"EVERY POLL INDICATES THE AMERICAN PEOPLE DO NOT SUPPORT THAT IDEOLOGY." He said it in all caps pic.twitter.com/JCX7aw4rHGIt got asked three different ways from a couple different angles, but there's not a definite answer yet from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders on if, or how, he's running for president.
— John Deeth (@johndeeth) February 19, 2015
But no politician visits Iowa by accident, and his "reading" at Iowa City's Prairie Lights was just the first of three events tonight in the People's Republic of Johnson County, sure to be ground zero of any Sanders campaign.
One questioner asked if Sanders would run as a third party candidate if the presidential race were between Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush, and another urged Sanders to run as a Democrat. A third rejected electoral politics entirely and urges, instead, "militant action."
Sanders, in turn, embraced all three approaches.While he pivoted the "militant action" question into a discussion of college costs, he also noted the successes of social movements from the civil rights era through marriage equality, "and my state went first."
"One might think in this whole country there are more than two families..." he said of the hypothetical Hillary-Jeb race, the sentence left unfinished by audience laughter.
The third party argument is risky - the math of the 2000 presidential race probably set the cause of an independent party of the left back several generation, as left Democrats are especially gun-shy of "another Nader." Sanders is well aware of this and has mentioned it in the past.
Sanders did not mention that aspect tonight, but noted that it would easier to get on the ballot and participate in debates as a Democrat. "It would take a lot of effort to run as independent and I have to consider that," he said.
Sanders reviewed the litany of his own electoral record, which started with a series of single-digit percentages on third party tickets in the 1970s, followed by a ten vote win for mayor of Burlington in 1981. "I'm not very smart, but I am persistent. Persistence is important. Things don't change overnight."
After a couple more independent losses, he was elected to the US House as an independent in 1990 and to the Senate in 2006, to become (as noted in the introduction) the longest serving independent in congressional history.
(Sanders and Vermont Democrats have an understanding, and he runs with their support.)
The personal history was unusual for Sanders (a national reporter seated next to me noted that), and was a change from his October appearance at the Johnson County Democrats Barbecue, when he stuck strictly to issues.
Even more unusually, after going over all the way the 1% Economic Class is Screwing Us All, he paused and noted:
.@SenSanders "My wife says I depress everyone so much I need to pass out tranquilizers at the end."My wife? He has a family? Apparently, as he mentioned later, seven grandkids, too.
— John Deeth (@johndeeth) February 19, 2015
Still, this IS Bernie Sanders, which means issues, issues, issues. The audience, a mix of students and Old Left types, with no elected officials and basically no Democratic Party types, seemed to eat up. (Though in fairness there are two other events, one of which is the annual DVIP soup supper which is a Must Attend for politicians. There are also reports of a private meeting with a selective handful of party activists. I wasn't invited.)
Ostensibly, this was a Live From Prairie Lights reading promoting Sanders' book, "The Speech," a transcript of his December 2010 filibuster of a compromise tax cut bill. "It was easy to write. I just up and talked until I had to go to the bathroom, and that was that." For the record, Sanders' bladder has an 8 1/2 hour life span.
But there was no read from the book, though the content was no doubt similar.
The biggest applause came when Sanders was asked about foreign policy: "I am very worried about US getting sucked into an endless war in the Middle East."
While sanders acknowledges that ISIS is "beyond words in its brutality," a fight with them is a war that the US can "never win." Instead, Sanders said to additional applause, that war will need to be fought by Muslim states in the region. The US and rest of the world should be supportive, but not provide troops.
The bulk of Sanders' discussion, though, focused on big picture economic issues, which all funneled into campaign finance reform.
I've said elsewhere many times that campaigning against the Koch Brothers won't sway Real World voters, but in a room full of Iowa City liberals, it's catnip.
"The Koch Brothers want to eliminate all campaign finance law. Here's your $50 million check," Sanders imagined the oil baron brothers saying to a candidate. "Now I own you."
(I initially mistweeted that as $50, which is really embarrassing.)
"They don't want to raise the minimum wage - they want to eliminate the concept of minimum wage," a stance hinted at by Iowa's junior senator. The mere mention of her name drew scattered hisses, just a few, from the crowd.
In contrast, the mention of climate change gets "hear hear" outbursts from an Iowa City crowd. "It is not a good thing to reject science, said Sanders. "In medical research we trust science and doctors, who not on climate change? The scientific community is united: it is caused by yooman activity," he added in his native Brooklynese.
I remain skeptical that Sanders will run in the end. HE won't play the Nader role but his lifelong aversion to the words "I am a Democrat" will be problematic in a race for the Democratic Party's nomination. Is this an effort to boost the left of the Dems forces in Iowa, like CCI? Or is it just a progressive version of the Newt Gingrich/Mike Huckabee/Sarah Palin strategy: drop into Iowa to get the presidential buzz going and sell some books?