“I am not a liberal, I am a progressive,” pronounced Sen. Bernie Sanders during a student-submitted Q&A conducted by Johns Hopkins University president Ronald Daniels.
What became something of an open, periodically funny and altogether forthright conversation between Sanders and Daniels followed the former presidential hopeful’s hour-long speech about his recently published book, “Our Revolution: A Future to Believe In.”
As a stop on his ongoing cross-country book tour as hosted by Hopkins’ Milton S. Eisenhower Symposium in partnership with the school’s Foreign Affairs Symposium, Sanders’ speaking engagement on Thursday, Nov. 17 in Shriver Hall was introduced as part of “a forum for the free exchange of ideas.”
Sanders, an Independent, has represented his state of Vermont as senator since 2007 and was narrowly denied the honor of becoming the Democrat nominee for president and later the first Jewish person to hold that office in American history.
He used his global stage as a candidate for the Democratic Party’s nominee to articulate the primal rage felt by many working class and poverty-stricken Americans largely neglected by the mainstream media, which Sanders has been highly critical of in the past and continued to excoriate at the Hopkins event.
Sanders is a kind of latter-day incarnation of popular irascible 1977 Academy Award-winning film “Network” character Howard Beale who spouted out those immemorial lines, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” to a rapt national audience.
Speculation for Sanders’ loss in the primary election to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ranges from a putative “media blackout” or outright mockery of his grassroots, anti-establishment campaign to allegations of subterfuge perpetrated by the Democratic National Committee that may have favored Clinton.
Speaking out on such issues — particularly his profoundly negative take on the manipulative power of the media to siphon and filter the news inappropriately — Sanders suggested that, ironically, it may have been Donald Trump’s tapping into the same entrenched economic frustration and sense of being ignored Sanders expressed that allowed the former to reign triumphant in the 2016 presidential election.
“There’s a beautiful world out there that the media ignores,” Sanders declared with his characteristic impassioned contrarianism that has made for a beloved pop culture image a la comedian Larry David’s portrayal of the senator on a series of immemorial “Saturday Night Live” sketches.
This was the crux of Sanders’ message to the audience of mostly Hopkins students — the notion of the power of manipulation and control the media has over not only how critical issues are presented to the populace, but, indeed, which “critical” issues are presented in the first place.
It’s an important thread in his book, as well, and a frightening proposition considering Sanders’ educated opinion that the recent presidential election became fodder for the media’s (and, by osmosis, the electorate’s) growing obsession with what he called “gossip” and the personalities of Trump and Clinton rather than the issues that needed to be illuminated and properly deliberated.
“Politics is not about the candidates,” Sanders said. “It is about the needs of the people.”
Sanders went on to say that he discusses this crucial point throughout his book and the idea that “we need to discuss the real issues in an intelligent and respectful way.”
“The message” is, in fact, “the most important part of any campaign,” Sanders said. “What do you believe in? What will you fight for?”
What Sanders believes in is something he said he’s been fighting for his entire adult life: “The real pain of the people.”
As has become well-known over the course of Sanders’ precipitous rise in popularity, the senator is here speaking of those outside of the so-called “1 percent” or other elite circles he has decried for being an integral part of both Clinton’s and Trump’s campaigns.
“A great nation is not judged by how many billionaires it has, but how it treats its most vulnerable people,” Sanders said, wrapping up the central theme of his book.
Representing “the most vulnerable people” has been a continuous touchstone of Sanders’ political tenure. He has recently criticized Trump’s appointment of former Breitbart News chairman Stephen Bannon, who Sanders has referred to as “a racist individual,” as chief strategist for the white house.
“In a democratic society we can disagree all we want over issues, but racism and bigotry cannot be part of any public policy,” Sanders said according to a Nov. 17 report by JTA. “The appointment of Mr. Bannon by Mr. Trump must be rescinded.”
When asked about the obvious question of such implicit divisiveness in the country by Daniels during his Q&A, Sanders — again with his signature, mop-haired and disputatious aplomb — said he questions just how divided the country really is at this time.
Sanders placed much of the blame on the media and the so-called “billionaire class” for perpetuating the notion that the U.S. is as divided as has been claimed.
After having traveled around the country meeting countless constituents and their families as well as young children, when it comes to such topics as economics, gun control, abortion or LGBTQ rights, Sanders truly believes there is less contention about these concerns and, if anything, merely division on how to implement needful guidance in dealing with such concerns he knows are imperative to all Americans.
Indeed, it’s for this reason that Sanders self-qualifies as a progressive as opposed to a liberal (referring, for example, to Hillary Clinton as “a strong liberal”).
For Sanders, a liberal is interested in social reform and soi-disant “social justice.” In his mind, a progressive such as himself is interested in these points … but also does not want to forget the economic concerns of the country, something he believes was largely missed by Clinton’s campaign and, again, may have led to the resounding win for Trump.
Though there may not have been a major glass ceiling shattered in the 2016 presidential election — by either a woman or Jew — Sanders undeniably cracked it and established that it is indeed possible to arise to one of the highest political platforms in the nation without the need of corporate sponsors or direct ties to the political establishment.
And, further proving his chutzpah and personal connection to the people listening in Shriver Hall and across the nation, Sanders can have a little fun with it all as well.
When asked at the end of the Q&A by Daniels what Sanders thinks about David’s caricaturing him on “SNL”, Sanders was quick to respond: “Actually, I am Larry David.”