Lots of buzz about this in the media Twittersphere this morning. Go figure!
Media verdict is in: white liberals LOVE the Bernie, Simon, and Garfunkel ad!
— Phil Kerpen (@kerpen) January 21, 2016
Nothing says “America,” Kerpen said elsewhere, like honeymooning in the Soviet Union. But as you’ll see, the ad works. There’s no narration because it’s all about atmosphere: Sanders wants Democrats to see his candidacy as less a campaign than a movement, and you join a movement because of the spirit that animates it, not because of who’s leading it. Feeling the Bern is about restoring liberalism to its idealistic ascendancy in the 1960s. That’s why the soundtrack is Simon and Garfunkel. Don’t get bogged down in details like $19 trillion in new taxes. Bernie — and you, dear Democratic voter — are going to make America great again by making leftism great again. The populist contrast with Hillary is so obvious that Sanders doesn’t even allude to her here. She’s the liberal who landed in the White House when her husband got elected running as a “different kind of Democrat,” a break with the Great Society leftists whom Bernie wants to emulate. She’s spent nearly 25 years in Washington; meanwhile, here’s Bernie connecting with the common man, farmers and cows ‘n stuff. If you’re already a fan, you’re probably reaching for your checkbook before the ad’s over.
The truly interesting contrast, though, isn’t between Sanders and Clinton but between Sanders and Obama. They’ve both run “hope and change” campaigns but Obama’s campaign differed from Sanders’s in a key way. Hopenchange 2008 really was about the man who was leading it. Obama himself famously said that he was a blank screen on which his supporters could project their fondest political aspirations. Maybe you liked him because you thought it was time for a black president. Maybe you liked him because you were anti-war. Maybe you liked him because he was promising a post-partisan administration. Maybe you liked him because he was young and untouched by the Beltway tentacles wrapped around Hillary and McCain. Whatever the reason, the message of O’s campaign was this is a new era. The establishment would be brought down, something new and better would replace it, and America will go forward. The seminal ad of the 2008 primaries was the takeoff on Apple’s famous “1984” spot, with Hillary as Big Brother. Sanders’s message is that we need to get back to the old era. Liberalism got off track after the welfare-state heyday of the 60s and never quite got back on, even during Obama’s administration, and America has suffered because of it. Everything in the spot is old — not just Bernie himself and the music but the scenes of rural life. And although he makes a few appearances here, the emphasis is on the people at his rallies, not on him. That’s a contrast with Obama too, and deliberately so:
Sanders has also said: “The major political, strategic difference I have with Obama, is it’s too late to do anything inside the Beltway. You gotta take your case to the American people, mobilize them, and organize them at the grassroots level in a way that we have never done before.”
The Obama movement was ultimately about Obama and his cult of personality. The Sanders movement is being sold, however implicitly, as a reaction to that, devolving the spirit of liberalism back to the people after enshrining it in a leader who disappointed some progressives when he wasn’t radical enough.
One weird quirk here, though. For an ad that’s about recapturing the spirit of the 60s, it’s awfully heavy on white people. You would think a guy who’s now gearing up for a long 50-state campaign and who desperately needs to dent Hillary’s support among blacks would have been more careful about that. Exit question: What music would Trump use to accompany an ad about the size of his crowds? Something like “Thunderstruck,” right?