#19: Will Bunch & “The Bern Identity”


Over the past eight months or so, I’ve learned a lot about what Bernie Sanders thinks about the economy, health care, campaign finance reform, and lots of other issues. That’s because Bernie is basically an issues guy. He likes talking policy.

But I keep wondering how that’s going to wear with voters over the long term, especially when the public often seems hungry for personality and emotion and story. Call it the politics of personal narrative — a world where a political candidate’s life story becomes the keystone of his or her campaign.  

Problem is, Bernie doesn’t seem to enjoy baring his soul. Whenever he’s pushed into talking about, say, his childhood in Brooklyn, or his parents, or his early days in Vermont — well, you can see Bernie gagging a bit. He hates that stuff.

The good news is, a new e-book fills in many of the blanks in Bernie’s past. It’s called The Bern Identity, and it’s by Will Bunch, a veteran political journalist and a Pulitzer Prize winner who now writes for the Philadelphia Daily News. (Will is also the author of several other books, including Backlash: Right-Wing Radicals, High-Def Hucksters and Paranoid Politics in the Age of Obama, and Tear Down This Myth: How the Reagan Legacy Has Distorted Our Politics and Haunts Our Future.)

Will does a masterful job of telling Bernie’s story — from Sanders’ childhood in Brooklyn to his years at the University of Chicago to Bernie’s early political struggles in Vermont. Will also takes us on the campaign trail to hear Bernie on the stump, to feel the Bern and the vibe at Bernie’s massive rallies, and to meet some of Sanders’ most passionate supporters. 

This blend of reporting from the campaign trail, personal biography, and analysis — it reminds me of Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ‘72, except without the booze, the drugs, and the profanity. 

And yes, I know what you’re thinking: Thompson was fueled by booze, drugs, and profanity. It was central to the whole Fear and Loathing shtick. But that’s another thing that makes the The Bern Identity so impressive: It’s an incisive, well-written, fast-paced, and funny book — and Bunch did it all sober. At least I think he did...  

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