Bernie Sanders’ “America”
Sometimes, less is more.
Bernie Sanders unveiled his new television commercial today, which is targeted towards voters in Iowa. I just saw it for the first time. That state will be holding the first party caucuses, now less than two weeks away.
The ad is a major diversion both style and substance from what we’re used to seeing from Sanders’ campaign. Until now, Sanders has mostly deadpanned a deeply serious, some might even say scholarly approach to the major issues, which reveals an unwavering sense of personal conviction. Typically, his campaign speeches are packed with mind-numbing percentages and lots of statistics — which is probably something we need to know and hear — but also frankly, which is not exactly an inspiring vision for the types of voters who just want to feel good about their future. Indeed, Sanders seems to have resisted the notion of “being sold” to the electorate, an unorthodox strategy which likely accounts for his continuing surge in the polls which show he’s now ahead of rival Hillary Clinton in both Iowa and New Hampshire. He also refuses to “go negative.”
That said, Sanders is now expanding his wings with what appears to be a much better national campaign organization and a top-notch media team. He certainly lacked this sophistication when he seemed inconsequential as a candidate. Given his national standing which continues to rise, Hillary Clinton’s perceived “baggage,” combined with what amounts to political chaos happening within Republican ranks, there’s mounting evidence suggesting he could win. Faced with that surprising prospect, Sanders is now picking up broader support and has attracted some very smart political advisers.
Consider this latest campaign ad, which includes a familiar chorus from the 1968 Simon and Garfunkel song, “America.” There’s no narrative. No specific issues are addressed. It’s just music. The ad is powerful because of its simplicity. Less is more. Reminiscent of Ronald Reagan’s “It’s Morning in America Again” (1984), one of the most effective political ads in history, Sanders is now hitting up on familiar themes likely to appeal to more casual voters. This demographic, which has largely become disenfranchised and remains mostly non-political, is utterly essential to any candidate who hopes to win not just his or her party’s nomination, but the general election coming next fall. The bottom line is — many Americans just want to “feel good” about the candidate who they vote for. Never mind the issues. It’s really that simple when it comes to politics at the national level.
In an age of rampant cynicism and where negative attack ads often do prove effective, it’s refreshing to see what is very traditional message appealing to our greater sense of community, as well as to good old-fashioned American patriotism. It’s been a very long time since progressives managed to win the hearts and minds of simple flag-waving Americans who faithfully work their jobs, play softball on weekends, and drive a Chevrolet. With this new approach in the campaign, Sanders could be on to something much bigger than many of us realize.
If and when Sanders connects with the American heartland, then it’s really “game on.” Face it. The next presidential race won’t be won on college campuses nor at wine bars, among liberals where Sanders tends to be popular. It’s going to be won (or lost) in hardware stores and coffee shops.
As the classic song goes, “They’ve all come to look for America.” Indeed, we continue searching. Bernie Sanders might be the best chance we all have to actually finding it.