By Doug Porter
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders formally entered the 2016 presidential contest yesterday.
Sanders’ entry into the race changes the dynamic on the left side of the political aisle. Up until now, coverage of the Democratic prospects for 2016 has consisted of a tape loop of Republican scandal mongering. On some levels you might consider him Democrats’ answer to Ron Paul: an outsider with an agenda feared by party insiders and a wave of social media support.
There are other candidates jumping into the fray soon, including Democrat Martin O’Malley (Maryland) and Republicans George Pataki (New York), Rick Santorum (Pennsylvania), Lindsey Graham (South Carolina), and Rick Perry (Texas). Today I’ll focus on coverage and analysis of Sanders.
Sen. Sanders launched his campaign in Vermont, home of Ben & Jerry’s (they were there) and 350.org environmentalist founder Bill McKibben (also there).
Here’s a snippet of his announcement, via Daily Kos:
Here is my promise to you for this campaign. Not only will I fight to protect the working families of this country, but we’re going to build a movement of millions of Americans who are prepared to stand up and fight back. We’re going to take this campaign directly to the people – in town meetings, door to door conversations, on street corners and in social media – and that’s BernieSanders.com by the way. This week we will be in New Hampshire, Iowa and Minnesota – and that’s just the start of a vigorous grassroots campaign.
Let’s be clear. This campaign is not about Bernie Sanders. It is not about Hillary Clinton. It is not about Jeb Bush or anyone else. This campaign is about the needs of the American people, and the ideas and proposals that effectively address those needs. As someone who has never run a negative political ad in his life, my campaign will be driven by issues and serious debate; not political gossip, not reckless personal attacks or character assassination. This is what I believe the American people want and deserve. I hope other candidates agree, and I hope the media allows that to happen. Politics in a democratic society should not be treated like a baseball game, a game show or a soap opera. The times are too serious for that.
Will Lightning Strike?
Los Angeles Times columnist Doyle McManus set the scene effectively:
Sen. Bernie Sanders, the self-described socialist who kicked off his presidential campaign on Tuesday with a characteristically fiery speech, isn’t going to win the 2016 Democratic nomination unless lightning strikes. To be really effective, in any case, the lightning would have to strike Hillary Rodham Clinton, who holds a prohibitive lead in every poll. But Sanders will still have a major impact on the Democratic race, and that could, paradoxically, be good for Clinton.
The Vermont senator preaches a bracing populist message that’s likely to thrill millions of voters on the left, the ones who sometimes dub themselves “the democratic wing of the Democratic Party.” A lot of those progressives are democratic socialists, whether they realize it or not; the only unusual thing about Sanders is that he actually uses the “S-word.”
“There is something profoundly wrong when the top one-tenth of 1% owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90%,” Sanders said at a raucous lakefront rally in Vermont. “This type of rigged economy is not what America is supposed to be about.”
He said he hopes to “begin a political revolution to transform our country economically, politically, socially and environmentally.” And he has a detailed program to do it.
The Dreaded S Word
Mother Jones’ Tim Murphy penned good background piece, and goes right to the small-s part of the equation:
“I once asked him what he meant by calling himself a ‘socialist,’ and he referred to an article that was already a touchstone of mine, which was Albert Einstein’s ‘Why Socialism?‘” says Sanders’ friend Jim Rader. “I think that Bernie’s basic idea of socialism was just about as simple as Einstein’s formulation.” (In short, according to the physicist, capitalism is a soul-sucking construct that corrodes society.)
At Slate.com Jamelle Bouie discussed the Vermont Senator’s platform:
To Sanders, the economy isn’t just unequal, it’s rigged, with the richest Americans using their resources to tilt the board in their direction. “Ninety-nine percent of all new income generated today goes to the top 1 percent,” he said in a recent interview with CNBC’s John Harwood. “Top one-tenth of 1 percent owns as much as wealth as the bottom 90 percent.” To reverse this “massive transfer of wealth” from the middle class to the very top, Sanders wants high tax rates (“If my memory is correct, when radical socialist Dwight D. Eisenhower was president, the highest marginal tax rate was something like 90 percent”) and substantial redistribution.
This agenda, and Sanders’ diagnosis, has real appeal in the Democratic Party. Seventy-one percent of Democrats want high taxes to fund programs for the poor, and 37 percent blame tax and economic policies for the gap between the rich and everyone else. As for the senator himself? Of the non-Clinton candidates in the Democratic primary, he’s the most popular, holding more support than Jim Webb, Martin O’Malley, and Lincoln Chafee combined. Then again, this is a bit like being the best featherweight boxer in a ring with Mike Tyson. You are going to lose, and it will be painful.
