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Many presidential candidates try their hardest to create viral moments. Bernie Sanders has an uncanny ability to create viral moments that happened decades ago.
One of the most interesting trends of both Sen. Sanders’ (I-Vt.) 2016 primary run and his nascent 2020 campaign is that old video footage of him has a tendency to go viral. Voters of all stripes have a fascination with videos of Bernie sharing his views on healthcare, poverty, foreign policy, and socialism from decades ago.
It seems not a week goes by when some video from Bernie’s past surfaces and garners thousands of faves, retweets, and comments.
The videos are not just discovered by his supporters. Archival clips are being dug up by members of the left, the right, and center, and the way they are received varies greatly depending on your ideological point of view. These clips of the 77 year-old socialist discussing socialist principles in his younger days serve as a kind of ideological mirror, reflecting back the views and opinions of the beholder.
This is largely because of their astonishing ideological consistency. For the most part, Bernie says almost the exact same things about major issues today that he was saying in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, as he worked his way from Mayor of Burlington, Vermont to U.S. senator and presidential frontrunner.
On any given day on Twitter, you can find decades-old videos of Bernie defending positions that did not become mainstream until recently dating back decades.
Here is a 1995 defense of gay servicemen and women.
In 1992, he called for a steep reduction in military spending.
In a 1992 press conference @BernieSanders states he wants to reduce military spending by 50 PERCENT over a 4-yr period to pay down the deficit and rebuild the American infrastructure. pic.twitter.com/mRr9GYCfwU— m. mendoza ferrer (@mgranville1) February 25, 2019
During a 1988 call-in show, he argued for universal healthcare.
...or 1988 for that matter. https://t.co/AX1dsYsRx5— Toby Record (@MrRecord) November 19, 2017
In this montage of Bernie speeches spanning thirty years, he covers a number of issues, and there’s remarkable consistency on all of them, including poverty, student debt, criminal justice, and of course, the one percent.
As predictably as these videos surface, you will find Bernie fans admiring his ideological consistency with each new viral clip.
digging through 30-year old video footage to find interviews where bernie sanders says the same things he says now doesn't seem like a good hobby imo— flglmn (@flglmn) January 30, 2019
What talkers on TV fail to see is that no matter how many so-called progressives run in the Dem primary non of them are as trusted on the issues as @BernieSanders is bcs they don’t have his 40 yrs of consistency. That’s not something u get running tv ads, it’s specific to Bernie.— Andrew Emanuel 🌈 (@AndyBillions89) February 27, 2019
You can also find Bernie supporters referencing the videos as evidence that attacks on Sanders accusing him of sexism and racism are unfounded, and that, in fact, he has been a progressive leader in a number of areas for decades.
Explain how Bernie's entire platform is a dogwhistle when he's saying the exact same things he said when he endorsed Jesse Jackson in 88?https://t.co/Di8CtYPzj9— Berning For the Common Good (@LeniDiamond) February 26, 2019
The only criticisms leftists have of these videos seems to be that they wish Sanders had retained all of his radical public positions from the 70s and 80s. In particular, he publicly praised socialist and communist leaders around the world back then. He even encouraged Burlington to adopt a sister city in Nicaragua in the 80s. Now he has been a bit more reluctant when it comes to foreign policy, particularly in Venezuela and Palestine.
They wish the more aggressively socialist 80s version of the senator were running for president, a sentiment that leftist podcasters like Chapo Trap House and The Trillbillies and a number of Twitter users have expressed in recent weeks.
I see those & they sound pretty good. But also two days ago he went on MSNBC and pointed to FDRs Economic Bill of Rights & the Scandinavian welfare state as his models. Maybe he was more radical in the 80s but what he is arguing for today is not socialismhttps://t.co/8r85Lnj7gq— LeftData 🔥 (@LeftData) February 25, 2019
🚨Uncovered video🚨@BernieSanders in 1985 praising the Communist Castro regime in Cuba and admitting on camera that he traveled to Nicaragua to advise the Ortega regime on how to successfully fight the United States. pic.twitter.com/qYtpvbVvCS— Reagan Battalion (@ReaganBattalion) February 20, 2019
Though these videos are a hit among Bernie’s fans, conservative groups and account, like The Reagan Battalion, have attempted to use vintage Bernie videos as smears, particularly those endorsements of prominent global socialist leaders from the 70s and 80s.
