I love Bernie. Of course, I do. I’m a Millennial.
Among voters like me who are under 35, Sanders crushes Biden 52 percent to 11 percent. If people my age were the only ones voting, Bernie Sanders would be the next President of the United States. Game, set and match. For all practical purposes, the election would already be over.
The problem for us is that, as of last month, among voters over 65, the inverse is true: Biden wallops Sanders, 28 percent to 4 percent.
Why is that?
I think there’s probably a number of reasons, but when I talk to a lot of the seniors I know, the biggest thing about Bernie that they seem to dislike is his “tone.” The guy’s a hippie with unkempt hair. A bellicose street fighter. When they were suiting up and signing the 30-year mortgages on the suburban houses that a lot of my generation grew up in, Sanders was up in Vermont, saying he wanted a revolution and possibly smoking pot (although, for what it’s worth, he claims he only smoked pot twice).
For a lot of Boomers, their success has come from showing up, day after day, to the same job – working within “the system,” not raging against it. Most Americans over 65 own stock, and a lot of them live, at least partially, off of those investments. Wall Street isn’t just the lifeblood of the super rich. Retirement funds are also how a lot of middle class seniors support themselves, and it can matter a lot to them if the market goes up or down. Above all, for many of the people who grew up amid the cultural upheaval of the sixties, maturity has brought an acceptance of just how futile and dangerous a lot of fringe efforts can be.
So what are we Bernie folks to do?
Almost a third of likely Democratic voters are over 60. We can’t just shrug them off and try to make the loss up among other demographics. The only answer, as the great radical folk singer Joe Hill would say, is: Don’t mourn, organize!
One place to start might be looking at Trump’s 2016 campaign, especially the way in which he used nostalgia to motivate voters. Remember when America was great? His campaign constantly reminds us. It can be again! Lots of people love this sort of message, seniors especially.
But can Sanders tap into this sort of nostalgia?
Here are three ways:
1. Bernie will rebuild trust in American government.
In 1958, 73% of Americans reported that they trusted the government in Washington “always or most of the time.” Today, that number is at an all time low of 17%.
Not everybody agrees with Bernie’s politics, but nobody whom I’ve ever talked to thinks the guy is a lying brown-noser who just spouts off whatever the latest polls say that voters want to hear. Even on healthcare, where many people don’t totally agree with him, he remains the candidate most trusted by Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents.
2. Bernie will work to restore a sense of fairness to our economy.
These days, almost 80% of American workers live paycheck to paycheck, a far cry from the savings that many Boomers were able to accumulate over their careers.
Condemning that loss of opportunity doesn’t have to be seen as extreme. When Trump was elected three years ago, 76% of Democrats said that the U.S. economic system unfairly favors powerful interests. Today that number is above 84%. Raising the minimum wage and taxing the rich won’t only improve things moving forward, measures like that will go a long way toward bringing life in this country back to the way it used to be when the Boomers were growing up.
3. Bernie has an actual solution for getting healthcare back on track.
Today, pretty much everybody, including the vast majority of ardent Trump supporters, agrees that our country’s current healthcare system is a disastrous mess. Last year, an estimated 530,000 American families turned to bankruptcy because of medical issues and bills. Nobody likes watching their friends and neighbors go without basic medical care or rack up massive debts.
It’s a big problem, and for the most part, it’s a new one. When the Boomers were first starting out, it was practically unheard of for a family to go bankrupt over medical bills. In 1970, Americans spent about $355 per capita on healthcare in this country ($1,832 if you adjust for inflation). In 2018, that number was $11,172, six times what it was fifty years ago.
The Affordable Care Act made significant strides in some areas, but in other areas, like medical bankruptcies, things are just as bad as they were before it passed. When it comes to candidates with actual solutions for getting American healthcare back to working as well as it used to, Bernie’s pretty much the only one holding the cards.
In conclusion, even if it isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when millenials like me are asked to describe him, if we want to win over seniors, it’s possible that a lot of them may have to feel that Bernie Sanders is a sane, traditional, old-fashioned, “return to normalcy” candidate.
But that doesn’t mean that we need to choose between being old-fashioned and having principles. As many seniors will eagerly remind you, political leaders in this country used to fight for real things; it’s the corrupting influence of big money, which nobody on any side likes, that changed that.
The way I look at it, it’s today’s status quo that’s insane.
Being honest and having principles like Bernie’s is old-fashioned.