Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders toggled between the serious and the not-so-serious on a California campaign swing Wednesday, dancing a few steps to a “Saturday Night Fever” song on a TV talk show, then denouncing Republicans a while later for “racist attacks against the Mexican people.”
A day after he and Hillary Rodham Clinton dominated the first Democratic presidential debate in Las Vegas, the crusty Vermont senator took his turn at the image-softening custom of the television talk show, chatting with comedian Ellen DeGeneres a few weeks after Clinton did the same.
Boxers or briefs, DeGeneres wanted to know. “Briefs,” the 74-year-old candidate answered a few minutes before his rhythmically challenged rendition of John Travolta’s “Stayin’ Alive” dance steps.
From the Burbank television studio, Sanders dashed to the Avalon Hollywood, a nightclub packed with supporters who cheered point after point of his campaign agenda for more than 45 minutes.
Sanders, who was introduced by comedian Seth MacFarlane, told the crowd that the American people are tired of the media treating politics like a baseball game or soap opera.
“If I were standing here tonight and making some vicious attack against Hillary Clinton or anybody else, it’d be a front-page story,” he said. “But if we talk about why the middle class is disappearing and almost all the income and wealth is going to the top 1% — not a big story.”
A self-described Democratic socialist, Sanders denounced the nation’s “rigged economy, by which the rich get richer, everybody else gets poorer.” He pledged to pay for his expansive social agenda, which includes free education at all public colleges and universities, with new taxes on Wall Street speculation.
“Some of my opponents think this is a real far-out, radical idea,” he said. “It’s really not.”
During Tuesday’s debate, Clinton attacked Sanders’ longtime resistance to gun control measures, but the Hollywood audience applauded his call for consensus on steps to curb mass shootings.
Sanders did not mention any Republican presidential candidates by name, but a spokesman said he was referring to Donald Trump when he hammered them on illegal immigration.
“Yes, people can have differences of opinion on immigration, but it is not acceptable to stoop to racist attacks against the Mexican people,” Sanders said.
Justin Zachary, 37, an actor who lives in the Hollywood Hills, said he and his wife, Susanna, support Sanders because he “speaks the truth.”
“I like the idea of real change,” Zachary said.
On “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” which will air Thursday, Sanders strutted onstage in a business suit to “Disco Inferno,” a 1970s tune with the refrain, “burn, baby burn.”
Asked his preferred karaoke song, he said it was the one with “John Travolta walking down the street” in “Saturday Night Fever,” but couldn’t remember the name until DeGeneres reminded him it was “Stayin’ Alive.”
She also asked whether he’d ever been in handcuffs. “Yes,” he said. After a pause, he said he assumed she meant to ask whether police had ever arrested him.
“Well no, not necessarily,” DeGeneres joked.
“When I was young, I was involved in a civil rights demonstration, and I was arrested,” Sanders said.
“All right,” she said. “Let’s call it a civil rights demonstration.”