During his Friday night campaign rally in Iowa City, Sen. Bernie Sanders sounded almost exactly the same as he did during the first Iowa speech of his 2020 campaign at the Iowa Memorial Union in March.
“What our campaign is about, and what the future of this country is about, is bringing our people together — black and white and Latino, Native American, Asian American, gay and straight, people born in this country, immigrants who came to this country,” the Vermont senator boomed in his Brooklyn-accented voice.
Working together, he told the people gathered on the Ped Mall on a chilly evening, they could enact “an agenda that works for all of us, not just the 1 percent.”
There was no sign on Friday of any loss of energy since that first Iowa speech 271 days earlier, despite the fact the 78-year-old Democrat had emergency surgery to implant two arterial stents on Oct. 1, following a heart attack.
He spoke at the same volume, and with the same conviction in his voice, as he has throughout this campaign. He also delivered the same speech that he has delivered, with very minor variations, throughout this campaign.
Politicians, of course, regularly rely on the same basic speech during a campaign — their stump speech — and one of the things that makes Sanders stand out as a presidential candidate is how remarkably consistent he has been on major issues during his decades-long career. But the Sanders campaign had promoted this speech as something different than a standard campaign stop.
The speech was part of the senator’s two-day End Corporate Greed tour in Iowa, to highlight his recently released “Corporate Accountability and Democracy” plan. Every table in the rally’s media area had a sign taped to it, in case members of traveling press corps had trouble remembering what city they were in or why they were there: “You are in Iowa City, IA, for a Rally to End Corporate Greed with Sen. Bernie Sanders on Friday, Oct. 25.”
The senator, however, never discussed his plan, or even mentioned it. In fact, he never said the phrase “end corporate greed” at any point during his almost 30-minute-long speech.
The new plan would substantially change how large American corporations operate, requiring them to add workers to their board of directors, creating a system of corporate governance similar to the one in Germany.
Sanders didn’t even mention increasing enforcement of antitrust laws, a smaller part of the new plan and something he has discussed during previous Iowa appearances. Instead, his speech followed a pattern he has relied on since March.
“People say that my agenda is radical, but it is not,” Sanders said. “It is actually an agenda that working families all over this country want. But I will tell you what is radical.”
Sanders then went on to list a series of actions he considers truly radical.
- When “Trump tries to throw 32 million Americans off the health care they have”
- Drug companies charging Americans the highest prices in the world for medicine
- The 2017 tax cuts passed by Republicans in Congress
- Amazon.com not paying any federal income tax in 2018
Sanders then listed things he said aren’t radical.
- A minimum wage of $15 an hour
- Requiring women and men to be paid equally for the doing the same job
- Making it easier for workers to join a union
- Making public colleges and universities tuition-free
- Canceling student loan debt
- Making health care a human right
- Taking large-scale action to fight climate change
Sanders also said as president he would reform the criminal justice system and the immigration system. He pledged to fight for gun control (“President Bernie Sanders is not going to be intimidated by the NRA.”) and uphold the reproductive rights of women (“I believe that a woman’s right to control her own body is a constitutional right.”)
Sanders concluded his speech, as he typically does, by invoking the power of average people to create tremendous social change when they work together — “One percent is strong, 99 percent is a lot stronger.” — but when he tried to add some local Iowa City color to his remarks, he struck a false note.
“A hundred years ago — not a long time from a historical perspective — a hundred years ago, women in America did not have the right to vote,” Sanders said. “They weren’t going to the University of Iowa.”
Actually, women were going to the University of Iowa in 1919, and had been since UI opened its doors in 1855. The university had 124 students when it started offering classes, and 41 of them were women.
It’s the sort of mistake that might be expected from a politician visiting the state for the first time, not one who has campaigned extensively in Iowa during two presidential election cycles.
(On a slightly more pedantic note, by the time Congress passed the 19th Amendment in June 1919, women had already secured voting rights in 15 of the then-48 states. A politician like Sanders, who campaigns on importance of people fighting entrenched political power, might be expected to acknowledge the work of those state-level suffragettes.)
The one new element at the Friday rally was the speaker who introduced Sanders, Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker. Many of the 2020 presidential campaigns have sought Walker’s support, but until this week he hadn’t openly endorsed any candidate. On Friday night, Walker made it clear which candidate he supports.
“I applaud all of the women and men for running,” he said. “They have endeavored to be of service to this country at a time of great need.”
“Now, while they are all qualified and capable, Sen. Bernie Sanders is the best choice to lead America.”
“For starters, Bernie Sanders is the most progressive candidate in the race, and only bold progressivism can save us from the Trumpian nightmare that has laid waste to this country,” Walker continued. “Now is not the time for incrementalism, or for our candidates to be Republican-lite. We cannot afford to pursue the same stale policy programs of yesteryear, because when we do, we betray millions of Americans who are desperately hoping their politicians will find courage in this moment “
In September, Walker endorsed Kimberly Graham in the race for the U.S. Senate for the same reason he endorsed Sanders, saying it was important to “support the most progressive candidate in the race,” even though the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee was already backing a different candidate. (During his remarks, Walker gave a shout-out to Graham, who was in the audience at the rally. Sanders didn’t mention her.)
“Bernie Sanders is courage and conviction personified, and we find testaments of this courage throughout his career,” Walker said on Friday. “Whether it was standing up for the rights of the LGBTQ community in the ’70s, or calling out the harm of money in politics throughout much of the last decade, his voice has been a consistent one. And this is why I trust him to do the right thing, when the political winds are blowing hard against the sails.”
Walker called Sanders a dreamer, and said “this nation deserves politicians who can dream big.”
He concluded his introduction of Sanders by summarizing the senator’s own call for change.
“We need to reimagine America’s promise, and we will only get there with a bold vision — one that points us in the direction of what is possible, and not in the way of what fearful politicians tell us might be politically feasible,” Walker said. “We need a revolution in this country. And we need you all to be a part of it.”
“Because when we dream, when we fight, we will win.”