The Second of Two Thoughts (Bernie Sanders and Turnout)

I watched Judy Woodruff interview Bernie Sanders on the PBS Newshour last night and saw something different in his demeanor.  His speech was just as direct as ever, just as ardent, but he was unusually composed and calm.  Maybe it was the heart attack that changed him, or maybe it has occurred to him, “I can win this thing.”

New public opinion polling shows Sanders’ popularity among likely Democratic voters beginning to exceed that of moderate front-runner Joe Biden.  In addition, Sanders is an unmatched powerhouse among Dems when it comes to fund-raising.  He is estimated to have raised $100 million in 2019, roughly forty million dollars more than Biden, and far surpassing even the enthusiastically backed Pete Buttigieg, who reportedly raised about $75 million last year.

After years of being a long-shot candidate, Bernie suddenly seems a lot more viable—even more mainstream.   His talking points haven’t changed, but the political atmosphere and the wishes of the American people have.  To a citizenry weary of the bizarre outbursts and imbroglios President Trump is so fond of, Sanders’ consistency and plain speech are almost soothing.  He comes across as an aging hippy uncle who has mellowed and acquired good manners over the decades by rubbing elbows with people of wildly different persuasions on Capitol Hill.  His views are reassuringly humane and, from his having repeated them over and over, no longer sound as crazy as they did at first.  He is a peacenik who believes that the US can figure out how to be fairer and deliver national health care and education more affordably.

His remarks on the Newshour zeroed in on the issue of voter turnout and political energy.  Sanders argues that he is the Democratic candidate best suited to oppose Trump because he’s most capable of energizing voters, especially young voters, and getting them to turn out.  “To beat Trump,” he was saying, “you’re going to need a massive  voter  turnout. And the only way you do that is through a campaign of energy, of excitement. You have got to bring working people. You have got to bring young people into the political process.”  In short, the nominee must inspire voters to get involved.

A crucial point.  Candidates’ varying ability to galvanize voters in the general election is a factor completely left to the side in primary polling.  A positive excitement, a charismatic appeal: precisely the ingredients missing in the Hillary debacle.  This time around, I hope to God Democrats will refrain from choosing a “meh” candidate who can’t rouse the electorate to go to the polls.  If the Dems make this mistake again—a mistake they have made innumerable times, as they did with Dukakis, Gore, Kerry, and Hillary—Trump and the Republicans will almost certainly prevail.  Then a disappointed nation will be feeling the burn.

9 responses

  1. When the voting age was lowered to 18, I was happy about it. I was also preparing to be drafted for the Viet Nam police action and felt, if I was going into harm’s way as a mandatory requirement of living, that I should be able to vote. But now the draft is history, and I see the results of immature voting. I am not proposing that we go back. But I think age 25 or greater would provide persons with more wisdom to apply at the voting booth.

    • Interesting. Moving to allow more and more people to vote has been a constant in US history since the Founding. And yet, the Founders knew only a very restricted franchise–not only was it limited to whites, but it was limited to people with some money or property. And men only. So their concept of voting was as a class marker/privilege that came with having or having acquired an economic stake in society. To us, today, that seems very “unequal” and therefore unacceptable. But it meant that every voter was someone who was financially responsible. That skewed choice in a very different way. In the decades immediately after the American Revolution, however, many states moved to expand political representation and loosen or abolish these requirements.

  2. Susan I’m not sure exactly what you mean. I am saying, shall we let 16-year-olds vote? 14? 12? There is a bottom limit as to when we allow children help to choose matters that effect adult issues. Issues that can be read about by children but not understood yet. Just saying that making laws, levying taxes, restricting freedoms, all of the serious matters we vote on may be better left to those with more life’s experiences under their belt. I understand that communism was overwhelmingly voted in USSR cause it sounded good at the time. Persons without life’s experiences reached for undeliverable promises made by eloquent speakers with convincing arguments. Only to find there is no free lunch.

    • Americans have used wildly varying criteria in determining what makes a person “qualified” to vote. Early on, the criteria were owning property and being male. Then in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries we became preoccupied with criteria having to do with sex and race. Now you are talking about a criterion based on age: when is a person mature enough, and what yardstick should be used to establish that they are an adult citizen? Having looked into it, I see that some states have recently considered lowering the voting age to 16.

