Who'd have thunk it? A 74-year-old who wants to raise taxes, describes the US economy as rigged, hates kissing babies, is pro-choice, and in favour of gay marriage, has just become Hillary Clinton's worst nightmare.
OK so Bernie Sanders hasn't won the Iowa Democratic Caucus. But he has come so damn close, with 49.61% vs Clinton's 49.82% and 99.41% of the results tallied, that the general consensus — shared by the man himself — is it's a virtual tie.
Iowa is, of course, only the first stop. There are many, many primary votes to go before we will know who will be the Democratic presidential nominee. Moreover, most states, unlike the early voting Iowa and New Hampshire, are not mostly white. So the smart money is still on Clinton who polls much better than Sanders among blacks and hispanics, as this Washington Post piece explains. But, in a presidential race that has had many, ahem, surprising aspects, the rise and rise of the grey-haired junior senator from Vermont has to be in contention for the I'll-eat-my-hat award.
Right wing leading commentators have been pouring scorn on Sanders for months. Here's Hugh Hewitt:
Bernie Sanders is not connecting, I don't believe, with anyone outside of his demographic, which are old hippies that wish Woodstock would come back.
But it turns out there are plenty of young hippies as well who are big Sanders fans and they are going to enjoy his run for as long as it lasts.
Take this endorsement from Weekend Vampire frontman Ezra Koenig, interviewed after the band appeared at a Sanders rally over the weekend. 'I see a consistency in him that’s rare in most human beings, let alone politicians'.
And this, from another supporter, not so famous, who attended a different Iowa event. 'He’s unslick in a really slick way,' Rachel Joselson, a professor of music at the University of Iowa, told The New York Times. 'That feels real and authentic to me'.
While many older Americans are attracted by Republican outsiders who want to make America great again, Sanders is appealing to the young who want change. Radical change.
According to Nice Guys Finish Seventh: False Phrases, Spurious Sayings, and Familiar Misquotations by Ralph Keyes, it was the mid-nineteenth century French historian and statesman François Guizot who first observed: 'Not to be a republican at 20 is proof of want of heart; to be one at 30 is proof of want of head'.
While the source of the quote has been much debated, it is generally accepted the young (who often, of course, also have comparatively less income to tax) are more idealistic and it is this idealism that Sanders appeals to. Here's an excerpt from a speech he gave to students at Liberty University in September.
Now, when we talk about morality, and when we talk about justice, we have to, in my view, understand that there is no justice when so few have so much and so many have so little.
There is no justice, and I want you to hear this clearly, when the top one-tenth of 1 percent -- not 1 percent, the top one-tenth of 1 percent -- today in America owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent. And in your hearts, you will have to determine the morality of that, and the justice of that.
Liberty University is an evangelical school. Not many hippies there. But, as Margaret Talbot noted in this oft-cited New Yorker profile:
Sanders does not seem to prefer talking to people who share his views; because he is not an especially convivial person, he does not require conviviality from others. Sanders relishes the opportunity to enter enemy territory, where he believes that he can find secret allies.
Much to the Clinton camp's consternation, he appears to have found quite a few.