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GREATER BURLINGTON' S NEWSWEEKLY


J U N
VOLUr' E 5 NUMBE R 30
4 1995
!
. ?
I .
o n e o n
For Bernie Sanders
things haven't been
the same since the
Republicanstook
control.
By KE VIN]. KE LLE Y
F
or anyone who witnessed the 1994 Republican national landslide, 1IS asUI-pi-ising
development: Bernie Sanders is gaining respect among many of his colleagues, includ-
ing Republicans, and is emerging as aleader in the conservative-controlled House of
Representatives. It's also what you would expect: Sanders' influence extends to only asmall
number of like-minded lawmakers, while his socialist ideology is flatly rejected and
Sanders' brand oj class-struggle politics now alienates fewer liberals.
occasionally ridiculed by the real power-
brokers on Capitol Hill. Sanders takes it
all in with a mixture of exhilaration and
frustration as Vermont's sole representa-
tive in the 43S-member"House. A day
spent in Sanders' Washington office last
week was a whirl of motion amidst
chaotic and demanding circumstances.
Although his locus stays fixed, the
job itself is extremely disjointed. On this
typical day, Sanders must shift, in a mat-
ter of moments, from a television inter-
view on mortgage deductions, to a
photo session wi t h 31 visiting Vermont
students, to aspeech on the federal bud-
get, to a chance encounter with Peter
Smith, the former congressman whom
Sanders defeated in 1990. Theres little
time to reflect, as many workdays drag
on until midnight.
Through it all, Bernie remains gen-
uinely, deeply angry. He's outraged by
nearly everyone and everything he
encounters in the Capitol: "the big
money that now totally dictates Con-
gress's agenda," a Republican leadership
made up of "cowards and bullies," "the
pathetic nature of most Democrats," the
"corporate media" that follows a formu-
la of "the more important the issue, the
less coverage it's given."
Things are "very dismal right now,"
Sanders laments. We are experiencing,
he says, "the most severe economic cri-
sis in the modern history of America"-
a crisis precipitated by the fact that "the
rich are now going to war against the
rest 01the country."
Beyond the fiery rhetoric, Sanders
regards this as a pivotal moment for the
nation, and he thinks he can help decide
the direction it will take. "1 don't believe
the die has been cast yet," Sanders
declares. "That's why I'mworking so
hard 10 educate people."
The former mayor of Burlington
clearly hasn't changed at all. While more
malleable lawmakers may be seduced by
power lunches at the White House and
glitzy receptions staged by favor-seeking
lobbyists, Sanders remains an incorrupt-
ible ascetic, a zealot with an unwavering
vision of what's right and what's wrong.
November's stunning electoral results
have forced him to bend a bit to fit the
framework erected by the equally zeal-
ous right-wing crusaders who hold a
majority in the House. When the
Democrats were in charge, Sanders gen
erally went along with their unhurried
approach to reducing the federal deficit.
Now, however, even his own still-radical
budget proposals proceed Irorn the
GOP-stipulatcd premise thai the ledgers
See Bernie, Page 8
8MAY 25, 1995 VERMONT TIMES
... B em i e
Conlinued from Page 1
must be balanced within seven
year s.
Despite subtle accommoda-
tions to political reality, Sanders'
belief system remains fundamen-
tally unshaken by the upheaval of
last November. He still refuses to
acknowledge a need for reform of
social programs. He ardently
defends the status quo for Social
Security and medicare, rejecting
suggesuons that entitlements be
limited for more affluent benefi-
ciaries. His emphasis is on find-
ing new revenues; he seldom
speaks of controlling spending
(except on the pan of the Penta-
gon).
In fact, Sanders continues to
advance an unreconstructed
agenda of ever-expanding federal
largesse. He favors higher taxes
for the wealthy and for corpora-
tions in order to finance Great
Society-style initiatives such as a
government jobs program and a
single-payer national health
insurance system.
Both those proposals arc part
of an li-poim alternative to the
Republicans' lO-point Contract
with America. The "fairness"
package was presented early in
the year by the Progressive Cau-
cus, which Sanders chairs. Most
of its items have nOI even been
debated on the House Ooor-and
b bl
II b to cultivate good relations with of 13 in just the past few months.
they pro a y never wi e as I The caucus' repealed attacks
I
h
GOP ., Democratic leaders, who stil
ong as t e remains in d on "corporate welfare" are begin-
charge. The distance between have the power to help or hin er ning to resonate beyond the Iib-
these left-wing measures and the his efforts. The desired rapport
has been
Iacilitated by the left- erallobbying groups that assist in
House's conservative consensus
can be measured via the votes ward tack taken by some Dernoc- researching and publicizing the
that have been taken on a few rats in the aftermath of the direct federal subsidies and huge
II S d "d November rout. Sanders' brand lax breaks enjoyed by business. A
progressivle bi b
S
. an ers f
S
3
1
e
l
of class-srruggle politicS now few anti-establishment censer va-
routinely oses y margins a -
or 4-1. alienates fewer liberals, and his rives have come to agree that
With the outcome prcdeter- socialist label is no longer auto- "free enterprise" ought 1O forego
mined in almost every instance, matically anathema to many government handouts. John
vermont's independent represen- mainstream Derns. Kasich, Republican chair of the
tative invests r-r- =====-=------, House Budget
comparatively lit- Committee, is
tie energy in the openly intrigued
traditional leg- 0 by Sanders' argu-
islattve task of 'ften Sanders ments against
trying L O change corporate wel-
c a II ea g u es ' assumes the familiar fare, but big-
minds. business domina-
In his two posture of the radical lion of the GOP
com mit tee s ' J ensures that the
(Banking and 'd 'l' federal trough
Government Re- OUtSl er rat lng will not dry up
form), he offers anytime soon.
