Politico reporter Holly Otterbein spent weeks watching tapes of all of Bernie Sanders’ 1980s TV show “Bernie Speaks with the Community.” The show ran weekly for a couple of years when Sanders was the Mayor of Burlington, Vermont. Otterbein seems to think the overall impression is that 80s Bernie Sanders had a populist charm and humor that doesn’t always come through these days, however she realizes that everything he said back then is a goldmine for oppo research now:
Whatever good it did for Bernie Sanders at the time, “Bernie Speaks with the Community” is now 1,667 minutes of material for opposition researchers, health care insurance companies and Trump’s reelection campaign to pick through. Here’s a short, and surely incomplete, list of the things Sanders said on his TV show that his opponents could cut into a 30-second ad: The Nicaraguan Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega “happens not to be a communist.” Nora Astorga, the Nicaraguan ambassador to the United Nations who had recently visited Sanders, might have gotten cancer because of the “tremendous grief and suffering that’s going on in her own country” caused by the war. The Soviet Union’s economy is being “devastated” by military spending. And perhaps, as he proposed to a classroom of small children, Burlington should develop an exchange program with communist and socialist countries around the world. “I would like to see families—your mothers and dads and yourselves maybe—go to the Soviet Union and learn about that country, and people from there come to here,” he says. “If you actually had kids here who were from Nicaragua or from the Soviet Union, and they could tell you what’s going on in their own country, boy, you could learn a whole lot. And then if kids from Vermont or Burlington were in those countries, they could tell those people what was going on in their hometown.”
Other incidents capture on “Bernie Speaks” are just weird, like the one that opens the piece. Sanders is having a chat with a group of kids who look about 5-10 years old about…cocaine?
The year is 1987. Atop a wooden picnic table nearby sits a man, clasping a microphone with both hands as he hunches with his elbows on his knees like a camp counselor. He’s wearing gray slacks and a short-sleeved white button-down, and he looks like he’s been on this earth for far longer than a half-century, but he’s only 45.
This isBernie Sanders, the city’s socialist mayor, and for whatever reason, he wants to talk about drugs.
“Do any of the older kids you know have some problems with drugs?” Sanders asks. “Who wants to talk to me about that? What about drugs? Is that a problem?”
“I like coke!” a little boy who looks 10 or 12 exclaims.
“Tell me about that,” Sanders says.
“I like Coca-Cola!” the boy clarifies.
“Oh, Coca-Cola. Alright, but who knows about cocaine?” Sanders asks. “Anyone ever seen cocaine?” Do any of the kids know people who use drugs like that? “You don’t have to tell me who,” he says, “but I bet you do.”…
Sanders changes the subject to cigarettes. “Who here smokes?” he asks. “Come on, raise your hand.” A child, sitting in an adult’s lap, responds: “I don’t smoke because I’m a little kid. I’m only 5 years old.” At another point, a kid asks Sanders, “Did you know you look like somebody on Back to the Future?’”
There’s also some criticism of the media which sound like a toned-down version of Trump’s broadsides against the media, though of course for Sanders the problem is capitalism.
He delivers a 20-minute lecture, which touches on everything from the death of local newspapers to the rise of the “simple and stupid” USA Today to the habit of the American press of parroting President Ronald Reagan’s comments like they’re employees of the Soviet Union’s state-owned media. At one point, he even turns, mockingly, to the local television staffer in the room and predicts how his talk will be depicted on the nightly news. “We have no doubt that our reporter here will be able to put it all together in 35 seconds, condensing what we are saying,” Sanders says.
“If you think that the function of Channel 3 or the Burlington Free Press is to educate you about the world in which you’re living, it’s not,” he says at another point. The true goal of the media “is to make money.” It’s no different than a fast-food business, really: “When you go to McDonald’s, you don’t go there and say, ‘Jesus, I didn’t get the whole story about what’s going on in Nicaragua!’ You got a hamburger.”
He has a point about the media being primarily interested in ratings and money, though I’m not sure he sees today how that applies to the desire to produce daily bombshells aimed at President Trump and flog the collusion story for the past two years. If he does see it, he doesn’t say much about it.
Bernie is about as far-left as you can get in this country (though AOC I think has surpassed him in that regard) but he does have a straight-forward, populist approach that really does have something in common with what made Trump so popular. People appreciate the blunt talk and lack of polish, even if they disagree with the policies.
Here’s the clip of Bernie asking little kids about cocaine. He may have seen himself as the anti-Reagan at the time but his message here isn’t so different: Don’t do drugs, kids.