Bernie Sanders responds to attack by ex-Goldman Sachs CEO with glimmer of deadpan humour

A candidate not known for his jocularity seems to be lightening up at last

Andrew Naughtie
Thursday 13 February 2020 18:10
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Bernie Sanders dismisses criticism from former Goldman CEO

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders made a rare foray into deadpan humour on Wednesday as he shrugged off a question about his lack of support on Wall Street.

Told by an interviewer that former Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein had said he might be as divisive as Donald Trump, Sanders responded dryly: “Let me see, a billionaire executive on Wall Street doesn’t like me. I am shocked by that. I’m really shocked.”

Blankfein made his remark in a tweet, in which he also suggested Sanders could be worse for the US than Trump – so bad that he might be the Russians’ chosen candidate.

It’s hardly surprising that Sanders would dismiss Blankfein’s tweet out of hand, but that he would do so in good humour shows he may be finally opening up a comic side he’s rarely displayed in the past.

Politicians don’t laugh at themselves like they once did, and Sanders is no exception. When he began his first run for the presidency in 2015, he was known for being on the serious side, and his stump speeches were hardly renowned for their levity.

Sanders did appear on Saturday Night Live in a sketch with Larry David caricaturing him, but he was mostly given the straight lines over the punchlines.

At the time, some argued that Sanders was starting to embrace his own quietly effective brand of non-comedy. In the Washington Post, reporter Amber Phillips put together a case for Sanders as a master of deadpan, although she acknowledged that rather than carefully constructing a comic persona, he was mostly just being himself.

He seemed to understand this perfectly well, and even riffed on it now and again. At an Iowa rally in January 2016, he told the crowd: “I’m not here to tell you some good jokes … I have a bad sense of humour. It wouldn’t work in any case.”

Four years later, Sanders’ sense of humour is still far from a personal hallmark. And some have pointed out that he’s not only unforthcoming about his own wisecracks but also thin-skinned when it comes to mockery directed at him over his millionaire status or history of outlandish idealism.

Now that Sanders has wind in his sails after winning New Hampshire, however, he seems to be lightening up a little. Given the caustic ridicule and forensic attention he’ll have to endure should he secure the nomination – let alone the presidency – that’s probably wise.

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