Though GOP candidates have dominated much of the news of late, Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders found himself in some hot water after protesters claiming affiliation with the Black Lives Matter movement disrupted his event in Seattle last weekend – his exit followed soon after. Tackling issues of racial equality has tripped up more than a few candidates, but it was Senator Sanders’ reaction that was telling.
The genesis of this confrontation occurred at the yearly Netroots Nation conference last month, where both Sanders and ex-Governor Martin O’Malley were scheduled to speak. Per Vox’s Dara Lind, after being interrupted by Black Lives Matter protestors:
“Sanders was defensive and cranky … saying “Black lives of course matter. But I’ve spent 50 years of my life fighting for civil rights. If you don’t want me to be here, that’s okay.” At other times, he didn’t acknowledge the protesters at all and raised his voice to be heard over them (which some attendees saw as Sanders “shouting down” the protesters).
“Sanders didn’t ignore the issue entirely. But to some observers, it felt like Sanders “stuck to his script” about economic injustice without giving racial injustice its due.”
Being President is a high stress job in a pressure cooker environment where very little goes as planned. Part of what it takes to be a leader is poise and flexibility.
My Dare We Say co-host, media strategist Shawna Vercher, states this is one of the pitfalls of the national press paying more attention to Sanders: “Part of what separates the top tier candidates from the rest of the field is their ability to handle the unexpected. If Sanders continues to get flustered when things go off-script, it’s a sign of not being ready for national prime time. Someone needs to prep him better and explain that he is no longer in control of this machine.”
As well, Senator Sanders found out the hard way (twice) that pushing a one size fits all or “trickle-down” populism will not do the trick. Specifics about criminal justice reform, gender equality, clarifying his previous controversial statements about immigration and his troubling record on gun legislation will have to be addressed if Sanders is serious about putting forth a comprehensive national platform. While he is making some inroads in this regard, his obstacles are well illustrated in a Politico article by Bill Scher, Bernie Sanders, Progressive Enemy #1:
Sanders is forced to grapple with the various strands of the progressive movement in ways he hadn’t before because he decided to enter the presidential arena. A senator can pick and choose his issues more easily than a presidential candidate. While a traditional candidate succeeds by knowing when to cater to a party’s political base and when to keep it at arm’s length, a movement candidate doesn’t have that luxury. All that complicates the progressive objective of influencing the party Establishment.
Do you think Senator Sanders could have handled himself better? Watch and weigh in on our latest episode of Dare We Say.