Maureen Dowd: Ripple effect of Bernie Sanders still being felt

The Fighting Soul: On the Road With Bernie Sanders is revealing of this maverick politician

Ari Rabin-Havt could not stop smiling in the winter of 2020. When a reporter asked the deputy campaign manager for Bernie Sanders why he was so happy, back came the reply: “Simple. I work for a 78-year-old Jewish socialist, who had a heart attack a few months ago and has won the popular vote in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada.” With an expletive, he added: “That’s remarkable.”

In The Fighting Soul: On the Road With Bernie Sanders, the former adviser offers an intimate portrait of his cranky boss, writing about everything from Sanders’ famous mittens to his love of picket lines and Motown songs, to his distaste for “the inane droning of cable news commentators”, to his prescient fear that Donald Trump was “nuts” and would upend democracy.

I relish hearing about what Rabin-Havt calls “Bernie’s natural impatience” with the frivolous – pretty much everything except the sweeping changes he wants in the country. Once, in Bloomington, Indiana, the Vermont senator got grouchy because the advance staff left four big bottles of water in his hotel room. “Ari,” he told his aide, “I’m not the president of the United States. I don’t need four bottles of water in my room.” When staffers at Jim Clyburn’s World Famous Fish Fry in South Carolina insisted that all the candidates go onstage in matching Clyburn T-shirts for their speeches, Sanders balked at the goofy suck-up idea.

Before the first debate in Miami during the Democratic primaries in 2019, Joe Biden was standing right behind Sanders as the candidates were having their make-up touched up. “As they were about to go onstage, Biden rubbed Bernie down the full length of his back with his hands,” Rabin-Havt writes. “Barely paying attention, Bernie used his right hand to swat Biden away.” In LA for the second debate, Sanders was stopped on the street by Jeff Katzenberg. The former Disney chairman and DreamWorks chief executive, and a prolific fundraiser and donor, introduced himself. Sanders kept strolling, unimpressed. “Bernie would have been more likely to stop for a teacher, a nurse, or a mechanic,” Rabin-Havt wrote.


I had my own Sanders-swatting moment when I interviewed him during the 2020 primaries on Febuary 14th and asked him what he had gotten his wife, Jane, for Valentine’s Day. He informed me in no uncertain terms that romance with Jane was beside the point; “Medicare for All” was the point!

During that run, Sanders was game for anything as long as it promoted his causes. Rabin-Havt tells about the time the candidate happily FaceTimed with Cardi B, who was wearing a white bathrobe. The rapper had also endorsed him in 2016, sending out an Instagram video in which she instructed her followers to “Vote for daddy Bernie, bitch.”

When Sanders met with Barack Obama at his Georgetown office in 2018 to tell him he was thinking about running for president again, Obama offered this advice: “Bernie, you are an Old Testament prophet – a moral voice for our party giving us guidance. Here is the thing, though, prophets don’t get to be king. Kings have to make choices, prophets don’t. Are you willing to make those choices?”

Rabin-Havt (whose brother, Raphi, worked with me at the New York Times for a spell) wrote: “Obama continued, making the point that to win the Democratic nomination, Bernie would have to widen his appeal and convince the party to back him – which would mean being a different type of politician and a different type of candidate than he wanted to be. Bernie listened to Obama, but it was clear to me he never accepted that premise. He has a fundamental belief that he could lead an uncompromising movement that would challenge those who ran the Democratic Party while also leading that same institution, one he steadfastly refused to join.”

The author sums up with a trenchant point: Sanders may never see “the promised land”, but he did win. “While Bernie Sanders will never be president, his two campaigns have transformed the Democratic Party and this country. Old orthodoxies about government spending and foreign policy have crumbled as a result of the unceasing efforts by an old socialist.”

Minimum wage

Since it turned out that Sanders’ ideas were more popular than many realised, he got Democrats out of their deficit-hawk mode and convinced them that it was okay to spend money to help people. During the early days of the pandemic, even Republican members of Congress realised they needed to shovel money out the door to keep things going. He’s been the champion of the $15 [an hour] minimum wage that his party now almost universally embraces.

As the Prince of Darkness, Mitch McConnell, said last year of Sanders’ influence: “Bernie Sanders is really happy. He may have lost a nomination, but he won the argument over what today’s Democratic Party is – more taxes, more spending, more borrowing.”

That victory may have come at a cost. Republicans, and a shrinking but influential number of moderate Democrats, are attributing the surge of inflation to aggressive government spending. That’s driven down poll numbers for Biden and the Democrats.

If Republicans win in November, as seems likely, Democratic ambitions will shrink, but Sanders’ imprint on the party is going to be long-lasting. As much as he acted unfazed by the Berniemania of the campaign, he secretly liked it. Once, driving in front of the Capitol, he stopped at a red light, and a bunch of shrieking high school students ran up to the car to take selfies. Sanders chuckled and said to Rabin-Havt: “I’m like Mick Jagger.” If Jagger wore mittens.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.