Since the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon debate, it’s been clear that looks are vital to politics. That, of course, shouldn’t be the case. Which I’m sure to remember when Bernie Sanders is up on the stage with uncombed hair and a mustard stain on his shirt — as well as when I’m looking at photos of him as a young man. But Bernie was (and still is) hot. A very particular brand of hot. Socialist history teacher hot. University of Chicago, 1960s hot. The kind of hot the guys who wear Everlane and buy Warby Parker glasses aspire toward. A hot available only in a time before internet apathy.
A few people on Twitter have labeled this young Bernie hotness as “podcast dude energy,” but Bernie doesn’t have podcast dude energy — rather, podcast dudes wish they had young Bernie energy.
What exactly is a Podcast Dude, anyway? Simply having a podcast doesn’t make one a Podcast Dude. The Podcast Dude is white, with dark hair worn with some length, but not enough to suggest true unkemptness. He requires glasses, both to see and because his face would be entirely indistinguishable otherwise. Walk into your nearest Target, blindly grab the first male-bodied mannequin on display, and that’s what Podcast Dude is wearing. His politics are nominally good, but he barely acts on them.
The Podcast Dude is simply fine. He’s fine! It’s nice that he has a hobby. Maybe he’s even been able to monetize it. Maybe he’s one of the big shots of the leftist Podcast Dudes, like the men of Chapo Trap House or Cum Town who defined the stereotype. Nevertheless, he probably still asks to go Dutch on dinner, and you aren’t exactly looking forward to explaining to your mother what “Dirtbag Left” means, or why your boyfriend hosts a show titled after a hypothetical ejaculate municipality.
My colleague Hussein Kesvani — a podcaster — tells me, “Podcast dude energy is a guy with minimal energy, one that wants to make some kind of difference but has been so warped by the internet that they can’t think of anything outside it.” A Podcast Dude is “kind of socially aware and somewhat introverted; he has the air of a well-meaning, mid-tier comedian and showers a few times a week. He probably has exactly one kind of face cream and a rough fitness routine, but nothing that detailed or thought out.”
So while Bernie has previously identified that he has no skincare routine beyond a moisturizer that his doctor prescribed him, the comparisons seem to end there.
Many have cited Bernie’s look as distinctly Jewish and intellectual: This American Life producer Ira Glass is a common comparison. Although the Bernie we know best may have the hair of a shedding troll doll, as a young man he had a gorgeous mass of dark curls. His heavy frames weren’t a fashion statement, but simply the glasses du jour. His look was effortless, as though he was too busy to be concerned about his style but managed to clean up nicely anyway. Podcast Dude’s look, on the other hand, seems effortless in the literal sense that he simply didn’t try — that his job is only to record a few hours a week, and somehow he still can’t manage to find the time to have any sartorial personality.
Most central to Bernie’s erotic appeal, though, aren’t his looks but his personality and actions. Whereas young Bernie may look like a man of the current internet, what’s sexiest about him is that he’s not: Bernie’s past reveals that he’s always been an ally to the people. The Bernie we see in the 1970s is the same Bernie we see today: a lifelong leftist. “Young Bernie is actually hot, and so were/are his politics,” says Jay, 22, a sociology grad student in Florida. “He’s got the appeal of being on the right side of history during the mid-20th century,” opines Beau, 26, in St, Louis. “We love a real-life period drama protagonist. Also, I just imagine his accent sounding cute in his 20s and 30s.”
We know the accents of Podcast Dudes because they spend their time making dick jokes with their friends, assuming others will want to hear them. For the most part, we know little else about them. This comparison of Bernie to these guys, then, misses the entire point of what makes Bernie hot in the first place: Bernie is a man of action, a man whose word is his deed. Podcast Dudes are men of discourse, but Bernie is a man of praxis.
This is what makes Bernie so much hotter than, say, a young Joe Biden. I don’t want to say it, but Biden was once a hunk. However, looking at photos of him in his youth doesn’t inspire much desire because we know the type of person he was: Biden spent his college breaks in the Bahamas, telling women he was going to be president someday. Sanders spent his college breaks getting arrested for protesting segregation.
Now ask yourself: Which man would you rather fuck?