Bernie Sanders is what I thought Obama was in 2008 (also, how he can win)

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has finally announced his candidacy for president. After working for two years pressuring Amazon and Disney to raise their wages, fighting for Puerto Rico, trying to end the war in Yemen, and inspiring many of the now freshman Democratic congresspeople to seek office, he released this ad:

There is so much to say about Bernie. Let me just say that in 2016, I was a volunteer for his campaign during the New York primary. I knocked on doors, handed out flyers, attended rallies, etc. I am very proud that I did my part, despite the shenanigans that took place during that time. His platform is widely known now: Medicare-for-all, free public tuition, raise taxes on the wealthy, break up the big banks, anti-interventionism, path towards citizenship for the undocumented, reform/demilitarize the police, end the War on Drugs, expand social security, infrastructure spending, common sense gun safety, pro-union, end corruption and get rid of money in politics, pro-choice, pro-LGBTQ, what is now known as a Green New Deal, and others I’ve forgotten about. These are issues that this old guy has been going on and on about for decades. Unlike most politicians, he is uncompromising in his stances, and trades nearly all style for substance. Here is a compilation of speeches he’s given in the past:

He’s been consistent on everything… hell, he’s been old since the 80’s.

As you can see, Bernie slumps in his chair. He lurches over the podium. His speaking voice is at 100% all the time. His hair looks like a bird’s nest. He is everything the “ideal” politician is not.

I remember in 2008, when I was a high schooler, I was amazed by then Senator Barack Obama. Obama had great posture, a vibrant presence. He would rarely ever trip over a word or (god forbid) point at the audience. Obama’s speeches were hopeful, and as a teenager growing up in the Bush era I bought into the idea of hope.

Just watch five minutes of this guy. No matter what you think of him, he’s good at this.

And after he was elected president, I figured he would “change the way Washington worked”.

Just a couple years later, in college, I learned more about the power of large financial institutions. The Koch Brothers began influencing my school, Florida State University, by installing their own teachers and funding the school’s president. I watched the protests on campus, and the gathering in Manhattan called Occupy Wall Street. And my friend President Obama bailed out the banks after they crashed the economy. My friend President Obama did nothing to stop billionaires from influencing the system. My friend President Obama was tepid on Occupy Wall Street. I used to agree with him when he said that we should work together with Republicans. But as time went by, it was so obvious to me that the GOP had no interest in compromise or working together. But I would defend him relentlessly from BS attacks on his birthplace, his moderate policies, and whether or not he might be a demon.

So why am I talking about Obama in a Bernie-centric article? Because after years of disappointment there was something real happening. Bernie Sanders was, like me, a Jewish American with roots in New York, and somebody who has often felt like an outsider. I learned more and more about his background and his platform, identifying with all of it. I appreciated that he shunned corporate and millionaire donors. I knew he would only be beholden to the grassroots. I compared that to Obama’s reliance on the financial sector to fund his campaigns, and the subsequent unwillingness to take a damn chance.

I went back to Obama’s speeches, and realized that there was a serious substance gap between the two. While Obama’s speeches made me feel good, it was ultimately empty… with few details about his policies. I walked away from them hoping we could leave Iraq, close Guantanamo, and switch to renewable energy. None of those things were attempted earnestly in the first couple years Obama had a majority in the Congress.

Bernie’s speeches didn’t make me feel happy… they upset me. He was talking directly to his audience about wealth inequality, running off a laundry list of statistics on youth unemployment, CEO salaries, and wage gaps. He wouldn’t talk about his personal story or his identity as the first Jewish guy to win a primary. And I could see his authentic passion for the issues.

Bernie was the guy I thought Obama was in 2008.

This is not to say that Bernie is perfect, by any means. Yes, I wish he were ten years younger than he is. I wish he would be more aggressive towards his opponents. He’s made a few questionable votes, like voting for the 1994 Crime Bill. That bill was responsible for a huge number of incarcerations, and Bernie even crapped on it back when it was up for a vote:

He explained that he voted for this Crime Bill due to the Violence Against Women Act attached to it. I would suspect that he would have been called a misogynist today if he voted against it. It’s really a no-win situation here.

Then there’s that imperfect record on gun laws (though having a D- rating by the NRA is still better than any Republican).

Of all the people running right now, I am most likely going to agree with Bernie Sanders.

Can he win the nomination?

I know I am biased, so I’ll try to be realistic about this. Bernie has a massive advantage this time compared to 2016. He has enormous name recognition, high favorability ratings, a loyal base of supporters/donors, a nation-wide organization, and a huge pool of competitors to split the vote. He consistently shows up in the top two of recent polls (though we all know how reliable early polls can be).

A criticism of Bernie’s campaign is that he cannot seem to get the support of women or people of color. If you have made it this far through the article you’ve probably seem this recent study showing the high level of favorability from women and POC.

In 2016, he won 22 states and 40-something percent of Dem voters. He won states in New England (Maine, New Hampshire), the Midwest (Michigan, Wisconsin), and the West (Colorado, Washington). In many of the states Bernie lost, he actually came within just a couple percentage points (Illinois, Missouri, Massachusetts, Iowa, New Mexico). However, he was completely decimated in the South… gaining less than 30% of the vote in several contests. This was due to combination of conservative-minded Democrats, Clinton loyalists, and Bernie’s lack of presence in the African-American communities. Due to the inability of the campaign to grow fast enough, some places were unfortunately ignored. By the time Bernie became a well-known public figure, it was too late for him.

What he would need to do now is expand his operation everywhere. That means: ensure blowout victories in his safe contests, capture states that were close, and crack at least 30% in all the places he is expected to get clobbered. And win in New York (an AOC endorsement can help with that).

I have been tinkering with potential matchups for weeks now, from two-way races all the way up to four-way races. Here are some maps that can ensure a majority of delegates:

Bernie vs Kamala:

Bernie vs Joe:

Bernie vs Elizabeth:

Bernie vs Beto:

Bernie vs Kamala vs Joe vs Elizabeth vs Beto

Can he win the general?

Take a look:

Bernie has proven to be popular in the Rust Belt, where Trump squeaked out victories in 2016. Add in his popularity with Trump’s unfavorable ratings. He won’t be winning in any unusual area like Arizona or Texas, but just wait till that demographic shift. Arizona, Texas, and Florida might lean blue next time around.

That’s my take. I am completely fine with being wrong. I really can’t wait for that June debate.

Originally published at on February 20, 2019.

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