Sanders woos Iowans with progressive agenda, nostalgic oratory

Sanders woos Iowans with progressive agenda, nostalgic oratory

By Quint Forgey

At a chockfull Bernie Sanders town hall event in Knoxville, Iowa Thursday morning, 66-year-old Scott Evans beamed as he stood near the back of Northstar Elementary School’s gymnasium.

Evans, who works in water quality services but moonlights as a local organizer for Sanders in his free time, looked on as the Democratic presidential contender opined on income inequality and a campaign finance system that he said favors the socioeconomic elite.

It wasn’t Evans’ first time hearing calls for a “political revolution.” He was a child of the ’60s who campaigned for Sen. Robert Kennedy in his youth – a time when he might have started wearing the ponytail hairstyle he still sports.

Evans believes Sanders is equipped to handle America’s challenges in 2016 and beyond. But he said the candidate reminds him of the orators and outsiders he rallied around as a young man.

That’s all part of Sanders’ broad appeal, Evans said. He sees the senator as both a candidate of the nation’s future and a relic of its counterculture past.

“I do not represent the billionaire class. I do not represent corporate America. And we do not want their money,” Sanders said in his stump speech’s first big applause line. “There has been a class warfare being waged for the past 30 years. And unfortunately, the wrong class is winning that warfare.”

Elaine Jordan, 65, sat in the front row alongside several friends, including a local champion in the cultivation of goat cheese and a public school teacher. Jordan, who comes from a family of small farmers and has lived in Iowa her whole life, caucused for Hillary Clinton in 2008. Nevertheless, she recalls how a young Illinois senator named Barack Obama inspired residents of her state eight years ago.

“I feel the same energy with this crowd as I did with Obama,” she said.

Roughly halfway through the event, Sanders shed his jacket, loosened his tie and took testimony from audience members who said they were wronged by a system they perceive as broken.

A man in his mid-30s who retired from the Army nearly a decade ago with “no skills whatsoever” said he couldn’t even land a job at his local Dollar General. A retired union worker’s voice began to crack when he spoke out on youth unemployment.

“We don’t make anything anymore,” he lamented.

Other questions focused not on radical Islam or international relations, but on social issues such as criminal justice reform, better mental health treatment and greater arts funding.

Sanders also spent several minutes discussing climate change, saying his hometown of Burlington, Vermont was 65 degrees Fahrenheit when he visited on Christmas Eve.

“That’s really important to me,” said Diana Calhoun on the threat of global warming. “He’s one of the only politicians who has that on his plate.”

Calhoun’s son, Chase, on winter break from film school in Los Angeles, accompanied his mother to the Sanders town hall.

Chase is a self-described socialist – a word he said fewer Americans should fear as they learn more about Sanders’ candidacy.

“It’s in more people’s best interest than they think it is,” he said.

Sanders identifies as a Democratic Socialist, and has been characterized as a radical out of step with America’s founding values by Republicans and some Democrats throughout campaign season.

To his supporters, however, Sanders couldn’t be any more ordinary.

“He flies coach. I mean, come on,” said Jordan, the local grower. “You just can’t not love this man.”