#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...  

Show notes

 

 

#18: The Many Faces of Hillary Clinton

 

In 2004, journalist Bill Moyers interviewed Elizabeth Warren about the financial struggles of the middle class, especially the growing burden of household debt: Between 1990 and 2004, household debt doubled, from 4 trillion to 8 trillion dollars.  

At the time of Moyers’ interview, Warren was not yet a leader of the Progressive movement, not yet a U.S. Senator, and not yet a key player in the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Warren was still teaching at Harvard Law School, and had just published a book called The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Parents are Going Broke.  
 
Warren is her usual articulate and passionate self on Moyers’ show. But the key part of the interview (for me, anyway) was when Warren describes two encounters with Hillary Clinton. The first came in the late 1990s, when Clinton was still the First Lady. The second came a few years later, soon after Hillary had been elected to the U.S. Senate.  

The contrast between these two incarnations of Hillary — well, I think you’ll find it eye-opening, and probably a little disturbing, too. 

 

Show notes

 

 

#17: The Women’s Vote (part 2)

 

In this episode you’ll hear from three people. 

Lyn DeWitt, a longtime friend of mine, is an ardent feminist and a strong supporter of Hillary Clinton. You heard Lyn in Part 1 of this mini-series, and you’ll hear the same clips of Lyn in part 2. 

This time, though, the rebuttal to Lyn will come from her 20-year-old daughter Anna Kelly. She’ll respond to her mother’s arguments about why Hillary should be the Democratic nominee. Anna does a wonderful job of explaining why millennials have found a kindred spirit in a rumpled, 74-year-old democratic socialist from Vermont. 

The third voice in this episode comes from… well, let’s just say a surprise guest. Call her a pundit with decades of political experience — a pundit you’ve never heard from... until now.   

Before you click play, I gotta say this about Anna Kelly. Not only is she bright, articulate, and well-informed — but she also personifies what makes Bernie’s campaign so exciting: Bernie’s ability to draw such loyal support from people who are 50 years younger than he is.  

If millennials like Anna can still hear wisdom from their elders — not just hear it, actually, but embrace it — well, that’s a wonderful thing. It’s also a rejection of an old, tired rallying cry of the baby-boomers in Berkeley, back in the 1960s during the Free Speech Movement. The expression? “Don’t trust anyone over 30.” 

 

 

 

#16: The Women’s Vote (part 1)

 

In this episode (and the next one), we explore the women’s vote, and the gender gap — or lack of one — between Hillary supporters and Bernie believers. 
 
Put another way: I’ll be asking why some women think that putting a woman in the White House is Priority Number One, while other women have decided that gender loyalty matters far less than the candidates’ policy positions.  

You’ll hear from Jenni Siri, one of the co-founders of Women for Bernie Sanders. The group has about 50,000 members on Facebook, a website overflowing with information and resources, and a national network of state chapters all dedicated to Bernie’s campaign.

You’ll also hear from Lyn DeWitt, a longtime friend of mine who is a champion of women’s rights and an ardent supporter of Hillary Clinton. 

In part 2, you’ll hear from Lyn DeWitt’s daughter Anna, who, unlike her mom, is a big Bernie supporter. Anna provides great insights on why some millennial women see the world in a fundamentally different way than their baby-boom mothers. 

But before that mother-daughter face-off, here is Jenni Siri...


 

#15: The Party Decides

 

Is the Democratic National Committee intentionally sidelining Bernie Sanders to prevent him from winning the Democratic nomination?

Or to put it more bluntly: Is the DNC in the tank for Hillary Clinton?

That question has been bouncing around for a while. It popped up over the summer when the DNC announced there would be only six officially sanctioned debates, which means a challenger like Bernie has relatively few opportunities to introduce himself to a national TV audience.

And the timing of the debates has been an issue too. For instance, the third debate was last Saturday — a weekend night, only six days before Christmas. To no one’s surprise, it was the least watched debate of the 2016 election cycle.

