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Feel the Bern

Move over Colonel Sanders, Bernie is the Sanders on everyone's minds.

James Katz

Naked Politics Blogger

For a long time the most famous Sanders in America has been the Colonel. Could it be, however, that Bernie Sanders will soon replace him?

Now I think of it there is probably room for the both of them. They are not that easily confused. One is the man who set up KFC (to be honest, I always thought Colonel Sanders was fictional, but apparently he was a real Colonel) and the other is the 73-year-old Senator from Vermont turning heads in the American presidential race.

I think most people in the UK have seen more bargain buckets than clips of Bernie Sanders, but on the other side of the pond he is making serious political waves. According to most pollsters, he is now beating Hillary Clinton in the crucially important New Hampshire primary. To put that into some context: out of the last 10 Democratic New Hampshire primaries winners, 7 have gone on to become the candidate. Few commentators think that Sanders is going to be one of the seven that win the nomination rather than one of the three that don’t and even fewer predict he will become President, but he has gone from a novelty act to a serious candidate in a short period of time.

He is not winning in New Hampshire from playing it safe with middle of the road policies. Quite the opposite, he is probably the most radical serious contender the Democrats have ever had.

During the passage of Obamacare some people on the right of American politics claimed that Obama was a socialist. This is crazy for too many reasons to get in to here but Bernie Sanders is a socialist. A proper socialist. He lists, as some of his main campaign policies:

The introduction of large taxes on big corporations and to bring in a Wall Street tax on the financial firms who risk American people’s savings
More than doubling the minimum wage
Investing $1 trillion dollars into infrastructure projects to boost employment
Breaking trade agreements that benefit multi-national businesses
Making college tuition free for all

And that is just a small selection. All-in-all he lists 13 key pledges, all of which would not look out of place on any genuine left-wingers wish list for America.

He is also pulling in massive crowds to his speeches. A couple of weeks ago 25,000 people turned out to attend his speeches in a single weekend. This did not happen in the highly liberal areas of America like San Francisco or New York City but in Arizona and Texas. These are states that have (but for one exception in each State’s case) voted for Republicans in the last 10 Presidential elections. To be fair, the cities where the speeches were happening are in the more left-leaning urban areas but, as a point of comparison, in one of Sanders’ Texan speeches 8,000 people came to watch but only 1,000 went to see a Hillary Clinton event less than one mile away just a month previous.

It is mainly young Americans that are fuelling ‘Bernie-mania’ and it is the internet and social media that have proved to be the perfect engine for that fuel to burn in. Slogans, with a large dash of irony, like ‘Feel the Bern’ and ‘Bernie is my bae’ are scattered across support groups and t-shirts carrying the phrases are selling fast at his events. There are however, a wide demographic of people that support him and although his national polling numbers are still lagging a long way behind Hillary Clinton. Although his support base does also draw a wider demographic, his national polling numbers are still lagging a long way behind Hillary Clinton. If, however, he can pick up a few state primaries early on, then that momentum could see his chances of beating her grow.

It will not have escaped many who read this that you could have quite easily swapped Bernie Sanders’ name for someone else’s when talking about another leadership contest. The rise of Sanders is almost identically mirrored by the startling success of Jeremy Corbyn.

What is so curious about this is that the support group both men lead are at polar opposites to the identity of the men themselves. Their backers tend to be young, of mixed gender types and a diverse range of ethnicities and races – and it is their apathy to old white men ruling their countries despite being politicians for decades and not having ‘proper jobs’ that drives them to such ferocious support. But Sanders and Corbyn are old white men who have been politicians for their entire careers. Clearly they are saying things now, and have been for many years, that are different from the people many are disillusioned with but it seems bizarre that they have come to embody the new-left.

What this shows is the power of culture. It is so engrained, thanks to a multitude of factors, that white, middle-class men should be political leaders that even when massive numbers of people mobilise to change it, they still end up lined behind white, middle-class men. Undoubtedly, both men would bring enormous change, if they ever did come to power, regardless of how unlikely many claim that is, but the fact they still fit the usual mould is a fascinating detail.

If we are to focus back to America and Sanders, a few things are important to take away.

He is a factor in this race.

He is saying some very different things.

He is saying some very interesting things.

He is saying them to a lot of people.

He is going to lose.

The money that Clinton is raising is far out-stripping Sanders and the fact remains that interesting ideas do not win election; since official records began, the Presidential candidate that raises the most money has won every single time.

America might be feeling the Bern but Hillary Clinton or, in the surprising event she loses, the Republicans are about to throw cold water on it.

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