Sanders redux

Nevadans turn out for candidate

Candidate Bernie Sanders stirred the crowd he drew in downtown Reno.

Candidate Bernie Sanders stirred the crowd he drew in downtown Reno.


Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders drew a large crowd in downtown Reno on June 29, a repeat of his previous visits to the city.

Since his first campaign appearance in the city in August 2015, Sanders’ political position has changed substantially. Back then, he was regarded by the party organization as something of an intruder whose policy positions were not the Democratic leadership’s view of how to win elections.

In the ensuing four years, the party rank and file has—to the consternation of Democratic strategists—moved closer to his policy positions. During the Trump years, Sanders has consistently polled as the most popular figure with Democratic voters, and Democratic candidates like Jacky Rosen and Catherine Cortez Masto jumped at the chance to appear with him in Nevada.

In last week’s appearance, Sanders gave the audience what it was expecting, and also touched on matters that he is trying to pull into the mainstream.

“A woman’s body belongs to a woman, not politicians. …This is not a women’s issue, this is an issue for all of us,” he said amid a flurry of state legislative actions on abortion around the nation.

In a city suffering from the effects of manufacturing growth and rising rents, Sanders spoke at length about the need for affordable housing. It’s an issue he has emphasized, tweeting on May 7: “[In] cities all over the country, people can no longer afford to live in the communities where they were born and raised, created memories and built families. We will attack the problem of gentrification and rising rents in America.” In Reno, he linked the housing crunch to the gap between rich and poor.

“The Waltons are the wealthiest family in this country,” he said. “And this family, worth 175 billion, pays its employees wages so low that many are forced to go on food stamps, Medicaid and public housing. And do you know who’s paying for [it]? … Let us put people to work at good wages to build the affordable housing this country needs.”

Sanders also said something unusual for a presidential candidate these days. He talked about Vietnam:

“I will never forget what that war did to our generation. … Some [Vietnam veterans] are sleeping out on the streets today.”

Since Vietnam, the United States has been involved in at least 28 wars, and members of Congress have sometimes learned about presidential military adventures literally by reading about them in the newspapers. It has become known as the “endless war” issue.

During his 2016 campaign, Donald Trump promised to cut military involvements and “little wars” but his policies have been described by This Week magazine as “pretty much exactly the same thing as Bush and Obama” and he is reportedly now considering war against Iran.

Sanders greeted Renoite Kasey Catherine in the crowd.


To make the point further, Sanders referred in Reno to “the horrific war in Yemen.” In April, Sanders led a successful Senate War Powers Act resolution directing an end to “hostilities” abroad in the absence of a “declaration of war or specific statutory authorization,” an effort that would have halted U.S. support for the Saudi-led Yemen war. The White House and the Republican leadership tried to stop it, but it passed with seven GOP senators in support. Trump then vetoed the measure.

For authority for their wars of the past 18 years, presidents have relied on the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force enacted three days after the September 11 tragedies.

Several speakers preceded Sanders.

Churchill County Shoshone Marissa Weaselboy, who is a University of Nevada, Reno student, said, “I am not simply an anthropologist, I am an indigenous anthropologist who is redefining how anthropology can work for indigenous peoples. This is why the free tuition is so important, so others from marginalized groups can do similar work that works to undo damage inflicted on our communities by academics and the institutions of power that backs them.”

In recent weeks, Reno resident Brooke Noble threw a spotlight on actions by some landlords or rental agents when she went public with a 44 percent rent hike she received for her Reno apartment. The flurry of publicity she generated as she made the rounds of television and newspapers (“At this rate,” RN&R, May 9) came after Democratic presidential candidates, hearing complaints in early caucus and primary states, had already begun talking about landlord/tenant laws and affordable housing. On April 23, the issue—not normally a topic of presidential candidates—was elevated by an article in the New York Times (“Renters Are Mad. Presidential Candidates Have Noticed.), whose stories are often picked up and advanced by other media entities. The Sanders campaign contacted Noble to add her to the bill of speakers in Reno. There had been a report that she would talk about renters rights, but she spoke mostly about affordable housing. Her remarks faulted people who treat their houses as investments instead of homes, driving unfavorable trends, including “gentrification and displacement.”

Ben & Jerry’s founder Ben Cohen introduced Sanders, saying, “Before Bernie, I used to be the most famous guy from Vermont.”

No surveys are available of Nevada, but Sanders lost to Hillary Clinton in the state caucuses in 2016. Since then, a considerable portion of his organization has remained loyal to him and are reportedly now influential in the state party structure. If true, it’s a sharp difference from four years ago when the state party accused Sanders delegates of violence at the state party convention, a claim adjudged false by press fact checkers.

While many everyday Democrats may like Sanders, his popularity still rattles many party leaders, who lured former vice president Joe Biden into the race. Biden began his race with a 32-point lead over Sanders, but started the race with a mere tie against Sanders in the first 2020 nominating contest in Iowa. So far, Biden’s national lead has fallen to 19 points, and he is expected to be under attack by all of the Democratic candidates as 2020 draws closer, which is likely to trim his margin further.

In any event, Sanders always seems more comfortable as an insurgent.

Sanders advisor Jeff Weaver, in Reno to advance the candidate’s trip, told the Atlantic Monthly, “He always runs like he’s behind, and he is, because no matter how well he’s doing in the polls, the powers against him are so impressive and have so many resources that he’s always behind.”

The Democratic National Committee has encouraged the discontinuance of caucuses in the nominating process, a course that some Sanders supporters consider another “rigging” of the race because he did so well in those states. But the party also stripped unelected national convention delegates—known as superdelegates—of their votes on the first ballot. Hillary Clinton’s margin of victory over Sanders at the 2016 convention was provided by the superdelegates.

Nevada’s caucuses have been streamlined, so that they are being compared to a party-run primary election instead of the town meeting-style caucuses of the past.

But Sanders’ situation in 2020 is very different from the one-on-one race with Clinton. In 2020, he will face younger versions of himself at a time when Gallup reports than more than a third of voters of all types—Democrats, Republicans and independents—do not want a president older than 70. Much of his platform has been preempted by other candidates except Biden. At least six Democratic presidential candidates support some version of his Medicare-for-all bill. A slightly different cohort of six is supporting taxing the one percent.