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On a gorgeous February evening, I was sipping on a glass of white wine with the balcony door flung open when I heard John Lennon’s anthem “Power to the People” blaring through a loudspeaker in the distance.
I tapped my toes to the catchy tune and wasn’t surprised by the roar of applause that followed. I was surprised when I heard a voice that I’ve long thought sounds like an angry muppet supervillain who would star in a movie about trying to control the lives of Kermit the Frog and crew.
The undulating waves of crowd noise were clear, and I was intrigued enough to put on my shoes and grab my dog. The barking of the voice then acted like the Pied Piper’s pipe calling all the city’s children to a gathering on a public lawn where Beto O’Rourke once—literally—rocked it out with Willie Nelson.
It is curious to me that the news said afterward that the crowd was more than 12,000 strong. Bernie made a big deal about the turn out as well since Super Tuesday is just on the horizon, while cameras close-cropped the supporters that waved blue and white signs around the temporary stage on which he spoke.
So, this was my first lesson.
I am apparently very bad at estimating crowd size, since this one did not look anywhere near that big to me in even the most progressive city in the Lone Star State, unless I included all the walkers who were constantly streaming along the path by Lady Bird Lake, a normal occurrence on a blue sky day in Austin.
Then again, if you saw the scores and scores of people who turned out for Beto when he was running against Ted Cruz, you might conclude crowd sizes aren’t the best indicators of ultimate outcomes of elections, and there were lots of drones buzzing around in the sky, so maybe they could see something I couldn’t?
Regardless, I scanned the expectant faces of the deliberate rally attendees who had clearly shown up to hear the muppet.
Many were young, which is no surprise. This is a college town, and lots of students are feeling the Bern, just as they once talked with great passion about “Beto days ahead” with O’Rourke. Then there were plenty of those older women who move in groups without men and seem to me to make their clothes out of tablecloths. You know what I’m talking about? Those loosely fitting garments with loud patterns that scream their wearers buy wheatgrass by the pound at the local co-op. There were plenty of young families who can’t afford downtown rents, who pushed cute kids in strollers, toddlers holding political signs in their pudgy little fists and excitedly waving them whenever prompted to do so by their parents. There was also a tight knot of Trump supporters holding up a Trump 2020 sign as tall as a scrub oak in the back of all the action, but I’ll get back to them in a minute.
After walking around to do my survey of who was where, I found a place in the grass for me and the hound to just sit and listen. Bernie was saying a lot of … nothing.
To be fair, this is something politicians of all political persuasion do at rallies. They spin together platitudes, talking points, and promises without any real explanations about how these things turn into implementable policies. The muppet is master at this format.
Some highlights: He is going to legalize marijuana in all 50 states by executive order on his first day in office because the War on Drugs is oppressive. He is going to expunge the criminal records of all drug offenders because that’s justice. He is going to outlaw the cash bail system so that the innocent will never again be unduly detained “just because” they’re poor, especially since we all agree the system’s racist. He feels small government senators from Texas should stop talking about government interference with individuals as long as they want to curtail a woman’s right to choose what she wants to do with her own body. He is going to only appoint judges who 100 percent approve of a pro-choice agenda, and he will make Roe v. Wade into law, though I’m not sure exactly what that means in practice. Furthermore, healthcare is a right. Housing is a right. Universal childcare is a right. Higher education is a right. And Wall Street will pay for all of it.
In other words, I heard the standard stump speech Bernie Sanders has been giving for decades, and the people who were there liked a whole lot of it.
Now let me get to the Trump supporters.
I am not really sure how effective going to a Bernie rally in MAGA hats can be when thinking about persuasion, but I had to hand it to them for bravery. I disliked the fact that like some of the unkempt hipstery folk who were pro-Sanders looked too much their part, these people looked like they had driven in from the country in pickup trucks with rifle racks in the back window.
Now, don’t misunderstand me.
I love the country, and I grew up with many a fine person who farms and hunts and wears camo pants unironically. But there was that time when a bunch of the unwashed got “clean for Gene” to make it easier for others to listen to them when they knocked on their doors. I dunno. Those hippies were onto something from which the Trump guys can learn: Know thy audience?
One thing they (mostly) did right while I was there, however, was stand quietly, respectfully, simply waving their Trump signs in protest. I even laughed (internally) at the one big dude who looked like a cowboy of some sort (maybe a rancher?) in faded jeans because he had a sign that said “I want free [expletive],” which was quietly displayed every time Bernie made another empty promise.
Of course, there was also the one Trump guy on his bike who kept zooming through the crowd like a water bug on crack and laughing as maniacally as the Joker to show his disdain for Sanders. He looked to be in his late teens or early twenties, and all he really did was serve as an annoyance for the Bernie supporters who were there to hear their guy and found the biker’s disruptions — rightfully so — rather uncivil. You could see how they felt about him when they looked at him invading their space, riding too close to where they were standing, though they mostly were able to ignore him.
More important, for any curious moderate standing in the crowd — people like me who can’t stand the Marxist garbage Sanders is selling but who also find the Twitter tone so often used by the president to be gross — he was a very poor Trump surrogate.
The whole thing ran less than an hour and I ran into some of my neighbors as the crowd started to disperse. This was probably the most interesting part of the rally to me, as a man who is a member of that very class the muppet wants to eat told me he was thankful Sanders had pulled the Democrats so far to the left in the last few years. He thought he’d vote for Bloomberg in the primary per his feelings about Bernie’s electability, but if he weren’t worried about beating Trump, he’d be “all in” for Sanders because his ideas are “fabulous.”
Keep in mind, this is a nice person, a professional who has done very well in our system, so his ideology is difficult for me to fathom. He doesn’t care at all about the hypocrisy of choosing a billionaire to “buy” votes either because “it’s just about winning.” Trump has done nothing worthwhile in three years, and that man “has to be stopped.”
At least another neighbor was honest enough to say she’d benefitted from the Trump economy, though she wouldn’t vote for him because of her social positions.
As for me, I’ve decided I will vote in the Democratic primary for Amy as long as she’s still standing after South Carolina. I’m not trying to get Donald Trump the “easiest” opponent to beat either. Rather, I’d like the Democratic Party to see enough people casting a ballot for something more moderate to (maybe, possibly, please Lord!) pull that world back to the center, and Amy is the most centrist candidate of the no-one-is-really-a-centrist in this field in 2020.
Of course, I can’t vote for Amy in the general. She’s also made it perfectly clear there is no place at all in her party for a pro-life Catholic. But at least she doesn’t seem to want to put me in a gulag for re-education like the muppet, which gets a shout out from me at the ballot box.
Thinking about the state of politics in the United States at the moment, I did the only thing I could think was reasonable when I walked back into my front door and continued with my evening. I finished that glass of white wine I’d been drinking when I first heard “Power to the People” blaring in the distance, as I wondered if Miss Piggy cared about politics. She’d probably be a Democrat as a single lady, whatever her beloved frog’s arguments for other positions. Maybe a fan of Sanders, which called to my mind Orwell’s Animal Farm as well as the saying “pearls before swine.”
Or perhaps I’m unfairly stereotyping?Published in