I went to see Senator Bernie Sanders last night at the North Charleston Coliseum. I haven’t ever attended a political rally. In fact, the last overtly active political activity I involved myself in was working for the Ron Paul campaign in 2008. It’s not that I’m not interested in politics, because I truly am. It’s more that my introverted nature causes me to shy away from crowd scenes generally, and my cynical nature causes me to cringe at staged and carefully rehearsed lines like, “How are you feeling tonight Charleston?! I can’t hear you…. I said, ‘How are you feeling tonight Charleston?!” The forced applause and mandatory cheering feels as foreign to me as putting on a bow tie.
I prefer flying solo with my politics; writing, discussing, debating, and learning one on one or through that ultimate political vehicle: social media. But last night was different. Last night felt necessary for me. I already knew I aligned very closely with the Senator because I took this fabulous test: I Side With. I went because I wanted to feel it. To get a real sense of the man; his personality, his presence and his ability to truly lead. Some people have a talent for speaking publicly. For addressing a large crowd–in this case something over 3,000 of us–on matters of great import. Others come off as canned, while still others fumble and seem awkwardly out of place. A real leader, and President of the United States is the epitome of a leadership position, has an intangible quality: a charisma and a vibe that leaves one feeling like they’re in the presence of someone important.
The Legislative Branch of government does not always produce quality candidates for the Executive Branch. Lawmaking is a detail oriented business. Amendments, revisions, and the debating of fine print can produce images of tax lawyers in a conference room, poring over reams of paper with reading glasses perched on the end of their noses. Not every Senator or Congressman can make the transition to a leadership position and ultimately, while the President needs to understand the business of making laws, their real role is that of visionary. Setting a course to follow, persuading others that their path is the best one for our immediate future and letting the policy gurus work out the details. Can a man who has spent many years in the bowels of the House and Senate rise above the policy making to instead guide the policy?
I was immediately impressed with his genuineness. Nothing about Bernie Sanders feels put on. He spoke with ease, with passion and with a rare glance at his notes. He comes across as a gentleman, and a man with a control of the facts. Sure, he threw some data around, but he avoided the pitfall of writing specific policy from the stage. I still shake my head when I think of John Kerry’s miserable attempts to explain the intricate strategy of voting for something before he voted against it, or Al Gore on the debate stage talking about a lockbox for Social Security. Nobody wants to hear that from the President. They want to hear something along the lines of what Bernie said: Others want to raise the retirement age, or cut benefits. I’m not going to cut Social Security, I’m going to expand it! We don’t need to hear the actual method for making that happen. If you want to know specifics, you can read them yourself. If you follow the political process at all, you know that anything a candidate for office plans to do will not resemble that original plan if and when it becomes an actual law. A leader leads, and that’s what Bernie is doing.
There were a few moments during his speech where the weight of the issues we face as a continuing experiment in self-governance felt utterly overwhelming. I caught myself dissolving into pessimism as I stood there among the crowd of those optimistically listening to their chosen future leader. But in the end, I saw, heard and felt what I needed to, in order to know that my choice feels right. I don’t know why anyone wants the job of President, nor do I know if the New Yorker turned Vermonter can convince primary voters that being labeled a Socialist isn’t a bad thing, but Bernie Sanders wants the job and I support him.