The Vermont senator's popularity online fed his rapid ascent from back-bencher of note to runner-up for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination in 2016. Nearly everything Sanders touches goes viral. Now the most popular politician in America, according to a recent Fox News poll
, he's on his way to having its highest-rated podcast.
But the Sanders story is a complicated one. Despite a personal favorability rating his colleagues would drool over, Sanders divides opinion across the political spectrum. Moderate Democrats, many still bitten by months of primary combat, have blamed him for damaging Hillary Clinton ahead of her doomed clash with Donald Trump. On the right, Sanders, a self-described "democratic socialist," is often regarded as something between fringe player and existential threat to American capitalism.
Even the left has shown hints of skepticism, especially after their frenetic talisman endorsed Clinton
in the tense weeks before she formally accepted the nomination at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia last summer.
All of which makes the user ratings and reviews of his new podcast so incredibly interesting to read. Really. If you want to better understand the dynamic that makes Bernie -- he's simply "Bernie" on the internet -- such an magnetic figure, the range of views, most of them expressed civilly, on his podcast's iTunes page is a good place to start.
A broad and unscientific survey revealed five* kinds of reactions to Sanders and his new platform. (*Six if you include requests to improve the audio quality, which is not great, likely because at least the first three shows pulled audio tracks from previously posted Facebook videos
1. The true believers
The first and most frequent is love, pure and simple. More than being simpatico on policy questions, diehard Sanders supporters regard him as a time-tested truth-teller and political warrior poet.
"I cannot describe how happy I am that Bernie (Sanders) started a podcast," wrote a user called Indiefolkspersuasion. "Bernie never stops fighting for what's right, and I want to think him for looking out for all of us. I (heart) you Bernie!"
"Bernie has a message that he's been preaching for 40 years," said another 5-star reviewer, ltseriko. "The economy should work for everyone, not just the people with the most money."
It goes on. "Bernie is one of the few politicians actually trying to educate our citizens," wrote JamesLong1986. "He can do long shows like this because he isn't afraid of slipping up. Honesty is appreciated more than perfection."
2. The warriors
Which brings us to the "Bernie Would Have Won" crowd. This is a more partisan sphere and it almost uniformly disdainful of Clinton and her centrist allies.
To the uninitiated, "Bernie Would Have Won" is a rallying cry, now an internet meme, used to troll Clinton supporters and other outsiders -- like political pundits -- who dismissed Sanders early on as a legitimate White House contender. For about a dozen people, those four words were extent of their analysis.
But it comes through in other ways.
"I would've voted for you Bernie if my corrupt state of PA allowed 17 year olds to vote in the primary if they were turning 18 before the general election (Which I did)," said a younger supporter in a post titled "Feel the Bern."
"What can I say, he isn't spending his air time whining about losing, or playing a victim," read yet another, in a clear jab at Clinton.
"Of course Bernie would do this," one reviewer wrote of Sanders' decision to launch a podcast. "I hope (Democratic National Committee) leaders are listening this time."
3. The Bernouts
And they are. The fight for party leadership was waged between two avowed progressives, one of them, Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison, a key surrogate for Sanders during the primary. Ellison finished a narrow second to former Labor secretary Tom Perez, who appointed him deputy chair
immediately after a second round of voting.
But Sanders' rising influence in Democrat circles (considering he's not, on paper, a Democrat), along with his ubiquity online, has rubbed others wrong way. The third grouping is suffering from Sanders fatigue.
"Great for annoying white leftists, terrible for anyone else," wrote Favereau Fan, echoing a criticism of Sanders supporters from liberals who viewed them as insular and lacking in diversity.
"Podcast is as insufferable as he was for the past two years, but looks like he finally found a way to ca$h in on his cult status with the millennial sort," said Jmonj, who recommended a "Hard pass."
"#bernedout" was the one-star verdict from HtownNeyser, while Brandonmoncud pointed to Sanders' record in Congress: "2 pieces of legislation passed in decades as a senator, PATHETIC."
4. The capitalists
The fourth subset of reviews is more hostile. These aren't embittered Clinton voters. Rather, they express a fundamental opposition to Sanders and his worldview.
"His ideology claims that citizens are helpless peasants only capable of being coddled by a gov't that immorally usurps the labor and wealth earned by others," argued user JustinLP18. "He condones a system (socialism) that steals from others and has historically impoverished millions, all while claiming the moral high ground."
Said Supersweetooooo: "If you have a job give away all your money so people without jobs can continue not working."
"If you like this podcast you should move to Venezuela," Aclark 17 recommended in a post titled, "Un-American."
5. The hardcore lefties
For all those ready to denounce Sanders as a secret Soviet, there are a few people out there who only want the senator to more deeply embrace his democratic socialism.
"Bernie Sanders, an independent who is pro markets and advocates for socialism lite is too right wing for my preferred politics, but it's important to hear centrist voices like his," said Bic48492929. "Considering we have two extreme right wing parties dominating the US, it's good to hear from a centrist who can start bridging the gap to the left."
This is a more forgiving group.
"I was a huge supporter," Emo Nick recalled of the 2016 race. "I donated, caucused, phonebanked and attended rallies for him. He's let me down with his endorsements for Hillary Clinton and his alliance with corporate democrats like Chuck Schumer and ultimately, I tend to agree more with Ralph Nader and Jill Stein (who I proudly voted for in the general election) but Bernie is a voice of overall progress and I still wish to support and listen to him."
If the first week of "The Bernie Sanders Show" is any indication, Emo Nick will be in good -- and ideologically diverse -- company.