Questions about the DNC putting its finger on the scale for Hillary Clinton popped up again last week, when someone leaked a story about the security breach of the DNC’s voter database. Now, I don’t want to rehash all the details of that episode here, but I do want to share a tweet from Jim Webb, who until recently was running for the Democratic nomination. When Webb learned that the Sanders campaign had filed a lawsuit against the DNC over how it had handled the security breach, he tweeted: “Good for Bernie. The DNC is nothing more than an arm for the Clinton campaign.”

There are lots of questions about the DNC that I can’t answer. Questions like: Who at the DNC created the debate schedule? What does it mean for a voter like me to be a member of the DNC? And how can a DNC member influence the actions of the organization which claims to represent me and my party? 

To find out, I contacted Luis Miranda, the Communications Director of the Democratic National Committee. Back in October, I sent Luis a message on Twitter in which I introduced myself and this podcast. I included a link to this site, so he could see that Searching for Bernie is a podcast produced by a Bernie supporter (me). Luis responded within hours, and suggested I contact the DNC Press Office to set up an interview. 

And so began my adventure — six weeks of seemingly endless exchanges with various DNC Press officials who were rather... well, let’s just say it didn’t end on a happy note.

After banging my head on the front door of the DNC for six weeks, I called up Hans Noel. He’s an associate professor in the Government department at Georgetown University, and the co-author of The Party Decides: Presidential Nominations Before and After Reform. Professor Noel does an excellent job of explaining why so many Democratic voters feel disenfranchised by the national organization that (allegedly) represents them:

   

 

#14: Cult of the Entrepreneur (part 2)

 

In this episode, I’ll be sharing part 2 of my interview with John Lee Dumas.

As you may remember from part 1 (Episode #13), John is the host of Entrepreneur on Fire, which is one of the most popular business podcasts on iTunes. It’s also one of the most profitable: John and his partner Kate Erickson are making a fortune running what’s become an online empire that’s built around his podcast about the entrepreneurial life.  In fact, so far this year, John and Kate have a net income of more than $2.7 million dollars, which doesn’t even include December. It’s amazing.   

Now, if you’re wondering why I’d interview a wealthy podcasting guru for a podcast about Bernie Sanders — well, there’s a good reason. John Lee Dumas is just the latest in a long line of self-help coaches that includes guys like Dale Carnegie, Zig Ziglar, Tony Robbins, Seth Godin, Chris Brogan, and too many others to count. And their message bascially is, in Zig Ziglar’s memorable words: If you can dream it, you can achieve it. 

In other words: The only thing stopping you from being successful is... you.  
  
Which means that everything Bernie Sanders says about the System being stacked against the little guy, and about how the government can help make our lives better — all that, in the eyes of people like John Lee Dumas, is total nonsense. 

If Bernie Sanders and his progressive agenda have any chance of victory next year, then the worldview of guys like John Lee Dumas will have to be challenged — and debunked. 

Here’s my small contribution to the cause: 

 

 

 

#13: Cult of the Entrepreneur (part 1)

 

Listen to Bernie Sanders, and you hear, loud and clear, what ails our economy: declining wages, income inequality, the vanishing middle class.

To Bernie, the cause of these problems is simple: Our economy and our political system are rigged against the little guy, who is getting crushed as the top one percent run off with all the money.  

Listen to Republicans, though, and their diagnosis is entirely different. For them, the bogeyman is The Government, which gets in our way, curtails our freedom, and snuffs out America’s entrepreneurial spirit.  

This disagreement, I think, is mostly rooted in a broader question, which is: 

Are the economic problems we face caused by structural weaknesses in our economy? Or are they causeby the character flaws of individuals?

Put another way: Have these problems emerged because things like technology, globalization, and deregulation have fundamentally reshaped our economy? Or are these economic inequalities the natural outcome of a competitive free market that, by design, produces winners and losers — and the losers should just quit whining and suck it up and try harder?

