The personal story of Bernie Sanders

New polls suggest that Bernie Sanders has caught up with Hillary Clinton just before the Nevada caucuses to be held on Saturday.

Overall, 48% of likely caucus attendees say they support Clinton, 47% Sanders. Both candidates carry their demographic strong points from prior states into Nevada, with Clinton holding an edge among women, while Sanders tops the former secretary of state among voters under age 55.

One exception emerges though: Although the pool of potential caucusgoers in Nevada is more racially diverse than those who participated in Iowa or New Hampshire, the racial divide among likely caucusgoers isn’t nearly as stark as among voters in South Carolina, with both white and non-white voters about evenly divided between the two candidates.

But caucus outcomes are notoriously more difficult to predict than primary elections so it is pretty much up in the air.

It is clear that Bernie Sanders does not like to talk much about his personal life, preferring to steer the conversation to issues. But cartoonist and essayist Ted Rall interviewed him for his biography Bernie and he says that his poor background, when compared with the much more comfortable one of Hillary Clinton, explains a lot about his passion for social justice and economic security for all.

[Clinton’s] always been personally comfortable. Hillary grew up solidly middle class, never worrying where her next meal was coming from. Her family were right-wing conservatives, and so was she: in 1964, she was a fervently anti-communist “Goldwater girl.” She was named a partner of a law firm at age 32.

Sanders is a product of America’s huge, rarely discussed, working class — people one paycheck away from eviction and homelessness. Bernie’s father, a salesman who came here from Poland alone (his entire family was later wiped out by the Nazis in the Holocaust), struggled to make a living throughout his life. He and his wife, Bernie’s mom, constantly fought over (lack of) money. “There were tensions about money, which I think is important,” Sanders told me when I interviewed him for my biography, “Bernie.”

“There was no sense of long-term security,” Sanders recalled. “A salesman, things can go up and things can do down.”

I have noticed that Democratic politicians from well-to-do backgrounds like Al Gore and Clinton use the rhetoric of “I will fight for you”, suggesting a somewhat patronizing approach towards those who are powerless, that they need champions who will look out for their interests. But Sanders talks a lot less about what he will do for others and more about the need for people to come together for the revolution that would be necessary to overturn oligarchic control. This is far more empowering and may help to explain why his message resonates.


  1. lorn says

    “Sanders talks a lot less about what he will do for others and more about the need for people to come together for the revolution that would be necessary to overturn oligarchic control.”

    All well and good but no amount of passion and desire can counter the simple mathematical fact that, at best, the Democrats will still have only a bare a majority of the seats in the Senate and not even that in the House. No wave, revolution, or sea change in the electorate, not even the Democratic fantasy of huge numbers of previously non-voting citizens all turning out and voting a straight Democratic ballot, will make a difference.

    If a proposed budget or law, a bill, can’t get through the House of Representatives it cannot become a law, or budget.

    A little refresher on how a bill becomes a law:

    It is scary how durable the Republican hold on government really is. Bottom line here is that a Democratic president may very well be facing a no-win situation. Four years where no proposal/law/ budget, no matter how well liked or strongly demanded by a huge majority of citizens, can get through.

  2. Vincent says


    I understand your point, but I think it’s not as hopeless as it seems. I’d like to see Bernie be more explicit about this when confronted with the math, as you point out. Nominee Bernie would need to make gaining ground in the legislature one of his primary objectives. Maybe 2 years of President Bernie not being able to accomplish anything, but harping on his widely popular agenda while rightly blaming the Republicans for obstructing would result in even more gains. Who knows.

    I know it all still feels a little pie-in-the-sky so to speak, but I see no reason not to proceed. Having a president who at least constantly shines a light on the oligarchy, even if he can’t make sweeping changes, is certainly more of a “win” than the status quo. At least we know Bernie’s not going to sign anything detrimental to working citizens.

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