Cult of Personality
It has been, without a doubt, a crazy roller coaster ride of a Democratic primary this year. Joe Biden’s campaign, which looked like it was on life support less than two weeks ago, has taken off, and he’s gone from also-ran to presumptive nominee. Buoyed by African American Voters, the same suburban voters that helped the Democrats retake the house in 2018 (including my ancenstral home in the NJ 7th, which has been solidly Republican for about as long as I’ve been around in this world), this is a result that only two weeks ago seemed impossible. So, maybe we need to look at the real question here: how did Bernie Sanders go from the obvious front-runner, outlasting annointed up and comers of the party, besting the other strong Progressive that was running, and shaking off not one, but two billionaires, including the one who spent an obscene amount of money to run, to being all but practically eliminated in early March? I mean, it’s a bit of a head scratcher in some ways, but not others.
It’s time for an honest admission from me. I’m not a Bernie fan. I’m not a fan of anyone who wraps not one, but two presidential campaigns up in the mantle of political revolution. I really hate to borrow the phrase from Biden, but most people don’t want a revolution, they want results. Plus, when you step back a ways and look at his supporters, it sometimes feels like he’s at the front of a personality cult, rather than a political movement. Consider the whole Warren snake emjoi thing that happened earlier in the year. Or the whole Twitter movement that sprung up that Warren needed to drop out and endorse Sanders because of course she did!* There is a troubling undercurrent of deism that surrounds a lot of Bernie supporters. Bernie is famous for his rigid views, and a lot of his supporters seem to really fall into this all or nothing rigidity in thier support of their man.
*Aside: did Warren’s aides see the writing on the wall for Bernie’s collapse and this is why she held off on endorsing him? If so, very smart. I think it’s both that and that she is not going to drop the whole "a woman can’t run" thing. I believe that happened no matter what his supporters try to refute.
At the same time, there’s the fact that a lot of Bernie Sanders’ key policy positions remain highly popular with voters. Take his signature issue, Medicare for All, which continues to prove popular with voters. Yet, a lot of people are clearly turned off by Bernie. So, what’s the disconnect? I think it’s pretty clearly that if the message is a winner, the problem is with the messenger. Bernie might be the only one in the eyes of his supporters, but that group is proving to be smaller than it seems. Like I said, people want someone who will get things done, not necessarily blow them up. Plus, there’s the fact that Bernie doesn’t seem to really want to reach out to people outside of his core group doesn’t help all that much. At some point, we have to look at who is delivering the message and realize that maybe we need someone else to deliver it. The fact that we had the perfect person who could have been that messenger? We’ve just hit the tip of the iceberg.