In a video widely shared on the right, Sanders said, “You may recall way back in 1961 [the American military] invaded Cuba. And everybody was totally convinced that Castro was the worst guy in the world. All the Cuban people were going to rise up in rebellion against Fidel Castro. They had forgotten that he educated their kids, gave them healthcare, totally transformed their society.”
During this same clip, he called Nicaraguan leftists leaders, including Daniel Ortega ( the Sandinista leader whose right-wing opponents Reagan tried to fund, leading to the Iran-Contra Scandal) “impressive.” In another video, Sanders criticized media figures for identifying Ortega as “communist” and “Marxist,” but not “democratically elected” (which he was).
If you look at many of the comments on videos like this one, however, you’ll see glowing remarks from leftists inspired by Sanders’ opposition to American empire and ideological consistency.
Wow, so he went to Cuba and found things out for himself rather than swallow government propaganda? Weird— American Propagandist (@ArmyStrang) February 20, 2019
Cool!— it is O B E R G S Z N (@rockiesVSconnor) February 20, 2019
This is not to say that @ReaganBattalion and other right-wing accounts have not been effective in their attempt to drum up animosity towards Sanders among their base.
The tweets were not “ratioed,” but have garnered thousands of likes and retweets from right-wingers. The tactic of bringing up old, radical Bernie clips has even been employed by conservative news behemoth Fox News on numerous occasions.
Vintage Bernie videos haven’t just been used by his progressive allies and his right-wing detractors. Last month, a video began circulating of Bernie singing Woodie Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” shirtless during a trip to the USSR, and it turns out that video was shared by supporters of Bernie’s opponents in the Democratic primary.
BREAKING: @SenSanders like you’ve never seen him!!— m. mendoza ferrer (@mgranville1) January 28, 2019
Bernie and Jane on their honeymoon in Russia singing “This land is Your Land” with their Russian comrades!!
Trigger Warning: Bernie is sitting at a table shirtless in his briefs. So are most of the rest of the men... pic.twitter.com/2DPyDY2WV0
The video went viral online, and once reporters started looking into why, they discovered that Twitter user @TopRopeTravis had been largely responsible for the viral lift. It turns out that @TopRopeTravis, real name Travis Justin, is part of a group encouraging Beto O’Rourke to run for president: he directs veteran outreach for a “Draft Beto 2020.”
Justin shared this tweet after M. Mendoza Ferrer, @mgranville1, perhaps Twitter’s most prolific anti-Bernie archivist, discovered and shared the post. Ferrer identifies as a “progressive democrat” and often retweets accounts associated with liberal groups like Pod Save America and The Center for American Progress. She has praised candidates like Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CLIF.) and Julian Castro though she has not yet decided who she will support for president.
The Daily Dot reached out to both Justin and Ferrer for additional comment. While Justin did not respond, Ferrer told The Daily Dot, “I believe people’s records are more important than their rhetoric and for some reason the mainstream media never seems to actually research Bernie’s long and problematic career in and out of office.”
It appears that the thing that leftists love about these videos is the same thing that conservatives hate, and that centrists and liberals aim use to their advantage in the Democratic primary: consistency.
Often, American politicians shift with the political wind. Just think of how many politicians on the left side of the aisle have slid towards supporting Medicare for All and the Green New Deal as polling has moved in favor of these proposals. Hillary Clinton and many other Democrats famously evolved on same-sex marriage. On the right, you can look at so-called “Never Trump” politicians who have moved towards supporting the president’s policies.
Bernie provides a sharp contrast to politics as usual, and this appeals to (often younger) voters disenchanted with the political system. This quality that progressives find admirable is disliked by Sanders’ political opponents. His ideological consistency over decades is seen by conservatives as a clear admission that he is their enemy. For liberals, his repetition over the decades is a sign that he would not be as pragmatic or flexible a chief executives as his Democratic primary opponents.
Bernie is nothing if not consistent, but that consistency draws reactions that are all over the political map.
Brenden Gallagher is a politics reporter and cultural commentator. His work has been published by Motherboard, Complex, and VH1. He’s the co-founder of Beer Money Films, an indie production company. Based in Los Angeles, he works in television drama as a writers assistant.