Do you want to hear how Bernie really won the election? Some insiders say the story goes back to the New York primary, and that’s certainly plausible. Because, looking back, Bernie’s big win in that state was the beginning of the end for Hillary. But I’m going to give you the real inside story. And that goes back to the 1950s, when Bernie was a student at James Madison High School in Brooklyn.
Now don’t tell me you never heard of our school. Let me drop a few names on you besides Bernie Sanders. Here’s just a few you might have heard of – Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg – who, believe it or not, was a cheerleader at Madison. And you know who Senator Chuck Schumer is – besides being the cousin of Amy Schumer. No doubt you’ve heard of Carole King and Judge Judy? And Chris Rock went to Madison for a couple of years. Oh yeah, we even have four Nobel Prize winners. Not bad for a neighborhood school.
A whole lot of really smart kids went to our school. No one can say who was smartest, but when Bernie went to Madison, everyone agreed it was Shelly (short for Rochelle). Sometimes she was called “Shelly the fixer,” but the nickname never really stuck.
Before we talk about how Shelly got involved in Bernie’s presidential campaign, I want to tell you about a few things Shelly did was when she was a kid – just so you’ll have some idea of who we’re dealing with.
One day Shelly, who was about ten, her younger sister, Bonnie, Bonnie’s friend, Susie, and the sisters’ dog, Teddy, went for a walk. Teddy, a brown and white cocker spaniel, grew increasingly tired. The girls, realizing that they were miles from home, agreed that they would have to get home by bus.
But there was a big problem. No dogs allowed. What could they do? Shelly told Bonnie and Susie to get on the bus and walk to the back to find seats. But whatever they did she warned them, “Don’t look back!”
So Bonnie and Susie did as they were told. After all, Shelly was a couple of years older, and she was very wise. As they approached some empty seats, they heard people murmuring, and making tsk tsk sounds. One woman sadly noted that it was “Such a shame!” To which a man added, “And so young!”
Bonnie and Susie noticed that the bus wasn’t moving. They just had to see what was going on. Shelly was slowly making her way to the back of the bus, holding Teddy’s leash with one hand, and her other arm held out straight in front of her. Her eyes were open but she was staring straight ahead. Teddy was sniffing along, his nose almost dragging on the floor. After Bonnie and Susie helped Shelly into a seat, the driver started the bus.
OK, maybe you’re not convinced from this one incident that Shelly was a genius. So if I told you that she won almost $50,000 on a children’s quiz show, you’d probably think that maybe she was just lucky – or that the show was fixed.
Shelly and I happened to be in the same math honors class, and she would call out the answers before the teacher could even begin asking the questions. He finally worked out a deal with her. She would cease and desist if he got all the teachers in the math department to refer their failing students to her for tutoring.
What did a sixteen-year-old do with all that money? She played the stock market. Before she graduated, Shelly was worth several million dollars. Not bad for a kid from the projects.
Madison was very overcrowded. So we had to wait in long lines to get into school, get into the cafeteria, pick up our textbooks, and turn them in. If Bernie had a list of “issues” back then, the long lines we were forced to wait on might have topped that list. I can still picture Bernie in his graduation gown, just seething as the hour-long procession filed into the Loews Kings, a huge movie theater that was rented for the occasion. I laughed when I heard Shelly asking him if had had brought along anything to read.
No one knew what happened to Shelly after high school. In fact, even her closest friends were clueless. And then, two weeks before the New York primary, Bernie got a note from her.
He called her immediately, and within a couple of days, the campaign put her plan into action. Now you can probably figure out what her plan was, because of how radically altered his campaign was. But just in case you were on another planet for the last few months, I am going to spell out everything for you.
Shelly met with Bernie, his wife, Jane, and four of his other most trusted advisors. Shelly began by pointing out that Bernie drew huge crowds wherever he went. Was this because of his movie star looks? His friendly disposition?
They kind of chuckled. “OK,” she went on. Everyone was there to hear Bernie’s message. “The rich are getting richer…. The poor are getting poorer… The middle class is disappearing. Blah, blah, blah.”
“So you think we should change the message?”
“NO!!!!!” she screamed.
Everyone looked at everyone else and kind of shrugged. Shelly waited. And then she really surprised them. “Bernie, they loooove your message!”
“They love your message so much, they’ve memorized it. You’ve memorized it! Watching you give a speech is like watching the Rocky Horror Show. The audience recites the lines along with the actors. ‘The rigged economy!’ ‘Enough is enough!’ ‘The top one tenth of one percent owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 99 percent.’”
“So what you’re saying is that they can’t get enough of Bernie delivering the same speech.”
“Yeah, it’s terrible! Sometimes people have to wait five or six hours just to get through security.”