That’s what we explore in this episode, which includes part 1 of my interview with John Lee Dumas, host of the wildly successful podcast Entrepreneur on Fire

John’s skepticism about government activism, his lack of interest in politics, his faith in private enterprise and entrepreneurship — his whole worldview, really — that is what Bernie and his supporters are up against in this election... and beyond. 


 

#12: Bobby Jindal Bashes Immigrants, Then Bows Out

 

Yesterday, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal announced that he was dropping out of the race to become the Republican nominee for president. 

When I heard the news, I thought: Wait! That’s not what Bobby told me he was going to do!  

But I’m getting ahead of myself. 

You see, back in August, my son Caleb and I spent a week in Iowa working for Bernie’s campaign. On our day off, we drove to Des Moines to take in the Iowa State Fair. 

During presidential election years at the Fair, the Des Moines Register runs something called the Soapbox, where candidates can deliver their stump speeches and answer questions from the crowd. 

On the day Caleb and I visited the Fair, Bobby Jindal was on the Soapbox. Here’s a short dispatch:


 

#11: What Do Economists Really Think of Bernie?

 

It’s the economy, stupid.

That phrase was coined in 1992 by James Carville, who was then the campaign strategist for presidential candidate Bill Clinton. But those words could just as easily be the slogan of Bernie’s campaign, too.  

From income inequality to the minimum wage to the vanishing middle class — economics is central to Bernie 2016.   

I majored in economics as an undergraduate, and so I’ve been wondering:  What would my former economics professors say about Bernie’s ideas? How does democratic socialism fit into the (neo)classical economic model that champions the free market? 

I graduated from Wesleyan University way back in 1981. So it came as no surprise that when I looked at the website of Wesleyan’s economics department, almost all the familiar names were gone, except one: Richard Adelstein. 

When I saw his name, two thoughts popped to mind: Professor Adelstein was a very popular teacher when I was at Wesleyan; and I still regret never taking any of his classes.

But then I realized that maybe, 35 years later, I could atone. If I could get him on the phone, he could explain what economists think of Bernie Sanders and I could finally attend a seminar — actually, more of a one-on-one tutorial — with Professor Adelstein. 

And so this episode was born: 

 

Show notes:

 

#10: Should Bernie Get In Touch With His Feelings?

 

Mario Cuomo, the former governor of New York, once said that “you campaign in poetry, you govern in prose.”

Listening to Bernie on the stump, he’s mostly prose. He outlines the issues clearly. He speaks to those issues forcefully. But it’s hard not to think that most of the time, Bernie is angry — and with good reason. Income inequality. Childhood poverty. Citizens United. The list of things to be angry about is pretty long.

But I often wonder if Bernie’s rhetorical style will help him or hurt him in the long run. Will his anger — and his monotone delivery — will they get Bernie where he wants to go? 

And: Will Bernie’s apparent unwillingness to tell personal stories about himself and his parents and his past — the whole politics as personal narrative approach — can Bernie run a political campaign at the national level without publicly getting in touch with his feelings

On the other hand: Is it possible that people are actually relieved that Bernie isn’t talking about himself? Maybe voters are tired to listening to candidates who sound as though they’ve gone through months of media training and coaching on how to talk, how to emote, how to share?

Put another way: Is Bernie violating certain rules about public speaking that are as immutable as the laws of gravity? 

To find out, I consulted a professional — Arabella Macpherson, the founder of Resonate Communications

As a coach for public and corporate clients, Arabella is a big believer in a system called the Process Communication Model (PCM). It’s the brainchild of Dr. Taibi Kahler, a clinical psychologist whose work has been celebrated by none other than former President (and master of faux public emoting) Bill Clinton. 

Arabella lives and works in Sydney, Australia, so she had not heard of Bernie Sanders until I contacted her. And that’s a good thing because I wanted her to assess Bernie’s communication skills with fresh eyes. 

So I asked Arabella to watch a YouTube video of Bernie talking to 20,000 people in Portland, Maine... and to get a sense of what Bernie is like on the stump. Then she joined me on Skype to discuss whether or not Bernie Sanders is — or isn’t — a great communicator. 

 

Show notes