      One of the strangest things about the US is that states get to decide (within limits) what a voter is. I would not be in favor of lowering the voting age to 16 in Illinois. Given that the United States is no longer drafting teenagers to go to war, and we in Illinois have raised the drinking age to 21, perhaps there is a rationale for raising the voting age to 21, but no way would that be politically doable!

      An argument against raising the voting age is that if young people have to wait too long to participate in politics, they may never get in the habit. We definitely want to encourage young Americans to be politically engaged.

      The Russian Revolution is not really my strong suit, but I gather that ultimately communism in the Soviet Union was achieved through violent struggle and repression. After the popular uprisings that destroyed the tsarist regime, there was a provisional government based on civil liberties. There were then some early elections where the Bolsheviks won some contests in cities. This breakaway party (under Lenin) used the outcome to justify its taking over the entire government.

      Similarly, decades later, the USSR found as it expanded into Poland, etc., that the people there, if allowed to hold elections, would not choose communism voluntarily so democratic processes were taken away.

      In general, people do not give up freedom voluntarily. We are seeing this in Hong Kong now.

  3. I agree with your thinking and rationale about Bernie. All of a sudden or—I should say—in the last few weeks, he HAS matured. He no longer sounds kooky! He has moderated his ideas; the guy speaks from his gut, and there is fire in it. He has a “natural charisma” that almost all the other candidates lack-he is truly enthusiastic-and he sounds it. I was very dubious about him four years ago; now, not much at all. The guy is raising $$$ at an alarmingly fast rate, his base is STRONG, and, like Obama, he is attracting/has attracted the younger voters who have got to come out and vote. Traditionally, the 18- to 24-year-old bracket is the lowest turnout, but it won’t be with him, nor was it with Obama.

    Trump needs to go, MUST go for the sake of our Republic and democracy. As I’ve said many times, he is an anti-Christ, an agent of the dark one. If Bernie gets the Dem nomination, I now think he can and will beat Trump. Also, he won’t take T. Rump’s constant lying and gruff; Sanders can and will fight fire with fire, and prevail.

  4. FarmRdave-I say, as did the lawmakers back in the 1960’s, old enough to fight, old enough to vote on WHO decides you fight.

  5. Susan, I think your argument is a bit leaky. What I am saying is, we should not push young persons into the voting booth. The ignorance of youth allows unscrupulous manipulators to invalidate the voting process in our country. Our young population should not be “used” to accomplish political ends contrary to the wishes of otherwise free and liberty loving people (including the young). Politics should not be pushed onto youth for any reason especially by one-sided indoctrination. One sided indoctrination is all any one instructor can teach. (We can only teach what we believe). I am not suggesting we change the voting age, only pointing to the fallacy of persons voting when too young to understand the results of the vote.

    • Goodness. Not sure what young people are like in your part of the country, but in my experience young adults are not particularly “manipulable.” And who exactly do you think is “manipulating” them? Parents? Teachers? Some people would describe Trump as an “unscrupulous manipulator” but he doesn’t particularly appeal to the young.

      Maybe it is the idealism of young people that makes older people uncomfortable–we need both idealism and prudence in a republic for it to work. As RB pointed out in his comment, the youngest voters are also those least likely to vote–I think young people only vote when they feel they know enough and are equal to the responsibility. At any rate, it’s not my place to judge them, or any other voter, and say they are wrong or unworthy. I respect the right of the states to set their own voting requirements as long as they are not racist and otherwise comply with the Constitution and federal law. I would not support measures to lower my state’s voting age to 16.

  6. Hi FARMRDAVE–I marvel at your concern that young people in the US are being “indoctrinated” to vote a certain way. It’s not as though they could be brainwashed Russian or Chinese style. This isn’t a totalitarian country, where inhabitants could be subjected to being taught in special “re-education” camps, prisons, or other places where there is no escape and only “one way thinking.”

    Thank God this country has freedom of speech and press, written into our Constitution as an absolute right. The “young” people in our country are exposed to many differing ideas emanating from many different venues. Unless a “young” person has an extraordinarily low IQ, they understand freedom of thought and expression. They don’t walk into the voting booth indoctrinated or with a gun pointed at them or someone telling them if they don’t vote for a certain candidate, “we’re gonna get you.”