Can Bernie Bash Obama’s Record and Still Win Black Votes? 

Sanders never calls the president out by name, but the Vermont senator’s words and actions demonstrate that he’s running against Obama’s economic legacy.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) speaks while flanked by African-American religious and civic leaders after a meeting at the Freddie Gray Youth Empowerment Center on Dec. 8, 2015, in Baltimore.
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) speaks while flanked by African-American religious and civic leaders after a meeting at the Freddie Gray Youth Empowerment Center on Dec. 8, 2015, in Baltimore. Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has been out on the campaign trail for months, loudly telling voters about all the not-so-hot aspects of the current state of the U.S. economy—an economy that the Obama administration has touted as strong.

Going against the administration’s many claims of an economic comeback, Sanders is calling the country’s economic system “rigged” and plagued by poverty, all the while claiming that a Sanders presidency would be a “course correction.”  

Yes, Sanders dings the GOP along the way, but day after day on the stump, he’s spotlighting a litany of depressing statistics on U.S. poverty, high black youth unemployment, income inequality and unaffordable higher education. 

These are not the talking points of the Obama administration.  

“When you have millions of people trying to get by on 10, 9, 11 dollars an hour, you and I know no one can make it on those low wages,” Sanders said in Iowa. “We are going to create an economy that works for working families and not just the 1 percent.”

“He’s speaking our language,” said Congressional Black Caucus Chairman G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.). Butterfield, who has endorsed Hillary Clinton, was on his way into the CBC’s weekly meeting on Capitol Hill when he spoke with The Root.

When asked whether he thought Sanders’ critique was a broadside attack on President Obama’s legacy, Butterfield emphatically said that he didn’t think the criticism was directed at the president. “It’s just political discourse,” he said, smiling.  

But there are clearly some feathers being ruffled. 

Sanders made Union Theological Seminary professor Cornel West, a prominent Obama critic, an introductory speaker at his rallies, and his appearance didn’t go unnoticed by Obama loyalists. 

“Why is Sanders campaigning in Iowa with Cornel West, one of Obama’s biggest critics, when Obama has a 90% approval among IA Dems?” tweeted former Obama senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer the day before the Iowa caucuses. 

“Sanders closing with Cornel West and embracing idea of Buyer’s Remorse with @POTUS. Be honest then Senator—run firmly against Obama record,” tweeted President Obama’s 2008 campaign manager David Plouffe the same day.   

In 2011 West called the president “a black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs and a black puppet of corporate plutocrats.” That particularly brutal critique lines up with what Sanders has said about billionaires and big-bank CEOs escaping prosecution after the subprime-mortgage crisis—something the U.S. Department of Justice has taken loads of flak over.

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