From the stage at the first Democratic presidential debate, nearly all the candidates opened with talk about their families.
“My wife, Hong, came to this country as a refugee from war-torn Vietnam,” said Jim Webb, who then went on to name his five children and their occupations, pausing just long enough in the middle to make viewers wonder if he was trying to remember one of them.
“My wife, Katie, and I have four great kids, Grace, and Tara, and William and Jack,” Martin O’Malley said when it was his turn, adding that his most important role was as “a husband, and a father.”
And Hillary Clinton, with all her complicated reasons not to bring up her spouse, still found a way to mention other generations and relations. “I’m the granddaughter of a factory worker and the grandmother of a wonderful 1-year-old child,” she said.
Bernie Sanders, however, didn’t pause to sketch a family portrait. In fact, he was the only one onstage who didn’t give a bio of any kind. He started right in with the “series of unprecedented national crises” that prompted his candidacy, and he never spoke of his 27-year marriage, nor the blended group of five children he and his wife consider theirs.
Sitting in the audience with two of those children, Jane O’Meara Driscoll Sanders was not the least bit surprised. Accomplished in her own right — she is, among other things, a former president of a Vermont college — she is the people person to his curmudgeon, the one who lives on the ground while he lives in his head. As her husband makes a strong national showing in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, she remains his closest adviser, and part of her advice, on debate night as always, was that he stay focused on why he decided to run this race in the first place.