July 30, 2005

Bernie Sanders

Bernard Sanders Vermont's independent congressman is running for Senate seat left by retiring Sen. James Jeffords.

John Nichols of the Nation writes a profile of the independent congressman from Vermont.
To a greater extent, arguably, than any other progressive politician in the country, Sanders is identified with pocketbook issues. Spending a day with him in the small towns of Vermont is the equivalent of signing up for a walking seminar on the real-life struggles of working Americans--as played out on issues ranging from protecting Social Security, retirement plans and Medicare to expanding access to healthcare, lowering drug prices, raising the minimum wage, helping small businesses get started and keeping family farmers on the land. The conversations are a mix of personal anecdotes and broad-sweep policies, always pulled back by the Congressman to a discussion of the perils of corporate power and lobbying. To be sure, Sanders takes questions about the war in Iraq and other issues, but the breadth and depth of the discussions he gets into regarding the kitchen-table concerns of working Vermonters is remarkable. [..]

"Democrats are not as engaged as they should be on the economic issues that face tens and tens of millions of people," says Sanders. "That's what the Republicans have been playing off. The Republicans jump in and say, 'OK, look. Democrats are not talking about your economic issues. We're not either, but at least we're telling you about the Ten Commandments, we're telling you about abortion, we're telling you about gay rights.' The biggest mistake Democrats make is to take economics off the table."

Sanders keeps issues of economics and corporate power on the table by using his Congressional franking privileges to send out newsletters that, rather than featuring self-serving photos and pronouncements, offer easily accessible tutorials on the damage done to workers, farmers and the environment by free-trade policies, the threat to democracy posed by media consolidation and the workings of a single-payer healthcare system. Every year, Sanders holds single-issue town hall meetings in some of the smallest communities in the state, where he brings in experts on poverty, healthcare reform and other issues for discussions that can run deep into the evening. The crowds are big, often packing the halls. People get to complain. But they also get something else--an alternative view on how the economy of the country and the world might be organized to favor their interests. This long-term, intensive education process is the closest thing to the "secret" of Sanders's success. Vermonters associate their Congressman with serious discussions about complicated issues, and they understand where he's coming from--and that allows Sanders to go places most politicians fear to tread.
The central part of Bernie Sanders' success is that economic populism resonates with voters across the political spectrum.
Sanders has used a willingness to stand up for ordinary Americans' economic rights to win both liberals and culturally conservative, rural white working class voters - the very voters the Democratic Party has lost in its increasing embrace of DLC-style corporate conservatism. The article is a fascinating read that shows exactly why Sanders' success in 2006 is so important, and how Democrats must change course in order to start winning elections again - especially when you consider polls that show Americans are waiting for Democrats to finally go after the Republicans for the GOP's corporate cronyism.

How does Sanders do it? By focusing on kitchen table pocketbook issues - and being willing to honestly assess how Washington, D.C. has become a city dominated by a legalized bribery that gets our government to help powerful interests economically squeeze the middle class. For his candor, he is rewarded with support from all across the political spectrum. As one Vermonter was quoted as saying, "I used to be a diehard Republican. Now, I'm a diehard for Bernie." Exactly - and if more Democrats would follow Sanders' model, they would be hearing that about themselves in their own states.
Go read the whole profile of Bernie Sanders by John Nichols.

Bernie Sanders show the way how Democratic Party can regain the majorities in congress, the first step is not selling out working Americans.

Democratic Party should be paying attention to kitchen table pocketbook issues and to the next Senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders.


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