Bernie Sanders, a gleaming idealist

Bernie Sanders was happily rallied around by a crowd of devoted supporters when he announced his run last Tuesday. His messages resonate with many left-leaning Americans who are angry with the Clintons and afraid of the Republicans.

Mr. Sanders announced his run last Tuesday, May 26, in Burlington, Vermont.


Mr. Sanders speaks his heart out – his larynx out. He believes in his revolutionary message and he goes all out to make the audience live with it. But carried away by his feelings, he exerts his throat so hard that he achieves a raucous, coarse voice [listen].

Outraged by inequality and injustice, he shows his will to sweep privileges away with intensity: he shouts. His voice reaches 83 decibels, the noise of a diesel truck running 40 miles per hour, 50 feet away. But he’s plunged into passion, and he won’t cut back on emotion.

His long and frequent pauses also point out to his emotional engagement with what he says. Consider the following paragraph [listen]:

“And if we are going to bring people together (pause) we need a simple (pause) straightforward (pause) progressive agenda (pause) which speaks to the needs (pause) of the American people (pause) and provides us with a vision (pause) of a very different America (pause). And what is that agenda? Let me briefly (pause) tell you what I think (pause). The agenda begins with jobs (pause) jobs (pause) and more jobs.”

From a total of 28 seconds, the Democratic candidate keeps silent eight – 29% of the time. Speakers able to remain silent in front of an audience cast their self-confidence and their standing by the messages they’re conveying. The result? Listeners trust them and are ready to follow them.

As an additional perk of pausing, Mr. Sanders effectively emphasizes every word followed by a silence: see for example “together,” “vision,” “very different America,” or “jobs”.


Bernie Sanders starts off his announcement at very high level, and he’ll try to keep it there till the end: he doesn’t consider fatigue, so he doesn’t ration his energy. He’s fueled by the power of his ideas, he might think. The problem is even the most powerful minds belong to bodies, and human bodies, eventually, tire up. So, toward the second half of his speech, his voice becomes weaker, and his articulation, slower.

He’s lost stamina.

And that’s the difference between an idealist and a strategist – the latter would never lose stamina. Like long-distance runners, strategists thoroughly plan the tactics that will make their goals materialize: they evaluate the distance, set milestones and calculate the pace they need for every specific part of the race.

Idealists, on the other hand, overlook the details because what’s important for them is the big picture – the new America, for Bernie Sanders. And the material steps to take? He’ll figure that out when the time comes.


He has a vision. He clearly sees where, what and how America should be. But he only talks big ideas and general causes. And, by pursuing the one-size-fits-all example, he ends up being abstract.

The expressions middle-class, medium income, real unemployment, or legislation pepper his message. But most listeners want stories instead of concepts. They want to hear how that woman that makes nine dollars an hour needs two jobs and the help of her sister to pay for the health coverage her asthmatic daughter and celiac son need, while her partner has been in the job hunt for months.

Big ideas are good for a “Yeah!,” a couple of “Woohoo!” and three “That’s it!” But speakers who really connect with the audience are those who aim at people’s emotions with stories of other people, citizens, brothers, daughters, policewomen, salesmen.

Mr. Sanders, on the contrary, told only one story – near the end of the speech –, and it was about himself. That’s a big mistake: as the saying goes, “it’s not about you, it’s about them.”

Without a human, emotional connection, supporters will eventually tire up and lose devotion.

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