By Alex Jenson
Cory Booker and Bernie Sanders have a lot in common. They are both Democratic or in Sander’s case pseudo democratic Senators from the Northeast. They share the same floor in the same office building, and by the end of the year, they will likely both have had experience campaigning for president. However, their approach to Iowa students could not be more different. Senator Booker stormed into the room, cracking jokes and electrifying the audience, driving the conversation forward. Senator Sanders was far more measured. He was serious from the moment he entered the room, and asked the student group questions about what they thought, and the solutions they were considering to solve the problems of the day. These differences and others like them could be influential in the direction of the country’s future. The biggest source of these differences, aside from the character of the two men, are age and ambition. This will be a qualitative review by a novice politico.
When we met Senator C. Booker, his energy was remarkable. He blew into the room, his first remark a pun on Drake the rapper. His smile stretched from ear to ear, and he looked to each student and asked their name, including the one who attempted to park himself in a discrete corner out of his line of sight (me). Introductions made, he broke the ice by telling some of his personal story, from the time he whiffed a question on his Rhodes Scholarship interview to how civil rights activists helped his family purchase a home in a good neighborhood. After that, he asked about what issues concerned each of us, and for clarification where necessary. He bonded with our vegan members over their shared peculiarity, and took selfies and videos with every single member of the group. On an intuitive level, it seemed as if he was definitely trying to win over the students. He never seemed to lack authenticity, but I suspect that before he joined us, he took a moment to put his game/campaign face on and made a conscious decision to be a human dynamo. As the conversation continued, he hit his stride, becoming more and more comfortable and seemingly more genuine. The stories he told us were well chosen to emphasize both his humanity and his charity towards others. His positive message was very well received by his intended audience. When his time was up and his staffer called him for a vote, he delayed as much as he could to finish his personal narrative and take photos for social media.
Compared to Booker, Senator Sanders was a near complete reversal. When Sanders entered the room, he moved to the head of the table, sat down, and began asking us about the limitations of our imaginations. He questioned us about issues like the environment and healthcare, and unlike Booker, the students were encouraged to drive the conversation. As we answered his questions, he challenged us to think beyond the normal solutions and to reject a false dichotomy of potential solutions. He often framed a given issue as a conflict between the elites (corporations or the hyper wealthy) and the in-group. Finally, at the end of his scheduled time, Sanders took a group photo, and then quietly left.
There is a substantial difference here. The causes are also somewhat apparent. Firstly, ambition. Senator Booker will likely announce his candidacy this presidential cycle, and as such, must compete in the influential Iowa Caucus. Attracting support from Iowa students could be a key factor in strengthening his bid for the nomination. Coming away from meeting Senator Sanders, however, I feel that he does not want to run this cycle, though he might if he feels it necessary. Sanders has already brought his big issues such as the $15 minimum wage and Medicare-for-all into serious considerations of the Democratic Party. As long as his policies remain important/ influential aspects of the Democratic platform, he likely has no incentive to subject himself to the nightmare of a campaign. He has already won. Secondly, age. Sanders is 77 years old, and while in excellent physical condition for his age, lacks the vitality of the 49-year-old Booker, who seems to possess an enormous amount of energy, at least over the short term. Similarly, while Booker is not quite a member of the smartphone generation, he is more personally adept at the medium than Sanders. He is extremely active in using social media to increase his profile. During the photo session at the end of our meeting, it is significant to note that he used the phones of the various Iowa students to take selfies, rather than having a staffer do so. This is likely because when the various students share that they had a selfie with Cory Booker, the impact on his name and brand recognition specifically in Iowa among a strongly democratic leaning demographic will likely be superior to what it would have been had he just posted it using his own social media platforms.
This leads to the prediction that Senator Sanders will not run for the democratic nomination this cycle, as long as there is a strong contender who will maintain the visibility of his progressive ideals. The same cannot be said for Cory Booker. He will likely be spending a lot of time in Iowa this upcoming cycle.