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It’s not unusual for a great book to make its way to the silver screen and hit it big. And while you won’t see “The Speech” in the local multiplex anytime soon, the new book by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) had its start in video form.
“This is the only book that started out as a movie first, I think,” Sanders joked.
The “movie” that preceded this book is actually what some called the act of “FiliBernie” — C-SPAN 2 coverage of a one-man filibuster that the Senator delivered last December. For more than eight hours, with no break, Sanders attacked Bush-era tax cuts for the rich and bemoaned the collapse of the middle class.
“You can call what I’m doing today whatever you want,” Sanders said in the speech. “You can call it a filibuster. You can call it a very long speech. I’m not here to set any great records or to make a spectacle. I am simply here today to take as long as I can to explain to the American people the fact that we have got to do a lot better than this agreement provides.”
The speech became a social media sensation. Millions followed online, crashing the Senate server. In the days after the speech, Sanders’ Twitter and Facebook followers more than doubled. His offices received thousands of supportive phone calls and e-mails.
The few who missed it, however, can now read “The Speech: A Historic Filibuster on Corporate Greed and the Decline of our Middle Class” in its entirety. An introduction by the Senator has been added, and several figures have been corrected from the text in the Congressional Record.
Sanders’ main purpose for giving the speech — and for publishing the book — is to call attention to what he views as the failures of the country’s current economic policies. He speaks repeatedly of the collapse of the middle class and the need for Representatives to represent the average American.
“There is a lot of anxiety in this country,” Sanders said. “Not only about the particular legislation but there is also a perception on the part of many people that there is something fundamentally wrong. ... Poverty is increasing and the gap is growing wider between the rich and everyone else.”
The speech begins as a vehement attack on President Barack Obama’s deal with Congressional Republicans to extend the Bush-era tax cuts for the rich. “It is Robin Hood in reverse,” Sanders said in the speech. “We are taking from the middle class and working families, and we are giving it to the wealthiest people in this country.”
He also attacks many of the country’s trickle-down economic policies. Supporting his arguments with an array of statistics and heartbreaking anecdotes from constituents, the Senator attacks the elimination of the estate tax, the Wall Street bailout and the payroll tax holiday that took away from Social Security.
Throughout the speech, Sanders offers solutions to the problems that he sees in American society. He argues that reversing the current economic policies would reduce the deficit and refocus the country’s economic priorities. He also suggests that reinvesting in the nation’s infrastructure and sustainable energy systems would create millions of jobs and reinforce America’s strength as a nation. Above all, he asks Congress to invest in the country’s children.
“When you invest in your kids, you are investing in the future of America,” Sanders said in the speech. “They are America. And if they are not educated, how are they going to become productive members of society?”
As he gave it, Sanders’ speech was heralded as well-researched, eloquent and inspiring. Its length speaks to his commitment, and its text reveals his passion for the subject. Both are just as evident in the published book as in the original speech.
Nevertheless, the published book has its share of shortcomings. In print, the speech’s many repetitions are more evident — and more tedious. The Senator apologizes for that in the introduction, saying he repeated himself because he knew people would only listen or watch the speech for short periods.
So why turn this into a book? After all, the entire eight hours of his remarks can still be viewed in C-SPAN archives or read in the Congressional Record.
Certainly, the statistics and anecdotes are more jarring and immediate in the published version. The format makes the issues seem more pressing than archival footage does. The book allows the audience to concentrate on the message, rather than worry about whether the 69-year-old Senator looks like he needs a bathroom break.
At first blush, the decision to publish seems like a ploy to milk the public for further fundraising contributions. Sure, all proceeds go to nonprofits in Vermont, but what Senator couldn’t use a little extra publicity in the lead-up to his 2012 re-election bid? The same arguments that critics used against the speech, that Sanders was merely scheming for attention, seem to fit the book as well.
A closer reading reveals the book is indeed a play for attention — but it is not Sanders who wants to reap the benefits. For him, the book, like the speech, serves to spread his message.
“The book is just another vehicle for getting the message out,” Sanders said. “It’s a message that is not heard enough in America.”