“OK, now Bernie, I want you to think back to when we were at Madison. Remember all those lines they made us wait in?”
Bernie just smiled, nodding his head.
“You didn’t like those lines.”
“Like? LIKE? I hated them!”
“So what about the lines that you make all your supporters stand in for hours?”
“It’s not our fault!” said one of the managers. “It’s the fuckin’ security check points that the Secret Service set up.”
“Right! It’s not your job.”
Shirley noticed Bernie turning beet red, but she just plunged ahead.
“These are your supporters forced to stand out there for hours like complete schmucks waiting to hear the golden words of their great hero.”
Bernie opened his mouth, but before he could get out a word, Shelly shouted, “Here comes the old bullshit!”
All of them were stunned. How many times had they heard this outburst, word-for-word? Soon they were all laughing – even Bernie.
“Yeah, Shelly,” said Jane, “You can take the boy out of Brooklyn….”
Then Shelly went on. “So Bernie, do you see where I’m going with this?”
“You’re one hundred percent correct, Shelly! I’m responsible for exactly the same thing that I used to bitch about.”
“Shelly,” one of the others said, “We all feel like complete shit for making these long lines of supporters go through all this security crap. But what can we do?”
“OK,” said Shelly, “we all agree that the quality of life of Bernie’s supporters would be greatly enhanced if they didn’t have to wait on those fuckin’ lines.”
There were a few more complaints about the long lines. Shelly waited until everyone had a chance to comment. Then they all looked at her expectantly. She knew that this was the moment when she would actually change the course of history. She made eye contact person-by-person. Then she cleared her throat.
Here’s our problem: There’s only one Bernie Sanders. And there are millions of people who would love to hear him speak. But most of them never will. If Bernie went out there twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, he still would reach just a tiny fraction of the people who want to hear him give that speech.”
She waited. No one had a clue where she was going with this. She just stared at them. And when they began to think she would just leave them hanging there, she said the two magic words.
They looked at her, anticipating what she would say next. But instead, she said, “But not Larry David.”
What was she talking about? Was that some kind of Zen bullshit? Was she nuts or what? After all, there’s not a whole lot of real estate between genius and insanity. Still, maybe there was something that she saw that they didn’t.
“OK, let’s just say that we did get Larry David to give one speech. Bernie, you could lend him those long yellow legal sheets you’ve always dragging around with you.”
Bernie laughed. “Yeah, he could probably do a better job than I do.”
“Yeah, Bernie, he kind of does have you down.”
They waited for Shelly to go on. Again, she cleared her throat. She knew that they were primed to make the leap of logic.
“So suppose we don’t get Larry David. Suppose we hire ten actors – men, women, blacks, whites, Hispanics, Asians, American Indians. Maybe we give them Bernie’s hair and glasses. But all these folks are actors. They give the speech. Maybe they even give it in Brooklynese.”
They were hooked. They looked at each other and nodded. Now all she needed to do was reel them in, close, and have them sign on the dotted line.
“OK, we hire ten – or, who knows, maybe twenty — of these actors. They learn the speech. We schedule hundreds of rallies a day all over the state.”
“No more waiting on long lines to go through security!”
“No more Secret Service!”
“Preach it sister!!!!!!”
“Bernie, your public wants you 24/7. They can have you 24/7!”
Bernie and Jane, followed by everyone else, got up and hugged Shelly. They all knew at that very instant that they had changed the course of history.
And indeed they did. Bernie impersonators, many of them quite comic, fanned out all over New York State. For the next two weeks no town or village was too small for a rally, complete with “the speech.” His supporters continued to be full participants, mouthing the words along with the Bernie impersonators.
The last poll, just two days before the primary, had Hillary still ahead by three percentage points. But that was down from twelve just ten days ago. Clearly she no longer had the home field advantage.
On Primary day there were reports of over 100,000 voters in Brooklyn whose names had been mysteriously removed from the voting rolls. Although there were just two candidates, the New York City Board of Elections managed to create a paper ballot that even the election workers were unable to explain to voters.
It looked as though the Board of Elections might be trying to steal the primary. Weren’t they part of the Democratic machine, which everyone knew was in Hillary’s pocket?
“Don’t worry,” said Shelly. “These guys are far too stupid to steal the election. She was right. Bernie won by five percentage points. And poor Hillary began to channel Yankee baseball great, Yogi Berra. It was indeed déjà vu all over again. She didn’t win another primary, and quietly dropped out of the race before the convention.
In January, when Bernie took the oath of office, there wasn’t that big a crowd. Why schlep all the way to Washington when you could go to the oath-taking in your own city or town? Millions of Americans will remember the stirring words that would become the rallying cry of our nation: “Enough is enough!”
Bio: A recovering economics professor, Steve Slavin earns a living writing math and economics books.