Bernie Mania Is Real and Powerful

Many in the press have dismissed the enthusiasm out there for Sanders. They would be wise to reconsider.

01.24.16 8:11 PM ET

Outside a middle school auditorium in Hudson, New Hampshire, Friday night several people stood together in the cold, focused intently on a cellphone video held by a young woman with a blue-and-white ‘Sanders 2016’ button pinned to her parka. They were looking at a commercial for their candidate, a 74-year-old socialist from Vermont, Bernie Sanders.

And they were smiling because they felt the 60-second ad was about them. About people working, eating, worrying, gathering, smiling, simply living their lives in a land where change has come quickly and often with unsettling results.

The commercial appeals to the heart and soul of who we really are, a people moved more by hope than hate. A nation where fear of the future is simply foreign to the fiber of the country but has now become part of our politics because we are told over and over by most running for president to be very afraid each day before we ever take to the street.

A Simon and Garfunkel song is heard in the commercial. The song is ‘America’ and as they watched it on the woman’s cellphone they smiled, leaned forward, closer to the phone’s screen and began nodding their heads to the tune as a couple of them hummed along with the music.

“Let us be lovers, we’ll marry our fortunes together

“I’ve got some real estate here in my bag

“Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike

“They’ve all come to look for America

“All come to look for America

“All come to look for America

“All come to look for America

“All come to look for America

Then the young woman put the phone in her parka pocket. A middle-aged man next to her said, “That makes me wanna’ cry.”

“Me too,” a woman added. “I want to be happy about us again. I’m tired of the anger everybody has.”

Inside the auditorium, Bernie Sanders was speaking to a standing-room-only crowd of several hundred. The political pros and many of the pundits claim that Sanders’s lead in New Hampshire comes from a home field advantage because he is from Vermont. Of course, they are wrong.

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Sanders’s has never wavered from his core beliefs across four decades. Now, the cross-currents of culture, politics, endless war, anxiety, frustration, a 2008 economic collapse of markets and confidence have swirled together to present Hillary Clinton with a ghost of 2008: a man, another man, whose time may have simply arrived…for the moment. 

Hudson, New Hampshire, is less than an hour’s drive from Boston. It straddles the border with Massachusetts and driving there takes you past Lowell, where a huge concrete building sits at the intersection of Routes 495 and 3.

A little more than a decade ago—a snap of the finger when measured by history’s clock—Lowell was world headquarters of Wang Labs, one of the leading manufacturers of word processors. And a huge local employer too. It’s now a distant memory, out of business for nearly two decades. 

It represents the loss of one small item, one company, in the hollowing out of the American middle class. That phrase—middle class—can’t even be accurately defined today by most of those running for president. 

Today we seem to measure progress and promise by the emergence, popularity, and reliance on the Internet for almost everything. It saves time, increases production, cuts costs, increases access to information. We have Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Google, My Space, Pinterest, Facebook, SnapChat and oh so much more.

We also have growing numbers of families living paycheck to paycheck. Corporations placing a higher priority on shareholders than workers. Layoffs, buyouts, and dismissals occurring in order to get a bump in the company’s stock price. All of this in a country where in at least one major city, Flint, Michigan, the government can’t even provide its citizens with one of the most basic elements of all: a glass of clean drinking water. 

And that, Flint, is an old story, a tale of demographics, of class, race, and people with no clout whose phone calls are ignored when the complaint is about schools, drugs on the corner, no Little League field, minimal trash collection, gunfire on the block or, pathetically, poisoned drinking water. These are people who have no PAC and exist in a political system where money is swallowed whole by candidates at every level making the poor and the marginalized seem invisible.

Hillary Clinton is a determined, focused, competent candidate of intelligence and accomplishment. But there is a wariness people seem to have about her and an emotional distance she creates, no doubt unintentionally, between her and the voters she needs to get where she’s always wanted to go.

So it’s Bernie Sanders, at 74, voice carrying just an edge of anger, hands used as an exclamation point on sentences he’s been streaming for years, who is attracting crowds filled with energy and emotion. There is very little curiosity among those who were in the auditorium Friday night, only commitment to a cause. That’s not an endorsement—merely eyesight and observation.

And when the rally ended, people pushed out into the cold night, some holding hands, some others holding children, all of them holding a stake in what happens in New Hampshire in two weeks. Then they were off in the night, counting the cars on the Everett Turnpike after they came to look for America and saw Bernie Sanders.