CINCINNATI — Speaking to a crowd in a Westin Hotel ballroom Friday night, Vermont. Sen. Bernie Sanders closed his remarks — and the four-day National Newspaper Publishers Association Convention — with an unusual pitch for a presidential hopeful: “I’m not here to tell you, ‘Vote for Bernie Sanders; I’m going to solve all the problems.’ It doesn’t work that way.”
Instead, he continued, “change takes place from the bottom on up. When millions of people stand up and say, ‘This ain’t right. We need justice.’”
That coda ended a wide-ranging speech in which Sanders referenced Martin Luther King Jr. and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, characterized Donald Trump as “the most dangerous president in the history of this country” and argued that signature proposals such as ending student loan debt are not truly as radical as critics claim.
“If we had the money to bail out the crooks on Wall Street, we can cancel the debt for that entire generation,” he said. “It’s not a radical idea. Dr. King made a profound statement: ‘In America, we have socialism for the rich, but we have rugged free market capitalism for the poor.’”
(Although the King sermon ostensibly including this quote is not available online, sources including the New York Times have attributed it to the civil rights leader for decades. Sanders favors it in particular.)
With more than a year left until the 2020 Democratic National Convention, at which he hopes to claim his party’s nomination in defiance his 2016 defeat at the same event, Sanders didn’t yet have to narrowly tailor his message to an Ohio audience.
Even if he had, it might not have landed. Although the dinner at which he spoke honored Cincinnati Herald publisher emerita Marjorie Parham, the NNPAC crowd comprised black newspaper publishers and journalists from across the country.
So, instead, Sanders spoke in broad strokes about the nationwide issues he described as most pressing — income inequality, climate change and healthcare — and the need for ordinary people to form grassroots political movements propelling the country toward solutions.
“We have to defeat the worst president in the history of our country, but we, in fact the wealthiest country in the world, will have to transform this nation to create an economy and government that works for all of us and not just for the One Percent,” he said, adding later: “The goal in life is to create community, to bring us together in love and compassion, to understand, in fact, that it is my moral obligation to be concerned about your family, and you have to be concerned about my family.
“As human beings, we’re in this together.”
He also appealed directly to prominent concerns applicable specifically to black communities in America, advocating for criminal justice reform, efforts to end maternal mortality and combat voter suppression through an automatic voter registration program. All three have commanded an increasingly large share of the public’s (and this station’s) attention in since the turn of the century.
“There’s no excuse why maternal death for black women is at the level of third world countries,” Sanders said. “There’s no excuse why we continue a racist criminal justice system. The time is long overdue for justice to come to this country. The time is long overdue for us to create a nation of brotherhood and sisterhood.”
Sanders himself tends to perform well in surveys of black voters, although not as well in recent polls as former vice president and fellow would-be Democratic nominee Joe Biden.
Biden leads the pack in a range of recent polls that quiz Democrats of all races on their presidential preferences, with Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren often trading the second-place spot from poll to poll.
Sanders didn’t mention his intraparty competitors by name Friday night. He kept his insults trained on the man he hopes will be his eventual rival for the presidency and the system he characterized Trump as representing.
"It’s absolutely imperative to defeat the most dangerous president in the history of this country,” he said.