nomination, but the presence of Sanders and O’Malley in the race has reduced her inevitability and forced her to promise things on the record that she may not have otherwise; she has moved really far to the left recently. Many people see Sanders beating her, but realistically, that’s wishful thinking, although not for the reasons you think. She’s not unbeatable; it’s his campaign that is not doing what it needs to do.
Bernie’s stump speech was not a great one at all, especially not for an underdog; someone with low name-recognition numbers and a formidable opponent who is running to be the Democratic nominee. There are several things that all candidates have to do at this point in the process, which means, at this really early stage. We’re still four months away from the first votes being cast and five months from Super Tuesday. Early. And there are a few things every candidate must do early on to run for president on the Democratic side. Whereas Republicans just have to make the “base” happy by screaming at “liberals,” Democrats have to let voters know who they are and what they stand for, and they have to show voters that, if trusted with leadership, they are competent to do whatever needs to be done. And while this will blow the minds of many progressive “political junkies,” positions on individual issues matter little. EVERY Democrat running would like to see at least some gun control. EVERY Democrat running would like to see immigration reform that acknowledges those who work hard and keeps families together. EVERY Democrat running would like to see everyone get a job and make a good living. No one is going to win anything by laundry-listing all of the problems they see, followed by a wish to somehow fix it. Having a plan to fix a problem is far more important to the voters who matter, which are not his hardcore supporters.
Bernie’s speech last night was designed to appeal only to his supporters. He didn’t attack Democrats, which is good; he even praised Obama for his support for the DREAM Act. But he rarely said anything about the biggest problem this country has, which is the intransigence and the power of the Republican Party. He said we had to do something about guns, but didn’t say what. He said we have to do something about immigration and that we have to do more to keep families together, which we all know, but he barely mentioned that the key to doing that is to make sure every part of the government is blue for a while. He mentioned that we have to increase wages and do more for workers, but gave no ideas for doing that.
All election season long, we have all been hearing about all of Bernie’s ideas and that he’s a breath of fresh air, and I really like Bernie as a politician, but then, I have been following him for years and I know what he stands for. But if you’re going to look at polls, anyway, look at the sheer volume of people who don’t know who he is should worry you. Don’t look at Hillary’s “unfavorables,” look at the number of people who don’t know who he is.
By any measure, Bernie is a dark horse. Yes, as many Bernie supporters love telling me every time they have a chance, so was Obama in 2007. However, if Bernie is going to be another Obama, he’ll have to be more positive, he’ll have to propose solutions to problems and let people know who he is and why he can solve these problems, when others couldn’t.
As an aside, I’d like to note that the crowd last night was surprisingly large, but it showed a serious lack of diversity. In a city with a large Latino population, they made up maybe 4-5 percent of the crowd. Also, in what I assume was a reaction to the #blacklivesmatter problems from a few months ago, tickets were required to get closer to the stage and protestors were kept toward the back. For a political system so dependent upon “optics,” and Hillary meeting with BLM earlier in the day, if he’s serious about winning this thing, he’ll have to start getting smarter and his supporters have to push that.
What I saw last night was a guy who thinks the size of the crowds and the amount of money he’s raising is how he will become a contender, but it’s not. To appeal to a wider audience, he has to stir the imagination, not just list everything that’s wrong. And he has to make sure people know who he is and what he will do for them.