By Jack Jodell, July 3-4, 2011
Happy Independence Day, everybody! Though it often seems we are surrounded by conservative Republicans who care only about making the rich richer and dismantling important and very-needed social programs, and are dominated by a seemingly uncaring Congress, one Senator has consistently and tirelessly gone to bat for the middle class, the American worker, the poor, and those in need.
Bernie Sanders (1941 – ) is the independent Socialist junior Senator from the great state of Vermont. The very first openly-declared Socialist ever to serve in the U.S. Senate, he caucuses with and nearly always votes with the Democratic Party. He has constantly had our backs covered against the ravages of corporations and the wealthy for 40 years, since his earliest entry into politics.He has been popular with Vermont voters, having won his seats in the House of Representatives and now the Senate almost always by very wide margins, often swamping both his Democratic and Republican opponents. The man speaks common sense and appeals to basic fairness, and that is undoubtedly the reason for his popularity. Not being a member of any organized political party, he runs as an Independent and has often expressed his support for Europen-stly social democracy. He also spent time after college on an Israeli kibbutz, which played a role in shaping his political beliefs. For out of necessity, the Israelis have learned over the years to share with each other.
Born in Brooklyn, New York to Polish immigrant parents, Bernie Sanders attended the University of Chicago and graduated with a B.A. in Political Science. In 1964, he moved to Vermont and spent the next several years in a variety of occupations, including carpenter, filmmaker, writer, and researcher.His first foray into politics was in 1971, when as a member of the anti-Vietnam War Liberty Union Party of Vermont. He was an unsuccessful Liberty Union candidate for Governor in 1972 and 1976 as well as their candidate for the U.S. Senate in 1972 and 1974. Garnering only a slender 6% of the vote in his best showing, he resigned from the Liberty Union Party in 1979 and began writing for and then became the director of the non-profit American People’s Historical Society. After two years there, his friend at the University of Vermont, religion professor Richard Sugarman, urged him to run for mayor of Burlington. He narrowly defeated the six-term incumbent Democratic mayor, and thus began his career in public office. He won three more terms, and in his last run in 1987, he defeated a candidate endorsed by both political parties. Before his last term as mayor, in 1096, he once again unsuccessfully ran for the governorship, finishing third with only 14.5% of the vote. During his terms as mayor, though, Burlington became the first city in the country to fund community-trust housing for poor people. He also successfully sued the local cable TV provider, which resulted in considerably reduced rates and a substantial cash settlement for subscribers! Not bad for an independent socialist!
In 1988, seven-term incumbent Jim Jeffords, a moderate Republican (who might be considered liberal by today’s far-right version) quit his House seat to run a successful campaign for the Senate. This created an opening for the House seat, so Sanders made a bid for that, only to be narrowly defeated by Republican Peter P. Smith. He ran again against Smith in 1990, and this time buried him in a 16 point landslide. Bernie Sanders had at last finally entered the national political stage! He was reelected seven more times, and eventually became the longest-serving indepemdent in the House. He co-founded the House Progressive Caucus and chaired that group for its first eight years. Sanders has a lifetime rating of 100% from the AFL-CIO, and, as of 2006, carried a “C” rating from the National Rifle Association. He strongly opposed the invasion of Iraq and was highly critical of the Bush/Cheney way it was handled. He did, however, vote for a non-binding measure in support of our troops at its very onset. He was enraged by the Bush/Cheney treatment of CIA agent Valerie Plame, and said, “the revelation that the president authorized the release of classified information in order to discredit an Iraq war critic should tell every member of Congress that the time is now for a serious investigation of how we got into the war in Iraq, and why Congress can no longer act as a rubber stamp for the president.” In June, 2003, he told the-Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspam that he was “way out of touch and that you see your major function in your position as the need to represent the wealthy and large corporations.” THAT was telling him, Bernie! Out of deference for his longtime friend Jim Jeffords, Bernie Sanders stayed in the House and didn’t opt for a Senate run. But when Jeffords announced early in 2005 he would not be seeking reelection, Bernie decided to take the plunge and run for that seat.
On April 21, 2005, Bernie Sanders made his official announcement and received an immediate endorsement from New York Democratic Senator Charles Schumer and also picked up endorsements from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and then-Democratic Committee Chairman Howard Dean, the former governor of Vermont. In the 2006 senatorial election, Sanders demolished his Republican opponent by an almost 2 to 1 margin. He voted against the Wall Street mortgage bank bailout, and joined then-Democratic Senators Harry Byrd, Russ Feingold, and Tom Harkin in an unsyccessful attempt to deny confirmation of Timothy Geithner as U.S. Treasury Secretary. In December, 2010, he delivered a long, 8 1/2 hour speech against extending the ridiculous Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, and said, “Enough is enough!…How many homes can you own?” In voting to restrict credit card companies from charging extremely high interest rates, he was quoted as saying, :…we can’t count on the goodwill and good intentions of these credit card companies.” Always an opponent of sending American jobs overseas and of exploiting the poor, he once railed,”It is simply unconscionable for a huge company like Nike to go to third world countries – about 97% of their workers are in poor, third world countries, and many of them are women – and ruthlessly exploit these people, paying them 15 or 20 cents an hour.” Many conservative Republicans have dismissed Bernie Sanders as being an “ineffectual” Senator. But that hasn’t necessarily been true. As Sanders himself points out, “I have been able to forge alliances not just with Democrats, but with conservative Republicans on issues like trade…prescription drugs…Gulf War illness which have won. Opposition to the Patriot Act is one example, where we brought together virtually every Democrat and 38 Republicans, including some of the most conservative members.” Whether on the topic of gas mileage and auto emissions (“It is absurb that, right now, on average, we in America are driving vehicles which get worse mileage than previously”), or the topic of economic fairness (“You have given the wealthiest of the population a break, and now you are going before the American people and saying,’we don’t have enough money to protect the sick and the old'”, and “The question the American people have got to ask is why it is that corporate America – qith the active support of the President of the United States and the congressional leadership – is making China the economic superpower of the 21st century.”), Senator Sanders is continually probing for solutions to problems which plague all of us, not just a select few. He is quite probably the most conscientious member of the Senate we have seen in a long time.
Bernie Sanders is a true Progressive who constantly fights for fairness and justice. He should be regarded as an enlightened hero to all fair-minded Americans. In his Senate campaign, he nobly said, “…what my focus will be as a member of the United States Senate, if I am elected, is to bang away at the fact that – with an explosion of technology and worker productivity – it is absolutely insane that the middle class is shrinking, that poverty is increasing, that the next generation of Americans may have a lower standard of living than our generation, that 45 million Americans have no health insurance, that we are losing our pensions, that middle class families can’t afford to send their kids to college, that families are spending 45 or 50 percent of their income on housing.” He is thoroughly correct, of course. Ihe status quo IS insane and MUST be changed! Our Congress could use a much larger number of members just like him, socialist or not, who realize their primary responsibility is to protect the lives and well-being of average citizens, not just corporations or the wealthy! Bernie Sanders must NOT remain the sole lonely voice of reason in our U,S, Senate!