Bernie Sanders: a politician who never sold out

Bernie Sanders at a campaign rally in Denver. Via Common Dreams

Bernie Sanders is a rare example of a politician who cared more about the people he represented than his personal ambitions.  He compromised, but he never sold out.

While Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden spend their early years in climbing the American political success ladder, Sanders spent his youth in apparently doomed campaigns against established power.

It was only at age 47 that he won a narrow victory as mayor of Burlington, Vermont.  Against the opposition of the City Council and many city employees, he was able to rally the public and impose reform on the city government.

I don’t know whether he could have done the same with the government in Washington.  The corruption and dysfunction runs much more deeply there.  But it would have been interesting to see him try.

He was respected for his honesty and sincerity even by his political opponents, whereas somebody like Newt Gingrich or Karl Rove is mistrusted even by his political allies.

I remember an article about Sanders in the 2016 campaign that I thought showed what he was all about.  I searched for on the Internet, but was unable to find it.

A reporter traveling with Sanders had hoped to rise with the campaign staff from the airport to the hotel where they all were staying.  Unfortunately, there wasn’t room in the vehicle for all, and it seemed as if the reporter was going to have to find his own transportation.

Sanders noticed what was going on, and started trying to figure out a way to rearrange the luggage so there would be room for the reporter.  He was surprised at Sanders’ concern, because he hadn’t been especially friendly on the flight.  He decided it was a reflection of a sense of justice that encompassed everybody.

If you were going on an ocean cruise, the reporter said, Sanders wouldn’t be a particularly congenial companion.  But he would be the one who noticed if you fell overboard.

I think one reason Sanders ended his campaign when he did, instead of going all the way to the convention the way Hillary Clinton did in 2008, is that he didn’t want to expose his supporters and other voters to the risks of voting in person.

I never would have dreamed, in 2015, that somebody like Sanders could come as close to winning the presidency as he did.  But, as somebody said, “close” only counts when you’re playing horseshoes.

The question for the future is whether Sanders was unique or whether others can follow, building on what he achieved.  His campaign was always as much about building a movement—maybe more about building a movement—than it was about winning office.  I hope his campaign is a beginning and not an end.

It may be that the American political system is too rotten to be reformed.  I remember an article by Matt Taibbi in 2005 about how Bernie Sanders, then a congressman, gave him an inside look at how the legislative process worked.  It was appalling, and I don’t think it is any better now than it was then.

I wish Sanders hadn’t been so quick to endorse Joe Biden.  All the establishment Democrats who are praising him now would have stopped at nothing to prevent his nomination, and they will scapegoat him if Biden loses.

The historical figure to whom I’d compare Sanders is the professive reformer Robert M. LaFollette Sr.—”Fighting Bob”—of Wisconsin, who flourished a little over a century ago.

LaFollette took the ideals of American democracy seriously.  He opposed corporate monopoly, defended the rights of labor and won a popularity that enabled him to be independent of special interests.   Establishment progressives of his day, including Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, regarded him as dangerously radical.

As a Senator, he opposed American entry into World War One.  He was hated for that, but history proved him right.

LaFollette was not a perfect leader.  Neither is Sanders.  But they were in favor of peace rather than war, and democracy rather than oligarchy.  You can’t say the same of Joe Biden or Donald Trump.


Bernie Sanders Reveals the Horror Show That Is Congress by Matt Taibbi for Rolling Stone (2005).  Highly recommended.

Bernie Sanders’ Exit Is an Indictment of Our Broken System—Not His Campaign by Astra Taylor for In These Times.

Bernie Sanders’ Campaign Was Trying to Save American Democracy by Jedidiah Britton-Purdy for Jacobin magazine.

It’s Biden’s World by Ian Welsh.




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One Response to “Bernie Sanders: a politician who never sold out”

  1. Nicky D Says:

    Eloquently stated.


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