On January 26, the official Twitter feed for The Economist tweeted a link to a story titled “Could it be Bernie?” The tweet read: “The Vermont senator’s campaign slogan used to be ‘A future to believe in’; now it is just: ‘Bernie’.” The piece, accompanied by a drawing of Bernie Sanders that borders on the anti-Semitic, characterizes his campaign as that of a cult of personality and attributes his success to the weakness of the rest of the field.
Objectionable as Sanders supporters would find these sentiments and as reprehensible as even objective observers might find his cartoon depiction, what really infuriated myself and others was this business about the slogan. Because it isn’t true.
Though writers at The Economist may clutch their pearls at the sight of Bernie’s fanatical following, lamenting the “BERNIE” signs observed at rallies for their chosen candidate, Bernie’s real 2020 slogan is “Not Me. Us.”
This isn’t a trivial matter either. It’s not just an aw-shucks aphorism designed to sell T-shirts. If you want to understand why Bernie is so popular with people like me and why he is surging in the polls, comprehending the meaning of this slogan is a good, if not essential, place to start. When you think about it, “Not Me. Us.” is a rather remarkable statement in the world of politics.
It certainly contrasts, for one, with Hillary Clinton’s all-eyes-on-me slogan from the 2016 campaign season: “I’m with her.” Even in a crowded primary field in 2020, this notion of togetherness stands out. Though not official slogans, the taglines “I have a plan for that” and “All in for Warren” which Elizabeth Warren’s supporters have embraced and, to some degree, that her campaign has too don’t convey quite the same sense of empowerment to the individual. Nor does Pete Buttigieg’s insistence on a “new generation of American leadership” or the need to “win the era,” whatever that means. And don’t get me started on Joe Biden’s promise of “no malarkey.” I thought this was the 2020 election, not the 1924 election.
Truly, no candidate emphasizes and embodies the spirit of grassroots fundraising and organizing like Bernie in this race. Though by now the concept of the $27 average contribution is ripe for parody (and in fact that per-contribution number may be even lower this time around), it isn’t simply a point of pride to be dismissed as an ineffective matter of principle. Bernie is consistently among the top fundraisers in the Democratic Party field, if not the highest. This reality flies in the face of the insistence you need big-ticket fundraisers and wealthy donors to power a presidential run. Looking at you, Mayor Pete, and your wine cave attendees.
Contrary to what Mr. Boot-Edge-Edge might aver, this is not some purity test by which to judge individuals’ personal wealth. These are values, plain and simple. If we are to believe that how someone runs their campaign is indicative of how they will govern, then every fear that someone like him or Biden will be compromised by their fealty to the rich and/or corporate interests is more than valid. So Bernie is a millionaire. So what. He’s certainly not sucking up to the billionaires the way his centrist political rivals are.
It’s more than just small individual contributions, though. In so much of his speech, Bernie stresses the importance of a movement to reclaim our democracy from moneyed interests and consolidation of power among the nation’s top earners and biggest companies. In this regard, he is keen to repeat the idea that real change happens not from the top down, but from the bottom up.
It’s a concept critical to Our Revolution, a political action organization inspired by Bernie’s stated values and 2016 campaign that has seen local and state activist groups spring up and work to effect real change in their communities and the political leadership that represents them. In a short time, OR’s influence has increased dramatically from its inception. Hopefully, long after Bernie Sanders and 2020, its members’ commitment to progressive values will continue to make a positive impact and help prepare individuals to be the kind of leaders our society needs. It’s why I’m not particularly worried about Bernie’s physical health even after a minor scare. The fundamental beliefs driving his campaign and his supporters matter more than any one person.
As such, for all the blather about Bernie’s political “revolution” as an ego-driven vehicle or a vanity project from his critics, his detractors have him dead wrong. Though he may not possess a bubbly personality and some may bristle at his constant yelling and finger-wagging to make his point (to be fair, he is a Brooklyn Jew and this should be, on some level, expected), Bernie is probably the least egocentric person in this race and certainly is the most authentic—take it or leave it.
Besides, it’s kind of hard to feel self-important when members of the press and other political figures are constantly attacking your credibility and reputation. On the latter dimension, Bernie wisely avoided a confrontation with Warren concerning her charge that he once remarked he didn’t think a woman could be elected president, an allegation seemingly rendered unsubstantiated by his record on advocating for women’s rights and for more female candidates (like Warren) to run for office.
He also refused to engage with Hillary Clinton regarding her comments that “no one likes” him and that he has achieved little to nothing in his time as a lawmaker. From someone who treated her stay in Congress like a stepping stone to higher office and who lost a presidential election in 2016 to an unpopular figure in Donald Trump in part due to her own sagging approval ratings, these are rather hollow criticisms. Then again, that’s just “Hill-Dawg” being “Hill-Dawg.”
All this before we even get to Bernie’s leadership on issues like Medicare for All and the Green New Deal, stances that have, to a large extent, shaped the Democratic debates and primaries and have led to the support of progressive champions like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib. While one might deem it too far to call similar positions by Warren and other candidates as mere imitations of Bernie’s platform, he has been and continues to be the most consistent on these matters, unlike some people in this race (cough, Biden, cough). He also has been the most outspoken on protecting trade unions and seeking to expand union membership, and unlike Warren, voted against the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which critics have derided as “NAFTA on steroids.”
Going back to Donald Trump, meanwhile, and despite what pundits representing cable news outlets or major newspapers might put forth, Bernie may be the best chance of preventing a second term for the orange-faced, thin-skinned, and small-handed incumbent. Forget nebulous concepts like “electability” which lack a firm definition or predictive validity. Bernie consistently beats Trump in polls and fares best among the Democratic Party field on attracting younger voters and independents. Imagine that—a 78-year-old democratic socialist Brooklyn Jew appealing both to millennials and libertarians like Joe Rogan. It’s not because he’s selling something or promising them a pony. It’s because they genuinely believe in him, his ideals, and his vision. Imagine that.
So yes, Bernie is well-liked by voters and by his constituents (stay salty, Hillary), is remarkably consistent in his beliefs, and beats Trump in almost any scenario imaginable. At the end of the day, however, it comes down to his messaging above all else for me. Five years ago, I would’ve told you that politics is best left to the politicians and wouldn’t be as concerned by half as much going on in the world today as I am. Since then, I’ve realized this is absolutely the worst thing you can do re politics, mind you.
On that note, I owe Bernie a debt of gratitude. Maybe it was just that I was finally ready to pick up what someone like him was trying to put down, but when he ran in 2016, it was the first time I felt like someone was trying to talk to me on a personal level rather than simply trying to get my vote. That speaks volumes to me about his character and whose interests he serves. Call me corny, but I believed it then and still believe it now.
Thus spare me your qualms about Bernie Sanders’s age and that he’s just another white male running for office, or your doom-and-gloom prophecies for what a “socialist” (Boo! Hiss!) in the White House will lead to, or that he is the least likely candidate to help someone in need (really, Chris Matthews, really?). When Bernie says “Not Me. Us,” people listen and take it to heart. That may not mean everything, but it matters a great deal.
To everyone scaremongering and expressing existential dread over Bernie’s prospects of capturing the Democratic Party presidential nomination and winning the general election in November, then, I say with relish: Be afraid. Be very, very afraid. A revolution may just be on its way. The question I have for you is: Will you be ready to roll up your sleeves and do the hard work when it comes?