The Strange Coldness of Bernie Sanders

Judy ReardonDemocratic Primary

The first time I saw Bernie Sanders in New Hampshire last year I was struck by the fact that he didn’t work the crowd either when he entered or left the hall. Nor did he describe the plight of any individual human being in his fiery remarks about income inequality. After seeing him in person five times, watching him countless times on TV and reviewing the speeches available on his campaign website, what seems clear is Sanders is strangely indifferent to real people.

Sanders was the keynote speaker at the NH AFL-CIO’s annual Labor Day breakfast last September. As I noted when I wrote about his appearance, “He entered through a back door going directly to the stage rather than enter from the front and walk through the audience. And rather than work the room, Sanders exited quickly after his remarks.”

It was the same story a few weeks later at the NH Democratic Party’s convention. While both Martin O’Malley and Hillary Clinton lingered after their speeches to shake hands and take photos, Sanders left immediately.

At a town hall he held in Warner, NH, Sanders did shake hands for about five minutes. In contrast, at the Clinton and O’Malley events I’ve attended, these two stay and try to meet as many individuals as possible.

And while there is no question Sanders cares about humanity, the lives of individual humans do not appear to move him. If he has heard the stories of people struggling from low incomes, the heroin epidemic or college debt, they don’t make it into his speeches and TV interviews. His proposals and rhetoric are driven by data and theory, not the experiences of real people.

Earlier this week a woman broke down in tears at a Sanders event in Iowa while describing how hard it was to survive on the minimum wage. This emotional moment received a lot of media coverage. When she finished her remarks, Sanders noted that it takes courage to tell a story like hers. That’s all he said about her compelling story, and while she spoke, Sanders stayed fixed at his lectern, not even taking a step to get closer to this sobbing woman.

His message on the campaign trail is striking an emotional chord with the large crowds at his rallies, but the lives of the people in those crowds do not appear to strike an emotional chord within Bernie Sanders.

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