On October 1st, while taking questions from a crowd in Las Vegas, Senator Bernie Sanders did something unusual for those of us who have been following his rallies and town halls for many months now: he asked for a chair and did most of the Q & A while seated. At the time, none of those watching knew how bad a sign this was.
It turned out that Senator Sanders had a mild heart attack that day and, as usual, the way his campaign handled the news was the subject of widespread mainstream media criticism. Some outlets even complained that early on, campaign staffers had reported that the candidate had not had a heart attack, even though they rectified the mistake within a couple of days.
In retrospect, doing three, four and sometimes five events a day, much more than any other candidate in the Democratic primary race, was a more rigorous schedule than even a U.S. president would face in office under normal circumstances (let alone the mornings spent mainly tweeting and watching Fox News the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue has become known for).
In typical Sanders fashion, the Vermont senator was able to transform a very real personal crisis into a reason to continue championing his signature issue on the campaign trail.
Shortly after his release from hospital, Sanders appeared in a campaign video entitled ‘We Will Make History’, where he passionately articulated how, while recovering, his thoughts turned to the millions of his fellow citizens who lack health insurance, saying, “So what happens if somebody had no health insurance who felt a pain in his or her chest or felt really sick and said to themselves, ‘Do I really want to go to the doctor or the hospital because I don’t have tens of thousands of dollars to pay for the medical bills that I’m going to incur.”
“How many people are in that position? How many people have died because they don’t get to the doctor, the hospital, when they should? And it made me feel even more strongly, the need for us to continue our efforts to end this dysfunctional and cruel healthcare system which leaves so many people uninsured, causes bankruptcy, lowers credit scores for people who owe medical debt, it is an insane, wasteful, bureaucratic system based on the greed of the health care industry.”
Sanders’ campaign’s strategy of merging the old method of speaking to and shaking hands with as many voters as possible with a frankly revolutionary use of new media platforms is really smart, but surrogates should probably be picking up some of the slack on the trail to ensure the candidate is ready for bigger platforms like the CNN/New York Times debate that took place this past Tuesday.
Many felt that the 4th Democratic debate would be make or break for the Vermont senator and after watching it, he not only looked and sounded better than he did in the last debate in Houston on September 12th, he seemed eager to continue campaigning.
While the current front runner, Elizabeth Warren, refused to admit that Medicare for All will mean increased taxes for the U.S. middle class and was repeatedly called out for it by the other, less progressive candidates, Sanders earned some praise for being honest in saying, “At the end of the day, the overwhelming majority of people will save money on their health care bills. But I do think it is appropriate to acknowledge that taxes will go up. They’re going to go up significantly for the wealthy. And for virtually everybody, the tax increase they pay will be substantially less — substantially less than what they were paying for premiums and out-of-pocket expansions.”
It’s hard to believe that most Americans with private insurance would be unwilling to accept a small increase in their taxes while no longer needing to shell out money for overpriced plans and co-pays. Even union members with good plans would see increased power in collective bargaining under a universal healthcare system like that laid out by the Vermont senator and Sanders managed to hammer this home without appearing somewhat disingenuous as Senator Warren did in refusing to admit that Medicare for All will mean slight increases in taxes across the board.
Although he spoke less than many candidates, including, at least it seemed while watching it, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar, the Minnesota senator who always insists that incrementalism is the only way forward, Sanders won the debate by finally separating himself from everyone else on the stage including Warren (although this opinion was not shared by most in the media analysis that followed it).
He also showed his wry sense of humor when former Vice President Joe Biden was talking about Russian leader Vladimir Putin and pointing in his direction, interjecting, “You’re suggesting I’m Vladimir Putin here?”
This was one of the few times the crowd in Westerville, Ohio laughed loudly over the more than two hours of the debate.
Answering the question of whether the existence of billionaires is a policy failure, Sanders went further than anyone else on stage and is worth quoting at length, “When you have a half-a-million Americans sleeping out on the street today, when you have 87 people — 87 million people uninsured or underinsured, when you’ve got hundreds of thousands of kids who cannot afford to go to college, and millions struggling with the oppressive burden of student debt, and then you also have three people owning more wealth than the bottom half of American society, that is a moral and economic outrage.”
One worry that some had, that Sanders is unwilling to go on the attack, was dispelled when he took Joe Biden’s legs out from under him late in the debate, facing him while saying, “Joe, you talked about working with Republicans and getting things done. But you know what you also got done? And I say this as a good friend. You got the disastrous war in Iraq done. You got a bankruptcy bill, which is hurting middle-class families all over this country. You got trade agreements, like NAFTA and PNTR, with China done, which have cost us 4 million jobs.”
After being asked and responding well to a question about his health, Senator Sanders mentioned a surprise guest for an upcoming rally in Queensbridge Park, NYC and we soon found out via the Washington Post that this would be Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is set to endorse him this weekend. Two other first term progressive congresswomen, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib also endorsed the senator, with the former appearing in a video where she talks about the influence Sanders had on her own choice to run for Congress.
October was beginning to look like a very bad month for Senator Sanders, with the health issue coming just after his campaign had announced yet another record quarter of fundraising from the small donors he has built a movement from. There is little doubt that the U.S. establishment press will continue to write the Vermont senator off but he now has the endorsement of the voices that are the progressive future of the Democratic party and a newfound vigor as he continues his run for the Democratic nomination for president and pushes the party to the left.
You can read a transcript of the debate here.