Bernie Heard the Criticism. His New Ad Is Optimistic, Inspiring—and Diverse.
Slate.com By Josh Voorhees Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. Jan. 26 2016 4:27 PM
The Bernie Sanders campaign is out with Part 2 of its closing statement in Iowa, a television commercial that picks up where last week’s much-discussed Simon and Garfunkel–scored “America” spot left off. The new 60-second ad stands out for two chief reasons: its unbridled optimism and its diversity.
“There are those who say we cannot defeat a corrupt political system and fix a rigged economy, but I believe we need to lift our vision above the obstacles in place and look to the American horizon,” Sanders says, before ticking off his wish list that includes universal health care and higher education, equal pay for women, a living wage for all, and “an America where after a lifetime of labor, there is time for rest and grandchildren.”
By choosing to continue to go big on progressive promises, the Sanders team is leaning into the main attack coming from the Clinton campaign in the final days before the Iowa caucus—that the idealistic democratic socialist is not pragmatic enough to be an effective president. (Or, as Hillary suggested on Monday night, Bernie is too much poetry and not enough prose.) Sanders believes his version of hope and change will propel him to victory in Iowa much like Barack Obama’s did eight years ago, and this ad suggests he has no plans to set that script aside with only six days to go until the caucus.
Still, while the new spot doesn’t address Hillary’s complaints that Bernie is making promises he can’t keep, it does include a not-so-subtle response to the criticism that came his way following his last ad, which some observers dinged for disproportionately featuring white supporters. (David Brock, a notoriously aggressive Clinton supporter, went as far as to suggest that “it seems black lives don't matter much to Bernie Sanders.”) This new ad gives noticeably more screen time to people of color than that the last one did, while also abandoning the folk rock soundtrack from the 1960s that seemed tailor made to give white baby boomers goose bumps.
Taken together, the ads could be seen as a microcosm of Bernie's ongoing—and not always successful—efforts to balance his economy-first-last-and-always message with the identity politics that feature heavily in present-day Democratic discourse. We saw something similar this past summer in Sanders’ response to the Black Lives Matter protests at his campaign stops. At first, he appeared ill-equipped to engage in the conversation, retreating instead to more familiar income inequality territory. But, eventually, he reshaped his message. Shortly after the first major protest, for instance, Sanders started placing a greater emphasis on racial justice and hired a young black woman who has been involved in the criminal justice reform movement as his national spokeswoman. The question is whether he’s changing fast enough to be able to win over the black voters who represent Clinton’s electoral firewall in South Carolina and beyond.