Opinion: Bernie still represents a new generation of voters, age and health aside

Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks during a presidential candidates forum
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) speaks during a presidential candidates forum at the 2019 NABJ Annual Convention in Miami.
(Joe Raedle / Getty Images)

Rest easy, Bernie Sanders supporters (and, you know, any other human with a conscience): Everyone’s favorite bespectacled democratic socialist appears to be doing just fine after a heart-related health scare Tuesday night while campaigning in Las Vegas.

The senator from Vermont had two stents inserted — a routine procedure not at all exclusive to 78-year-old men who live life traveling from stump to stump across the country — and his team canceled future events until further notice. But all early signs point to a speedy recovery and a full return to the race.

That’s a good news for everyone. Yes, even those in the Democratic Party who find Sanders’ politics far left of where they themselves might comfortably stand. Get well soon, Bernie Sanders. This race needs you back in full form.


Then again, even if he were to drop out tomorrow, it’s possible he has already won.

Just think about it: In 2016 he was an outsider and an insurgent who gained an unexpected amount of traction against the presumptive nominee.

Now, “Medicare for all” is the healthcare policy each other candidate is defending themselves against. Why don’t you support Medicare for all? Stances on free college tuition and the question of student debt have become important platform planks. Elizabeth Warren, arguably the new front-runner of the race, is practically a policy facsimile. Sanders even had a proxy character on HBO’s “Succession” (much to the chagrin of one Logan Roy)!

If Bernie’s ultimate goal was to shift the terms of debate, he has done so. Somehow, some way, a 70-year-old independent became the face of a new generation of Democratic politics.

But that’s old news. So what’s the new news?

Well, despite being the progressive leader horse, his campaign has mostly stalled. His polling numbers have dipped into the lower teens, and most analysts have declared him a solid — albeit distant— third. And yet, he led third-quarter fundraising marks among Democrats with a reported roughly $25 million and still has an incredibly enthused base. In the parlance of NBA nerds, Sanders might be considered what’s known as a “regular season team”: His efforts will bear fruit right now — with a still steady drip of decent polling and impressive fundraising — but come the playoffs (or, in this case, the primaries) it’ll be clear he may not be a true contender.

In the meantime, everyone benefits from his presence.

His performances on the debate stages have been steady, if not a bit familiar by now. In the September debate, which finally placed each front-runner side-by-side, Bernie finally got to square off with fellow septuagenarian and primary ideological opponent Joe Biden. The result was mostly a draw, with the viewers getting an uncharacteristically rich discussion (at least as far as 10-person televised debates go) on the nuances and differences between their healthcare policies.

But he also forced Biden into his worst gaffe of the night (yes, even worse than the infamous “record player” ramble). It didn’t get much play as a media soundbite, but this moment between the two should be playing in every Bernie campaign ad right now:


Why are we paying so much for healthcare? Well, this is America, where, apparently, things suck.

And that’s why Bernie has attracted so many young voters. Because he makes that extra leap in logic; this is America, but it doesn’t have to be this way.

Sure, most of his support might drop off as Warren takes off. And, sure, his early front-runner status may never turn into much.

But this is what Bernie represents for a new generation. Even if he needs stents and is losing hair.