An Open Letter to Bernie Sanders and His Campaign

By Eric Zuesse

After the first serious debate on the Democratic Presidential side, 51% said Hillary won; 28% said Bernie did; 6% said O’Malley did.

Hillary won by a substantial margin, nearly two-to-one.

Bernie has gotten as far as he is going to go by merely preaching to the choir; he’s going to need to change his strategy now, to win the majority-support of America’s Democratic voters. Energizing the base will no longer suffice, for the rest of this campaign. Here is how he can do that — 

First: he must wake up to the reality that his base is far smaller than Hillary’s; and, so, he needs immediately to change his issues-focus.

As this shows, the American people just don’t make the connection between “The income gap between the wealthiest Americans and the rest of the country” and “Middle and working class Americans not being able to get ahead financially.” Even Democratic voters don’t. (They don’t recognize that the steeper the wealth-inequality is, the less economic opportunity the general public will have.) All age-groups, and all income-groups, don’t. (However, the youngest are the most-likely to make the connection.) The few people who do are already your supporters: you’ve been directing your entire campaign to them. Either you will now change your campaign’s strategy, as regards issues-focus, or else you won’t have even a chance to win (short of some major scandal about Hillary, or etc. — in other words: very bad luck for her).

Overwhelmingly, Americans agree with the statement: “As long as I am able to provide the life I want for myself and my family, it doesn’t matter if others are substantially wealthier than I.” 64% choose that option over the mere 36% who instead prefer: “The concentration of wealth and privilege within the top 1 percent of American society is a problem.” It’s not even “a problem,” as far as the American electorate see things.

In a listing of 12 major and much-debated “issues” to American voters, “Income gap between the rich and poor” rated #10, and “Global warming” rated dead-last, 12th.

In response to the question, “In thinking about the gap between the rich and everyone else, do you think it would be …,” 46% chose “Better for the government to implement policies designed to shrink the gap,” and 47% chose “Better for the government to stand aside and let the market operate freely even if the gap gets wider.” (Note that “even if the gap gets wider.” It’s pretty extreme, but that’s the current American ideology: It’s not yours.)

Hillary Clinton’s strategy is based upon a recognition of these realities. Yours is not; but you did a terrific job of getting those few quickly onboard your campaign.

You need to adapt to the current phase of this campaign: the middle portion. You’re stuck in the first portion (winning a base, which you’ve done, though it’s small), while Hillary’s campaign is heading straight for the gold.

You have been concentrating on the issues that are at the very bottom (other than “Abortion,” which was #11) of the 12 listed. Your campaign-focus needs to change immediately, or else you will lose. The crisis in your campaign now is as simple, and as stark, as that.

Second, and finally: It might not be too late to start doing what you need to do: You’ve got to be focusing the entire remainder of your campaign on the “issues” that are felt by voters to be the most important ones. In order, these are: #1: Economy. #2: Social Security and Medicare. #3: Terrorism. #4: Health care. #5: Education. #6: Gun policy. #7: Illegal immigration. #8: Taxes. #9: Foreign policy.

Hillary is mauling you on them, by stringing together platitudes. You are now going to have to break those platitudes — challenge them forcefully and never let up against them; do with them what you have thus far been doing about the “unimportant” issues where you have been building up your small base.

Her platitudes focus mainly on the issues that Americans care the most about. You’ve got to cite the numbers which show that her positions on them will be disastrous (which they would be — you’ve got to make that case, but you haven’t). And you’ve got to state clearly how those same numbers show that your positions on them will be far more likely to improve the situation.

To a large extent, the way you can do this will begin by your showing that her platitudes are platitudes, which ignore what the real source of the given problem actually is.

You need to go beyond your base, but you have given no signal, as of yet, that you are willing to do this, that you are willing to do what you must do in order to win the Democratic nomination.

It might not be too late to start phase two of your campaign.


Eric Zuesse 


Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of  They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of  CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.

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