Here’s the thing: Sanders is a politician whose power base is derived almost entirely from the people of the state of Vermont, where he is personally known to a surprisingly enormous percentage of voters.
His chief opponents in the race to the White House, meanwhile, derive their power primarily from corporate and financial interests. That doesn’t make them bad people or even bad candidates necessarily, but it’s a fact that the Beltway-media cognoscenti who decide these things make access to money the primary factor in determining whether or not a presidential aspirant is “viable” or “credible.”
The Washington/national press has trained all of us to worry about these questions of financing on behalf of candidates even at such an early stage of a race as this.
In this manner we’re conditioned to believe that the candidate who has the early assent of a handful of executives on Wall Street and in Hollywood and Silicon Valley is the “serious” politician, while the one who is merely the favorite of large numbers of human beings is an irritating novelty act whose only possible goal could be to cut into the numbers of the real players.
Sanders offers an implicit challenge to the current system of national electoral politics. With rare exceptions, campaign season is a time when the backroom favorites of financial interests are marketed to the population. Weighed down by highly regressive policy intentions, these candidates need huge laboratories of focus groups and image consultants to guide them as they grope around for a few lines they can use to sell themselves to regular working people.
Sanders on the other hand has no constituency among the monied crowd. “Billionaires do not flock to my campaign,” he quipped. So what his race is about is the reverse of the usual process: he’ll be marketing the interests of regular people to the gatekeeping Washington press, in the hope that they will give his ideas a fair shot.
It’s a little-known fact, but we reporters could successfully sell Sanders or Elizabeth Warren or any other populist candidate as a serious contender for the White House if we wanted to. Hell, we told Americans it was okay to vote for Barack Obama, a man who moves his lips when he reads.
But the lapdog mentality is deeply ingrained and most Beltway scribes prefer to wait for a signal from above before they agree to take anyone not sitting atop a mountain of cash seriously.
Thus this whole question of “seriousness” – which will dominate coverage of the Sanders campaign – should really be read as a profound indictment of our political system, which is now so openly an oligarchy that any politician who doesn’t have the blessing of the bosses is marginalized before he or she steps into the ring.
I have a confession to make. I kinda sorta made a little edit to that passage. I changed the name “George Bush” to “Barack Obama.”
Way back in February 2007 Barack Obama was still relatively unknown. By any reasonable standard he had no business running for President. He should not have been considered to be a serious candidate. But Rolling Stone ran a feature article about him, calling him “Destiny’s child” and they weren’t referring to the musical group.
(Good luck finding that article now. It’s sorta been purged. I think I have a copy saved somewhere.)
Rolling Stone wasn’t unique. The national media treated Obama as a contender way back in the winter of 2007 while they basically ignored other, more accomplished candidates. The media decided that the 2008 nomination would be between Hillary, Obama and John Edwards. Then suddenly Edwards wasn’t a contender anymore either.
Where else have we seen this?
Chris Christie and Jeb Bush are contenders. Ted Cruz and Scott Walker are not serious candidates. Sarah Palin wasn’t a serious candidate, but they reported on her every move anyway.
If this doesn’t bother you, it should.