At every turn they clapped and cheered, enamored with the candidate’s prescriptions for universal healthcare, a humane attitude toward immigrants and the rejection of climate change denialism.
Bernie Sanders was the candidate, and the people clapping and cheering were audience members who turned out in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, for a televised town hall on Monday night sponsored by none other than Fox News.
Sanders’ decision to participate in the event had been the object of some skepticism and even criticism by Fox News detractors, who argued that in the Donald Trump era the cable channel has completed its transformation into a state news propaganda organ.
ut if undercutting Sanders, an early frontrunner for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination and avowed democratic socialist, was the idea for Fox, somebody badly miscalculated.
The event at the SteelStacks auditorium in Bethlehem, with the extinct blast furnaces of Bethlehem Steel as a backdrop, drew a large crowd of Sanders supporters, who stood in line for hours to gain admission.
Onstage, the setup looked potentially hostile for Sanders, with Fox News hosts Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum asking the questions and trying to call the shots.
But Sanders, with the help of the sympathetic audience, flipped the script, turning whatever the Fox News executives might have intended to air into what at times seemed an hourlong commercial for the Sanders candidacy, broadcast free to potentially millions of Fox viewers.
In perhaps the night’s biggest backfire, host Baier asked for “a show of hands of how many people get their insurance from work, private insurance, right now?”
Baier continued: “Now of those, how many are willing to transition to what the senator says, a government-run system?”
Nearly every hand went up, along with a hearty cheer.
More applause lines landed one after the next, each followed by at times raucous support:
“I believe that healthcare is a human right, not a privilege. OK?”
“We don’t need to demonize immigrants.”
“We have got as a nation to reject Trump’s idea that climate change is a hoax.”
One of the most striking moments, perhaps, came when Sanders spoke out in support of Representative Ilhan Omar, the target of a racist attack by Trumpthat has gone on for nearly a week over a passing characterization she made last month of the September 11 attacks.
“I support a Muslim member of Congress not to be attacked every single day in outrageous racist remarks,” Sanders said, again to cheers. He went on to defend Omar for her criticism of Israel policy, saying: “It is not antisemitic to be critical of a rightwing government in Israel.”
Many in the audience cheered and clapped.