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Bernie Sanders – Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

It’s a sign of what weird times we’re living through that a story which would have topped the news for days just a few weeks ago came and went with more than a whimper, but far less than a bang.

After a year of hard campaigning, his second for the Democratic presidential nomination, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders announced this week he would be suspending his quest for the White House, effectively conceding the nomination to rival Joe Biden.

The news wasn’t entirely surprising, given that every other candidate running for the nomination left the race after Biden’s string of victories that started with South Carolina and continued through Super Tuesday. Given his strong start in places like Iowa and Nevada, Sanders hung in there, participating in the last debate of the primary season – a one-on-one, socially-distanced bout with Biden before no audience. But given that nearly every primary since then has been postponed due to Coronavirus, it’s been hard enough for Biden, the presumptive nominee, to get any notice, much less his remaining rival.

In a speech that announced the end of his drive for the presidency, Sanders demonstrated the principles outlined last time regarding arguments about the past (forensic arguments), the present (demonstrative arguments) and the future (deliberative ones), with a concession heavy on the latter two.

If you read or watch the speech (which starts at the 22 minute mark) in its entirety, five of the first seven paragraphs begin with the same phrase (more or less): “I want to thank,” followed by a category of people he’s grateful to for supporting his campaign (people who voted for him, volunteers, his staff, etc.). While he was thanking them for work they have done or votes they cast in the past, all those thank-yous are actually demonstrative statements designed to celebrate those who supported him, binding them into a community – even as those he thanked are now hunkered down in their homes across the country.

After showing his appreciation, Sanders does turn backwards to the past (which represents a segue to forensic argumentation), but does so in a way that celebrates achievements he claims resulted from his campaign (or “movement,” as he prefers to call it) such as increases in the minimum wage in several states, and the mainstreaming of his ideas on government-run healthcare. Unlike forensic arguments that assign blame, these statements are more celebration than condemnation and thus shore up a demonstrative argument that all the hard work of the people he just thanked has made a difference, even as Sanders’ quest for the presidency winds down.

With that transition, Sanders focuses on a future where his once-radical ideas become the foundation of an America that emerges from the current crisis, one where healthcare is a right and the government takes a lead role in helping all families survive and thrive financially. These statements represent his vision for tomorrow, when the younger generation of voters he claims to have won over become a majority. Whether or not you agree with the candidate’s prescriptions or predictions, there is no debate over the type of argument he makes in these paragraphs of his concession: they’re deliberative.

If you compare Sanders’ concession speech with the stump speeches he gave at rallies, or his performance during debates, his concession seems less rancorous, likely making the candidate seem more appealing (even to non-supporters) than the shouting Bernie Sanders they’ve seen over the last year.

Part of this is due to the fact that graciousness in defeat plays better than lashing out at supposed enemies, at least emotionally. But if you look at some of his earlier campaign rhetoric, like this speech given in Iowa, you’ll notice more of a tendency to lay blame for a depressing present (full of inequity, bigotry and poverty) on shady figures who he holds responsible for the plight of the majority (billionaires, insurance companies, political machines conspiring against him, Donald Trump).

His condemnations directed against such villains amount to a set of forensic arguments claiming that our problems have a human cause, and while one is free to agree or disagree with his diagnosis of America’s ills, it’s safe to say that his use of forensic argumentation contributed to the perception that Sanders was an angry man leading an angry campaign.

This might be an unfair judgement, given how much he leavened his forensic condemnation with deliberative recommendations for future solutions. But a comparison between the Sanders who made this week’s goodbye speech and the one who we’ve been hearing over the last year should demonstrate the up- and downside of use or overuse of forensic, demonstrative and deliberative argumentation.

Based solely on these principles, then, I’m going to assign Sander’s farewell address 4.5/5 dumbbells and his previous stump speeches and debate performances a 3.5/5.

Sanders Concession Speech

Sanders Stump Speech


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