Sanders tours with new memoir

Friday, November 18, 2016

Early in his new book Our Revolution: A Future to Believe In, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders describes the 2014 midterm election as a “disaster” for establishment Democrats who failed to generate grass-roots enthusiasm. “The election of 2014 was a wake-up call for the Democratic Party,” he writes. “I wondered if they heard it.”

The sound of last week’s Krakatoan explosion is still reverberating. Sanders finished his account of his 2016 presidential campaign weeks before Donald Trump’s stunning upset of Hillary Clinton on Nov. 8, but given what’s just occurred the book is inevitably, satisfyingly prescient. It’s hard to escape the idea that the reason Sanders decided to enter the race against Clinton: “The Clinton approach was to try to merge the interests of Wall Street and corporate America with the needs of the American middle class – an impossible task,” he writes – was perhaps her biggest vulnerability against Trump.

Over nearly 450 pages, Sanders argues that the strength of his campaign against Clinton’s brand of centrist Democratic politics shows that there is a hunger for the kind of ambitious policy proposals and grassroots advocacy that fueled his run. “The great crisis that we face as a nation is not just the objective problems that we face,” Sanders writes. “The more serious crisis is the limitation of our imaginations.”

It’s not just Clinton. Sanders argues that “establishment Democratic politicians often have very few roots in their communities,” pointing to poor turnout at college campus events for Sen. Jeanne Shaheen’s 2014 midterm campaign. Weeks early, he saw Iowa Senate candidate Bruce Braley speak in Iowa, and writes that his “remarks, which consisted of tepid Democratic centrist rhetoric, were just not resonating with people in the room.” Braley lost to Joni Ernst.

Sanders’ own rhetoric, in contrast, was precisely keyed to the mood of the swaths of the electorate that decided the general election. Trump’s closing argument-the rigged system, the corruption and self-dealing of the coastal corporate elites-sounds as if were borrowed directly from the senator.

The other enormous – and closely intertwined factor – in Clinton’s loss was the enthusiasm gap. Sanders emphasizes his own reliance on small donors over super-PACs, the enthusiasm his campaign generated in the form of large crowds, and his willingness to engage in bold ideas. Sanders describes a few moments when he was surprised to find that long lines of people near his rally sites were there to see him. Those crowds were full of people who “were tired of status quo politics and status quo economics,” he writes. The most memorable compliment he received during the campaign, he writes, came from a man who said: “Thank you, Bernie. You treat us as if we were intelligent human beings.”

Sanders writes that his political worldview was shaped by his childhood among Brooklyn’s white working class. In speeches, Sanders has said that growing up in a small, rent-controlled apartment taught him how financial problems can shape a family. In the book, he writes about the day his mother shouted at him for paying too much for groceries, and the “shopping trip from hell,” when she took him to a dozen stores to find the best price for the leather jacket he wanted. Later, at the University of Chicago, he describes feeling “out of place” and “lonely” around his classmates from middle- and upper middle-class families.

Following Trump’s win, Sanders has argued that Democrats fail to reach those voters. “I come from the white working class, and I am deeply humiliated that the Democratic Party cannot talk to the people where I came from,” Sanders said Monday on CBS This Morning.

Sanders’ book shows a path-one that moves briskly to the left-for connecting with the white working class. But there’s little discussion of how reach the elderly and black voters who weren’t enthusiastic about his primary campaign.

He writes that he did poorly with seniors because they “remember the Clinton years fondly,” have “negative impressions of the word ‘socialism,’ ” and don’t use social media, a key part of how the campaign connected with supporters. He acknowledges that, as a senator from a majority white state, he had to become familiar with issues facing black and brown communities, and that he lost black voters because “Clinton

In post-election interviews, Sanders has challenged Trump to do what, he argues, the Democratic party has been unable to do. “Trump ran his campaign talking about he was going to be a champion of the working class,” Sanders told NPR. “Let me tell you, we are gonna hold him accountable to that.”