Everywhere But the White House: Bernie, the Viral Hit

Liz Foster ’22

Bits and Pieces Editor

“People will put Bernie Sanders anywhere but the White House,” tweeted seemingly half of the Twitter-verse following President Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20. Some joked that the inauguration was being live-tweeted like an award show, with users conjuring up memes within seconds of even the most mundane moments on the big day. Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont who attempted a run for president during both the 2016 and 2020 election cycles, became the definitive star of the event.

The current Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee drew all eyes to him as he plopped down in a folding chair, arms crossed, with a grumpy stare, a Burton jacket, and a giant set of mittens. The fluffy mittens had been a part of Bernie’s image throughout the past few years and were given to him by a Vermonter named Jen Ellis in the wake of Sanders’ loss to Hillary Clinton in 2016.  Twitter took off with the grumpy old man image, spawning countless memes that ruled the internet for a handful of days before the joke was exhausted. Legitimate news publications like the Washington Post and the Boston Globe covered the meme, with the latter asking, “is anyone more memeable than Bernie Sanders?”

That Bernie Sanders stole the show at the inauguration of the candidate to whom he lost speaks volumes about his public image. Despite his status as an independent who identifies as a democratic-socialist, Sanders caucuses with the Democratic party and ran as a Democrat during both of his presidential campaigns. Bernie has become the sweetheart of American politics. Though some chide him as a money-stealing socialist with unrealistic ideas and an eagerness to “waste” government spending, many people, even those across the political aisle, commend Sanders as a politician truly for the people.

His image blowing up across the internet led him to sell merchandise of the photo, raising almost $2,000,000 that was spread across a variety of Vermont based charities and community action agencies. In a moment of stardom centered on his very image, Bernie managed to sidestep profit in favor of charity and kindness. He successfully maintained the slogan of “Not me, us” that carried him so close to the presidential nomination in 2020. 

The problem with Bernie’s massive hold on the internet is that it fails in the swamp. One of his key positions is the need for an increased federal minimum wage–it currently sits at $7.25 per hour. Assuming one works forty hours per week, the average person earning $7.25 an hour is bringing in approximately $1,160 a month. Rent costs a monthly average of $700 to $1,200 throughout the United States. You can do the math. The current minimum wage is unsustainable.

Photoshopped memes of Sanders sitting on the Friends couch or next to Forrest Gump do nothing for the countless citizens in desperate need of financial support. It’s frustrating to watch the Budget Committee Chairman soak in the limelight when the causes he champions remain neglected by many of his peers. Redditors may have put Bernie on the moon, but centrist party members like Joe Manchin threaten to turn his platform into the Challenger

Now, it’s Congress’ turn to bring Bernie Sanders to center stage. A trending topic is not enough. In November, I wrote on the progressive movement’s future in the wake of Joe Biden’s nomination. Today, in March, I don’t know where my faith in the movement stands. Americans on both sides of the political spectrum are in favor of legislation such as monthly “child allowance” checks for low-income families. People want help from their government and are realizing both parties are failing–a realization that heavily influences Sanders’ platform. He offers proposals for relief that provide necessary aid to the people of the United States.

For example, he is a consistent and key supporter of the “Fight for 15” movement, a proposal that was scrapped in the recent stimulus relief bill as center-leaning Democrats hoped to bring Republican votes across the aisle. Not a single Republican senator voted for the bill. This attempt to appeal to more conservative politicians, and inherently conservative American voters, was yet another failure of the Democratic Party’s promises. However, the majority of the bill’s contents that made it through both the House and Senate were, at least partially, Sanders’ work. He’s become what The Nation called “half an insider and half an outsider,” with a tangible impact, though he continues to face backlash. 

Watching centrist Democrats win is frustrating for voters who put their memes where their mouths are and made it out to vote for Bernie in the 2016 and 2020 cycles. However, the pervasive disenfranchisement rampant throughout the country’s voting system is also to blame. Ultimately, this responsibility falls on a legislative body that opposes the “radical” ideas that appeal to a wide range of Americans. Giving a politician social media clout means nothing when his colleagues place roadblock after roadblock in front of his plans. The retweets speak for themselves, it’s time to put Bernie Sanders on the front page of the Capitol.

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