plenty of amend- against a system he Bernie's integri-
ments to Republi- ty and intelli-
can legislation, regards as hopelessly gence are ad-
and Sanders is an mired even by
ardent partici- reactionary. some of his ideo-
pant in many logical enemies.
floor debates. Oc- "A really decent
casionally he guy" and "a fine
even succeeds in getting one of As one indication of Sanders' gentleman" are descriptions of
his provisions adopted. Much increasing respectability, the Sanders offered by Representative
more often, though, Sanders as- ranks of the Progressive Caucus Gerry Solomon, the upstate New
sume.s the familiar posture of the have steadily expanded in the York Republican who runs the
radical outsider railing against a four years since he founded the powerful House Rules Commit-
system he regards as hopelessly group. A total of 46 .IegislalOrs tee. Solomon adds, however, that
reactionary. now affiliate themselves with Sanders is rendered ineffective by
At the same. time, he does try Sanders' leadership-an increase standing "to the far-left of almost
all members of the House."
Though he concedes that the
current political alignment
sharply limits Sanders' legislalive
potential, Solomon thinks that
Bernie might achieve more were
he willing to strike compromises.
Solomon contrasts Sanders'
approach with that of Ron Del,
Iums, a progressive African-
American Democrat from Cali-
fornia who has been in the House
for more than 20 years. "In the
beginning, Dellums wouldn't
compromise at all," Solomon
recalls. "He was like a Bernie
Sanders. But over time, and even
though he maintains a very liber-
al philosophy, Ron learned he
had to compromise in order to be
effective."
But Sanders sees no common
ground between his views and
those of Newt Gingrich, and he
understands that the leader of a
highly disciplined Republican
majority has no need to court the
small progressive bloc. Sanders
thus views back-room back-
scratching as largely a waste of
time.
"My role here has changed,"
he explains. "It's now about orga-
nizing the best people around a
program 10 fight back. I'm lrying
to do the same thing in Vermont
as well."
Bill Goold, a Sanders aide who
does staff work for the Progres-
sive Caucus, amplifies on his
boss's mission in a hostile envt-
ronmeru. "The focus has shifted,"
VERMONTTIMES' MAY 25, 1995 9
Gingrich and other wily conserva-
tives, Sanders' reasoning runs, take
advantage of media distortions and
omissions to dupe people into acting
against their own best interests.
~ . I
res the veteran congressiona
no f . . Il
ssistant. "rom trymg to m u-
anee legislation within the instt-
e uon to building support for a
tll .
rogressive agenda outside Coo-
p "
gress. .
In practical terms, this means
clung the press to pay attention.
g f S d ' ..
Indeed, many 0 an ers acuvr-
lies in Washington are media-
related. On one recent day, he sal
for a IS-minute TV interview in
his office, talked at length with a
)
Vermont Times reporter and taped
\, his weekly half-hour cable televi-
r sian program.
)
Sanders' office was meanwhile
buzzing over an attack on him
that day on Rush Limbaugh's
show. There was also excited
chatter about National Public
Radio's intention to air another
spot on the Progressives' critique
of corporate welfare. And staffers
put out a bulletin alerting
Sanders' supporters to his
appearance on ABC television
that night.
Though Sanders' ego is at least
as large as most politicians', self-
aggrandizement is not the prima-
ry aim of his media operation. He
truly seems to regard press expo-
sure as a means toward
the end of sparking
opposi non to the
Republican onslaught.
Back home in Ver-
mont, for example,
news conferences
account for only a
small share of Sanders'
activities. He devotes
many more hours to
grassroots organizing
around the state in the
form of town meet-
ings, issue conferences
and public rallies that
he regularly sponsors.
His in-Slate staff also
provides a full range of con-
stituent services, cheerfully aid-
ing ordinary Vermonters in their
battles with various federal
bureaucracies.
Sanders has indicated that he
wants to spend even more time in
Vermont. This reordering of his
schedule is partly in response to
the close call he experienced at
the polls six months ago, when
Republican J ohn Carroll won 47
percent of the vote. Again,
though, Sanders seems less con-
cerned with his personal stand-
ing than with his political mes-
sage.
The targeted audience consists
not only of open-minded GOP
voters; it extends to the millions
of nonvoters
nationwide.
Sanders fre-
quently points
out that 62 per-
cent of poten-
tially eligible
Americans did-
n't take pan in
last fall's elec-
tion. His
assumption is
that most of
these abstainers
would vote for
liberal or at least
moderate candi-
dates.
Despite his generally
gloomy manner and sometimes
grumpy behavior, Sanders main-
tains an essentially optirhistic
outlook. Most people will act
humanely if presented with the
facts, he believes. In his world
view, it's corporate control of the
media that prevents many Amer-
icans from following their basi-
cally progressive instincts. Gin-
grich and other wily conserva-
tives, Sanders' reasoning runs,
take advantage of media distor-
tions and omissions to dupe
people into acting against their
own best interests.
His purpose-mdeed, his
solemn obligation-is thus to
provide Americans with a sound
political education. Serving as
Vermont's lone House member
in the Age of Gingrich 15 an
"enormously exciting and inter-
esting" challenge, Sanders says.
BUl "it's also very frUStrating and
painful."
Will it prove so daunting that
he gives it up to return, full-time,
to Vermont? " I don't know,"
Sanders muses .. 1 1 just take it one
day at a time."