COLUMN: Oh, how the times have changed, Sen. Sanders
Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks at the Tucson Early Vote Rally for Hillary Clinton on the UA Mall on Wednesday, Oct. 18. The Dean of Students Office launched the #SpeakYourPeace campaign to educate students about free speech, and implemented it at Sanders' rally by having event monitors nearby.
Oh, how the times have changed. More than a year ago, Sen. Sanders—then an upstart primary contender with hordes of young people at his back—visited Reid Park to deliver a fiery speech to an estimated 11,000 audience members.
That night, the enthusiasm was palpable. As the audience waited for the gentleman from Vermont to take the stage, electricity coursed through the crowd in a manner usually reserved for those sacred seconds right before a rock band takes the stage.
His rally tonight on the UA Mall was greeted with much of the same fanfare.
Vermont’s favorite son is still no slouch when it comes to bringing out crowds. Hundreds of supporters patiently lined the Mall as they waited for their candidate to speak. Conversations spontaneously sprouted in every direction—a young man explained China’s political system to an older Mexican-American couple, and just a few yards over a woman was extolling the virtues of 1972 Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern.
These are likely a bit different from the conversations one might overhear at a Trump rally.
Dissenters, as always, made themselves known. A woman with a veritable arsenal of hand-made Jill Stein signs walked the rows of attendees. A young freshman with a Johnson-Weld sign amiably flitted in and out of sight. Later on, a man dressed in full cowboy attire and draped in a Gadsden flag strode confidently away into the night.
As the audience finally made their way into the pen, electricity buzzed and crackled again. After four introductory speakers and a small battery of microphone issues, Sen. Sanders strode out, embraced his friend Rep. Raul Grijalva and launched into a fiery tirade eerily similar to the stump speeches of primary campaign stops past.
There was no wind coming from any direction, but the senator’s hair was still appropriately disheveled.
It just added to the effect. The man has mastered the art of the applause line—nearly every line crescendoed in time to fully appreciate the deafening roar of the crowd.
The crowd reacted as they had last October to the same emphasis on wealth and income inequality, on the massive strides taken by the black and LGBTQ communities in recent decades.
His mentions of Sec. Clinton were haphazard and perfunctory; the phrase “Hillary Clinton understands that …” appeared quite a bit, as if Sen. Sanders and we, his audience, were personally responsible for a former foe’s come-to-Jesus moment.
It is for this reason that Sen. Sanders is only a semi-effective surrogate. He is a tremendous speaker—buoyed by the clear adoration of hundreds, his focus on the importance of people and issues in elections current and future was both empowering and sober.
However, it is difficult to believe that any Bernie-or-Buster would be swayed by what is essentially the same stump speech sprinkled with a few mentions of the former FLOTUS.
To see the same “damn the torpedoes” energy used in the name of party unity is incongruous given that the capital-E “Establishment” he railed against in October are now many of the same people for whom he stumps.
While the Democratic Party has struggled in the last year and a half with the rift created by the Sanders/Clinton schism, it has been a picture of unity compared to the rotting Ouroboros that is today’s GOP.
When Sen. Sanders takes the stage, it is impossible not to think of the motley band of Republican elected officials who have refused to endorse their party’s candidate. It is impossible not to think of the Bush clan, still smarting over the total emasculation of Jeb and their barely concealed loathing of Donald Trump.
Many Democrats have touted the ease with which the party has closed ranks, undoubtedly thinking smugly of Sen. Ted Cruz working a Trump phone bank, his eyes twin pearls of defeat and misery.
Ultimately, it’s bittersweet. Tonight, in the twilight’s last gleaming, the flag of true liberalism, battered, bruised and used, still flutters in the fall wind.
Its most popular champion walks off into the night—saluted not by guns, but by the cheers of hundreds, and of course, the dulcet tones of a Bon Jovi song.