Published online 17 October 2015.
This piece (titled “Bernie Sanders’ biggest problem is his fan base”) came out of an outlet called “Quartz” (“Quartz is a digitally native news outlet, born in 2012, for business people in the new global economy.”) Someone reposted it to my Facebook feed. I read the title and thought, “this is another ‘blame the supporters‘ piece.” But more importantly author Jake Flanagin has issues with Sanders’ delivery. Here’s what Flanagin says:
The post-debate energy among anti-Hillary elements in the media and Sanders supporters alike aptly reflects Sanders’s performance on stage. He was loud (and not always in a good way). He was angry (sometimes in a good way). At times, it didn’t feel as though he were persuading audience members to vote for him—more that he was berating them for seriously considering any other candidate. He did everything short of bellow “WAKE UP, AMERICA!” into the mic.Bernie has a well-documented anger problem. But this type of aggression is alienating—which is unfortunate, because Sanders is certainly worth listening to on issues like Big Pharma and Wall Street. (Not so much on gun control, foreign policy, or immigration.) But style can sometimes override substance. That’s the sad reality of American political theater.
Flanagin’s idea, apparently, is that Sanders “has a well-documented anger problem,” because everything is fine with America, and if he’s angry, he’s got a problem. Now, I didn’t see Tuesday’s debate — but I can cite a jamess diary which has a script of things Sanders said. So where in Sanders’ debate performance did he display this “alienating” aggression? I’m going to let readers of this diary answer this question for me. Was it where he said:
But the truth is that for the 40 years, the great middle class of this country has been disappearing. And in my view what we need to do is create millions of jobs by rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure; raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour; pay equity for women workers; and our disastrous trade policies, which have cost us millions of jobs; and make every public college and university in this country tuition free.
Or was it where he said:
And you know what I said to Hank Paulson? I said, “Hank, your guys — you come from Goldman Sachs. Your millionaire and billionaire friends caused this problem. How about your millionaire and billionaire friends paying for the bailout, not working families in this country?”
Are the disappearance of the middle class or the triumph of the banksters nothing to worry about? Or is anger at these things merely a trait exhibited by “Bernie Sanders’s most vocal supporters,” who are (according to Flanagin) “mainly educated, politically leftist white men”?At any rate, Bernie Sanders will have to plead guilty to Flanagin’s charge of being a loud angry white male. If you are understandably tired of white people occupying the White House, and want to continue the trend begun by Barack Obama, you might consider voting for Ben Carson. And you will also have the opportunity to vote for any of three women running for President in this cycle, including Hillary Clinton, Carly Fiorina, and Jill Stein. It’s quite possible, moreover, that any of those people could be a more effective Head Keeper-of-the-Cool than Sanders would be. If, of course, that is what you want.
To conclude, Flanagin has equally critical words for both Sanders and his supporters. Here are those words:
Bernie lost his cool a bit on Tuesday night. And if he wants to put his politics to practice at the executive level, he’s got to figure out a way to get it back. If he can’t, his camp has to devise a strategy for repositioning or reigning in his more abrasive fans. For their part, Bernie’s supporters have two options: chill out, or get out of the way.
When reading this criticism it’s important to reflect upon Sanders’ statements about wanting a “political revolution,” to better understand Sanders’ aims. This statement is appropriate:
One of the ways that access to the Presidency is policed is through expectations of “electability” or whether a candidate “seems presidential.” These are conservative expectations. They take as their baseline those who have been elected in the past, those who have already occupied the office. Because those who have occupied the office have been primarily privileged, Protestant, white men, that’s the standard for seeming presidential.CNN did a body language analysis that criticized Sanders for gesticulating too much in a way that made him seem too emotional and not presidential. People would be up in arms if that analysis had been applied to Clinton because it would seem so obviously sexist. But other groups, typically any non-dominant group, have also historically been criticized or dismissed as too emotional, thereby buttressing the hold on power of those who ground their power in their own objectivity, cool heads, lacks of emotion.
Thus the criticism above of Bernie Sanders as “too emotional and not presidential” fits into a pattern of policing access to the Presidency which includes the mass-meda reaction to the “Dean Scream” ending Howard Dean’s 2004 Presidential campaign.As a now-and-then instructor of public speaking, however, I can tell you that “delivery issues” are overrated. Evaluations of public speaking as public speaking tend to focus on what sort of verbal tics detract from a speaker’s delivery (does the speaker say “um” a lot for instance). My opinion is that in practice if a speaker’s stuff is good (and by “good” I mean appropriately targeted to an audience, informative, understandable, and delivered with appropriate motivation), her or his audience is likely to forgive all sorts of “delivery issues.” Here’s how Sanders handles it, according to Mark Hertsgaard:
Leaving aside the simplistic focus on who won or lost, Sanders clearly appealed to many people Tuesday night, and his secret weapon helps explain why. That secret weapon is the gift of plain speech. This gift is less about the content of Sanders’s remarks, though that matters, than it is about the way he delivers them—he uses the kind of language ordinary people use themselves and speaks with a passion that makes it clear he genuinely believes what he’s saying.
And it works!