I need you to stop tone-policing Bernie Sanders

Washington's penchant for civility hides awful truths beneath. I'm glad someone in politics is passionate enough to get mad about it

Benjamin Zinevich
New York
Wednesday 18 September 2019 20:43
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Democratic debate: Bernie Sanders says he is 'fed up with Democrats who're afraid of big ideas'

During last week’s Democratic Debate, Bernie Sanders, one of the handful of frontrunners thus far, was caught with a raspy tone in his voice. His go-to talking points of Medicare-for-All and taxing the millionaires and billionaires were accented in a way which left many joking about handing the US Senator a cough drop. Some critics even went so far as to suggest that this was a symptom of his persistent use of an “outside voice”, regardless of where he actually is. Bernie, they said, really needs to stop yelling.

The topic came up first during the July debate, when Sanders was speaking on the topic of climate change. Presidential hopeful Rep. Tim Ryan, in response to Bernie mentioning how tired he was of hearing Democrats afraid of big ideas, said the Senator “didn’t have to yell”. Misreading it as a breakout moment for Ryan, his campaign managers announced the sale of “You Don’t Have To Yell” bumper stickers after the debate — which were subsequently ridiculed online.

It should be a surprise to no one that the United States government under Trump has verged towards absurdity. Concentration camps with children locked in cages line the border, and right-wing extremists are targeting marginalized communities at a rate unseen in the recent past. The window for action on the climate crisis is closing within the decade, and the current administration is weakening environmental protections for water use.

But even while our planet is faced with existential threats, Washington’s penchant for civility seems to be overpowering the real issues. Perhaps the old-school respectability politics that used to dominate the political arena may make it seem like Sanders’ yelling is unnecessary. Yet when we remember how extreme matters have become, yelling is the only option.

In his polemics against private insurance, the fossil fuel industry, and white supremacy, the outrage that defines Sanders’ words should resonate with all of us. Just this week, at a campaign town-hall in Nevada, a veteran expressed suicidal ideation because he does not have the means to pay the $130,000 of medical debt he has incurred from Huntington's Disease. Shortly after a clip of the exchange went viral, people took to Twitter to share their own #BernieYellsForMe stories.

The reason why Bernie is yelling aside, we should be cautious of how we critique the mannerisms of public figures. In this instance, many Jewish activists have commented that critcizing Sanders for being a loud Jewish man from Brooklyn sounds awfully prejudicial. The belief that Ashkenazi Jews are loud and abrasive plays into a dangerous trope that is ignorant at best and actively antisemitic at worst.

And let’s not forget that we as a nation have become quite accustomed to another loudmouthed politician. Donald Trump has made no effort to change his tone and indeed consistently uses that tone to spout xenophobic hate. Sanders, in his clamorous speeches, calls for uniting the working class and fighting for a progressive agenda that this country has not seen the likes of since the New Deal era. Forgive me if I don’t see how the latter is so offensive.

Ultimately Bernie Sanders will inevitably be caricatured however those inside the corporate-funded beltway wish to portray him, as has been true since his first presidential campaign in 2015. Simultaneously, everyday working people will see the earnestness and anger towards an unjust system and identify with his cause as they have done, and continually propel him towards the top of polls in multiple states.

As Tim Ryan could attest, those who try and police the tone of Sanders only serve to further illuminate Bernie’s message. In reorienting the debate, he has helped not only confront the absurdities of our current society, but offered an alternative world ahead.

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