Media Coverage of the Campaign
The conventional wisdom in Washington DC is that Sanders’ campaign is more of a joke than a threat. At Politico, Jonathan Topaz sneered at yesterday’s announcement, saying it was launched from “the People’s Republic of Burlington:”
These weren’t your everyday Americans who came out to support Bernie Sanders on Tuesday.
The self-described democratic socialist kicked off his long-shot run for the White House in his adopted hometown of Burlington, a lakeside city full of characters who might not have passed the pre-selection process for Hillary Clinton’s tour of round tables.
Ezra Klein at Vox.com points out the potential shortcomings of DC’s “everybody knows” crowd:
It’s been fascinating to watch the media struggle to decide how to cover the early days of Sanders’s campaign. On the one hand, the frizzy-haired “independent socialist” is polling in the single digits, looks more like Doc Brown from Back to the Future than like anyone who’s been elected president since the dawn of television, and has basically no establishment support inside the Democratic Party. Sanders seems certain to be crushed by the Clinton juggernaut, and typically that would make the media’s decision easy: don’t cover him.
But the media is facing a counter-pressure that didn’t exist 10 years ago: there’s a big audience that sure seems interested in coverage of Bernie Sanders.
“Somehow, Bernie Sanders, the 73-year-old senator from Vermont, has emerged as a king of social media early in the 2016 presidential campaign,” marveled the New York Times. Sanders dominates on Reddit and on Facebook. Any news organization clued into the social media tracking software Crowdtangle — and that is basically every media organization in existence — sees pieces about Sanders catching fire on the internet daily.
One other thing from Klein:
It’s telling that Sanders’s webpage already has an “issues” section. As of yet, Hillary Clinton’s doesn’t.
From where I stand, the Sanders campaign is refreshing. If the Clinton campaign plays its cards right and chooses to engage rather than dismiss the activist wing of the Democratic party, they’ll be fostering discussion about real issues affecting real Americans.
And then maybe the media can get away from parroting the GOP’s trollish ‘concerns.’
On to some other news…
Yoga is Legal in Encinitas Schools, Finally
After two years of court battles with conservative Christians over whether Yoga classes offered in the Encinitas Unified School District were actually teaching religion, the battle has ended.
Plaintiffs in the case missed a deadline last week to petition the California Supreme Court for review of the appellate court decision favoring the school district’s Yoga program, which is offered as a part of EUSD’s health and wellness curriculum.
The school district was represented in this case on a pro-bono basis by Coast Law Group. The plaintiffs in the case were represented by The National Center for Law Policy. I’m sure this will show up on Fox News sometime soon as a battle lost in their never-ending “War on Religion.”
Matt Taibbi’s article in Rolling Stone, Why Baltimore Blew Up should be required reading. As usual he minces no words and keeps digging long after the story of the moment has faded away.
From Eric Garner to Michael Brown to Akai Gurley to Tamir Rice to Walter Scott and now Freddie Gray, there have now been so many police killings of African-American men and boys in the past calendar year or so that it’s been easy for both the media and the political mainstream to sell us on the idea that the killings are the whole story.
Fix that little in-custody death problem, we’re told, perhaps with the aid of “better training” or body cameras (which Baltimore has already promised to install by the end of the year), and we can comfortably go back to ignoring poverty, race, abuse, all that depressing inner-city stuff. But body cameras won’t fix it. You can’t put body cameras on a system.
As a visit to post-uprising Baltimore confirms, high-profile police murders are only part of the problem. An equally large issue is the obscene quantity of smaller daily outrages and abuses that regularly go unpunished by a complex network of local criminal-justice bureaucracies, many of which are designed to cover up bad police work and keep all our worst behaviors hidden, even from ourselves.
On This Day: 1937 – Ford Motor Co. security guards attacked union organizers and supporters attempting to distribute literature outside the plant in Dearborn, Mich., in an event that was to become known as the “Battle of the Overpass.” The guards tried to destroy any photos showing the attack, but some survived—and inspired the Pulitzer committee to establish a prize for photography. 1968 – After 48 years as coach of the Chicago Bears, George Halas retired. 1977 – In the U.K., the Sex Pistols single “God Save the Queen” was released. The song was banned on May 31 by the BBC and the Independent Broadcasting Authority.
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