About an hour after Saturday night’s Bernie Sanders Debate Watch party kicked off in Brooklyn Heights, a woman named Daniela Gioseffi enlightened me about the Vermont senator: “Dwight Eisenhower, a moderate republican, was more of a socialist than Bernie Sanders.”
We were chatting during an early commercial break when Gioseffi, a local Bernie evangelist, paraphrased a line Sanders first delivered in a May interview when he playfully compared himself to “radical socialist Dwight D. Eisenhower,” under whom the marginal tax rate was 92 percent.
He joked about the Republican president again when defending his lofty tax plans during last month’s debate (“I’m no more socialist than Eisenhower.”)
Now Gioseffi tried it out rather earnestly, adding that the “major media” have made ‘socialism’ into a dirty word.
Gioseffi—who mentioned on several different occasions that she had authored 16 books, including editing the American Book Award-winning anthology Women on War—was among some 15 people cheering on the self-identifying “Democratic Socialist” candidate in the back room of a Brooklyn sports bar.
Here, 61-year-old Robert Dannin, another local Sanders supporter, had organized one of many Bernie Debate Watch parties around the country.
“To me, Bernie Sanders is the best opportunity for a peaceful revolution in this country since Martin Luther King Jr.,” Dannin told me. “He doesn’t look or talk like him, but the objectives are the same. Social and economic equality. You can’t have one without the other.”
For Gioseffi, America was now nothing more than an “oligarchical corporatocracy,” and climate change a graver danger to humanity than ISIS. There was, she warned, “little time to save habitable earth.”
The Bernie fans assembled were a relatively tame crowd of academics and creative types ranging from age 23 to 75—Gioseffi, at 75, being the oldest and least tame.
They drank wine and snacked on chips and guacamole; shook their heads when Hillary Clinton rambled on; giggled uncomfortably at former governor Martin O’Malley’s repeated reminders that he, too, is running for the nomination.
Hearty laughs were reserved for Bernie’s charming gruffness (“My name was invoked!”), and a round of guffaws for his “No, I think they won’t” reply when asked if corporate America will like him as president.
They were relieved that Datagate was over and done with just minutes after the debate started—a few minutes too long, frankly, given that they thought the debacle was clearly an attempt attempt by DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz to sabotage Sanders.
“I have no evidence, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this was all a dirty trick,” said Josie Dannin, Robert’s wife. “Come on, the day before the debate?”
Gioseffi called Schultz a “a stupid, ignorant woman” and a “destroyer of Democrats,” not just Sanders, because she only scheduled three debates. “She’s doing a terrible thing for the truth!”
Nothing fires up Bernie fans quite like the truth. Hillary Clinton has proven herself to be a consummate politician and a preternatural liar, they say, but Bernie Sanders speaks the truth.
That was the refrain among young Sanders supporters I met at an early Bernie party in July, recited invariably along with his promises for “free” everything. He doesn’t spout bullshit! His policies haven’t changed since the ’70s! He has nothing to hide! Those who didn’t know much, if anything, about his policies championed his authenticity with even greater gusto.
Indeed, many of these ardent Berners were voting for him solely because he’s unpolished and speaks his mind instead of pandering to the mainstream.
Donald Trump’s unfiltered bluster was crucial to his early appeal as well—and, terrifyingly enough, has become ever more appealing to those with a soft spot for fascists.
Most Bernie fans would never admit to the parallel between the two campaigns, though one young man in Brooklyn Heights bravely went there.
“The policies that the establishment is supporting are not what the country wants, and you see that on both sides of the aisle,” said Ben Miller, 24, who works as a video editor for a health-care company. “The establishment is supporting things that are causing problems for the country, like the banks that are too big to fail.”
The end of the debate was subsumed by the beginning of an internal one at the Bernie Party in Brooklyn.
Gioseffi was telling me again how the “major media” were smearing Bernie for being a socialist, and Mark Weller, a fortysomething math teacher at a public high school in Manhattan, mounted a gentle counterpoint.
“I totally agree with his theories, but I think his political presentation could use some work. I think he should have spent more time differentiating himself from your average socialist. The major media may not want to listen—”
“The major media isn’t giving him any time,” Gioseffi interrupted. “They have given him eight minutes compared to hours they’ve given Trump!”
Weller said: “We disagree on something, is that OK?”
"Well, you’re blaming Bernie!” Gioseffi fired back. Nothing was OK. “The major media does not cover Bernie. That’s a fact!”
Weller, reading glasses perched on his forehead, demurred: “I actually think that that the thrust of his message about economic inequality is clearly the most important issue of the day and the issue that distinguishes him from other Democrats.
“However, I think he could broaden and deepen his critique of inequality beyond just the big banks. It’s the whole financial industry. It’s the upper echelons of corporate America.”
Gioseffi was not to be soothed. “The major media has deliberately censored him and won’t let him on. Because the major media is controlled by the corporations and the big banks and the fossil fuel industry!”
And so it went on, Gioseffi voluble in her opinion that Bernie Sanders was the best candidate that ever ran for president. It seemed a faith as dogged and resolute as Sanders himself.