Although I grew up in Chicago (Skokie and Hyde Park), I have lived in Burlington, Vermont since 1989. That year, Bernie Sanders left his job as Mayor of Burlington (pop. 42,000) and set his sights on higher office. The following year, he won the first of his eight terms in the U.S. House as Vermont’s sole Representative to that body.
I was proud to vote for Bernie in 1990, even though he was supported by the NRA and his opponent, Peter Smith, seemed to be a decent person. The pride came largely from the symbolism of defying the Reagan/Bush establishment. It was as if I had stuck up my middle finger at the distant Republicans responsible for Iran/Contra, Grenada, Reaganomics and other policies I considered retrograde.
Over the next several years, I continued to vote for Bernie, but my reasoning evolved. I became troubled with the lack of legislative accomplishment and frustrated by his eagerness to blame everything on others. As John Mellencamp sang: “I fight authority; authority always wins.” That was great at first. It got old after the first ten or so years.
But I continued to vote for Bernie throughout the early 2000s because he was usually pitted against someone I could not accept as my Representative in Congress. His behavior continued to trouble me. For example, he got a lot of local attention by attending the IBM shareholders’ meeting and demanding certain changes. He did so in his typical abrasive, unyielding and self-righteous fashion. Whether by coincidence or causation, IBM had a series of layoffs at our local plant (the largest private employer in Vermont at the time) and then sold the plant to a company based outside the United States. Bernie certainly fought authority. But did his constituents win?
At my former place of employment, there was a framed cartoon that looked like it had come from Punch in the 19th Century. There was a Dickensian scene with a widow and her two young children, poorly dressed and slinking out of a courtroom. Their aristocratic barrister said: “I may have lost your case, but you did have the honor of me pleading it.” Although the analogy is not complete (Bernie is certainly not an aristocrat), I found the attitude to be reminiscent of Bernie’s to his constituents. He may not have won many, if any, battles in Congress, but we had the honor of him fighting for us. Maybe it’s just me, but I’d prefer to win.
Still, I voted for Bernie in his Senatorial campaign in 2006 (that’s nine votes for those of you keeping score at home). That same year, my son and I flew to Chicago to see our then World Series Champion (eat your hearts out Cubs’ fans) White Sox play a couple of games. On the way back, and wearing our Sox gear, I recognized the distinguished figure of Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) in the Detroit airport. From our dress, he obviously knew we were not constituents. Nonetheless, he spent a long time with us, chatting about baseball and politics and really giving a great example to my 11 year-old son.
Later that year, with the Conyers visit in mind, I decided to approach Bernie Sanders in our local grocery store. I had seen him there many times before, and the vibe I got from him was that he did not want to be approached. But he had just been elected to the Senate, I had voted for him and had seen how open and friendly most politicians are. Yuuuge mistake!
Trying to strike up a conversation, I introduced myself and noted that we had both attended the University of Chicago and majored in Political Science. I thought that would break the ice. Instead, I was the Titanic. I don’t remember his exact words; I do remember that they were few and dismissive. He also turned his back on me. That kind of rudeness is not acceptable behavior in these parts, especially at a neighborhood grocery store. First impressions count for a lot. Bernie made a horrible first impression on me.
But I’m just one guy. So when the 2012 Senatorial election came around, I held my nose and voted for Bernie because the policies his opponent was espousing were not in line with my beliefs and goals. As one of his Vermont colleagues has said, “Bernie may be an asshole, but he’s our asshole:” http://www.bostonmagazine.com/news/article/2015/09/29/bernie-sanders/
Then something dramatic changed. Bernie announced that he was running for President, and benefiting from weak opposition, he started doing well in the polls, primaries and especially caucuses. Suddenly, our asshole was most of the nation’s demigod. I’ve heard intelligent people call him a “hero” and ascribe supernatural powers to him (Mother Earth sent the bird to land on his lectern at a campaign rally because he is such a “kind” person). Paraphrasing the late Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-TX), I know Bernie Sanders, I’ve met Bernie Sanders, I’ve voted for him ten times….he is not a kind person, nor is he a hero.
As the child of a single, working mother, it always mattered and still does matter to me how one in power treats those with less power – specifically in an employer/employee relationship. I found this article by our local weekly investigative paper to be especially damning of Bernie in that regard:
In sum, I do not respect Bernie’s personal qualities, and I have seen how little it bothers him when he tries to bring about revolutionary change and returns instead with the predictable loss. Outside of some amendments, I believe he’s only been the main sponsor of three bills that have become law…in 25 years.
Living where I do, I expect to get Bernie shoved up my ass at every opportunity. Mostly, it is people who are like I was in 1990: idealistic, a bit naive and wanting to stick it to the Man. I get that.
What I don’t get and what has motivated me to write this is the “Bernie or Bust” movement that has developed as his nomination is appearing less and less likely. Adherents of that movement pledge not to vote for Hillary Clinton in the general election under any circumstances. They would write in Bernie, or a third-party candidate or just not vote. I don’t know how widespread this movement is, but clearly, if acted upon, that pledge could cause Hillary Clinton to lose the election to Donald Trump or Ted Cruz.
It just blows my mind that progressive, intelligent people would rather have Trump or Cruz elected President than Clinton. Suppose Trump is elected. There will likely be three Supreme Court nominations to be made in his first term. Can you imagine the type of person Trump would nominate? Unfortunately, with Cruz, I can imagine exactly the type of person he would nominate. We would, in either case, have a conservative or ultra conservative Supreme Court for decades to come. Goodbye Obamacare; goodbye Roe v. Wade, goodbye gay marriage; hello racial profiling, torture and nativist immigration policies; hello virtually unlimited Second Amendment. Goodbye vestiges of the separation between church and state.
I like to say, if I had more time, I would have said less. That is certainly the case with this wordy essay, thrown together after a fit of rage.
I will again vote for Bernie Sanders if he wins the Democratic Presidential Nomination because the alternative would be unacceptable. I would ask that Bernie’s supporters do the same for Hillary.