BY: M. TOMOSKI
The alarm began to chime and rattle against the end table on the morning after Super Bowl 50 with the thin light of dawn peeking through my hotel room window. “Where the hell am I?” I thought. That wasn’t my room. It couldn’t be. The goddamn parking meter ate my credit card the night before. There was no time to dwell on details, it was 6:45AM and I had to find the car and navigate my way out of Vermont using a road map because the mountains were causing the GPS to second guess itself.
Hold on a minute, what on earth was I doing in Vermont on the eve of the New Hampshire primary?
Everything was looking up for Bernie Sanders. The Democratic National Committee (DNC) was recounting the votes in Iowa while the Clintons were still fending off reporters and trying to makes sense of what had happened. In the wake of the Iowa tie everyone was so certain that Sanders would win in New Hampshire that CNN was reporting as much as a 96 percent chance of victory. So I figured I’d make the short trip to Sanders’ home town of Burlington, Vermont. Besides, there had been word that someone was offering free Sanders tattoos.
It was a place called Aartistic Inc. The walls were a deep red, the door jammed shut and a couple was sitting on a couch next to a worn out pillow with Sanders’ face on it.
“Is this one of those places that’s giving away Bernie tattoos?” I asked.
“We are the place.” The man behind the counter said his name was Chad. It had been a little over a week since they began to mark supporters with Sanders’ iconic hair and glasses in response to a shop in Seabrook, New Hampshire which was offering to brand its customers with the face of Donald Trump.
As it turns out, a lot of free ink had been flowing that week. “I just stopped counting after around fifteen and the boss has done forty or so” Chad said. “He did five this morning.”
Any tips they received went directly to the Sanders campaign and anyone who walked into the shop left carrying the Senator’s message on their bodies. But with five months until the DNC would announce its candidate in Philadelphia, I couldn’t help but think that getting a tattoo had the potential to lead to the scummy feeling of the morning after a night out in Tijuana.
“Wouldn’t it be a little awkward if he lost?” I had to ask. “No,” he said, “Bernie’s Bernie. If you support him now, you’ll still support him later.”
It sounded as though this was far more than a mark of loyalty to an old man shouting about the One Percent. The logo held a certain charm that couldn’t be found in a simple image of a wrinkled politician or the furrow-browed billionaire that was on offer at Seabrook. “It’s a reminder not to lose yourself in all the other shit just because it’s easier.” The tattoo artist said. As mayor, Bernie made the whole town better, it was a kinder and cleaner place to live, he assured me.
The couple on the couch had been listening in and smiling. “Are you going to get the tattoo?” I asked.
“I already have it.” One said revealing the image on her side and pointing to the man beside her, “And he’s getting it tonight.” She was just the kind of person that Bernie’s campaign had been speaking to: a young student, wracked with debt and spurred into activism – feeling the Bern. “Yes, it’s about him,” she said, “but for youth in America this is the biggest social-political movement of our time.”
“And what about Hillary?” I asked.
“I support a female president,” she said, “but she shouldn’t be president just because she’s a female. That’s just as bad as sexism.”
“Besides,” Chad added, “no one’s talking about the first Jewish president.”
The argument of experience didn’t seem to hold much water here. Clinton without a doubt has the most impressive résumé. That is exactly what she had been selling across the state as she brought Mayors, Senators, Governors, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and her whole family with her to rallies. She’s going to be a president, “who doesn’t need on the job training.” But Sanders’ response seemed to be hitting closer to the heart, “it’s not just about experience, it’s about judgement.”
“She didn’t start talking about certain things until Bernie started talking about them.” Chad said, admitting that he would vote for Hillary if she were the only choice, but that as long as Sanders was a candidate he was the better option. “She changed her mind on gay marriage, the death penalty, banking…”
And young people, he insists, are not that easy to fool. “She doesn’t necessarily get that it’s not 1992. If [a politician] says something wrong, we can find that in thirty seconds on our phone. We are the generation that can look shit up.”
The tattoo artist then referred me to a 2004 interview with Elizabeth Warren in which the Senator from Massachusetts spoke about the help she received from First Lady Hillary Clinton in defeating a bankruptcy bill backed by major credit card companies. “We have got to stop that awful bill.” Warren remembers Clinton telling her after a photo op, then goes on to explain that years later, when Clinton became a Senator for New York, she went on to pass that same bill.
“As Senator Clinton the pressures are different.” Warren tried to make sense of the betrayal, “It’s a well-financed industry.”
But Sanders’ supporters are less understanding and point to this as an example of how money has influenced Hillary Clinton in the past and could influence her as president.
“I understand, it’s about learning and bettering yourself,” Chad said, “and it’s awesome that she’s changed her mind on this stuff, but…she changed her mind years after the damage was done. It’s like apologizing for kicking someone in the nuts, you know?” He said, “You feel bad about it, but you still did it.”
The next day, I drove two and a half hours to Manchester, New Hampshire to see Hillary Clinton speak at a community college. There’s a pattern emerging in her itinerary. Someone in the Clinton Mystery Machine must have marked every college in the country as a place to search for the ghosts of the youth vote. In New Hampshire, her strategy to a comeback sounded a lot like a parental lecture that ends in “why, you’ll thank me later.”
“Young people may not support me now,” she told the crowd, “but I support them.”