Bernie Sanders

bernie by dan nolan

Bernie Sanders (b. 1941) is the junior United States Senator from Vermont. He previously represented Vermont’s at-large district in the United States House of Representatives. Sanders also served as mayor of Burlington, Vermont. Sanders is a self-described democratic socialist, and has praised European social democracy (though he has also criticized its contemporary ‘Third Way,’ center-left departure).

He is the first person elected to the U.S. Senate to identify as a socialist. Sanders caucuses with the Democratic Party and is counted as a Democrat for the purposes of committee assignments, but because he does not belong to a formal political party, he appears as an independent on the ballot. He has also been the only independent member of the House during much of his service there.

Sanders, the son of Jewish Polish immigrants to the United States, was born in Brooklyn, New York. He attended the University of Chicago, graduating with a B.A. in political science in 1964. After graduating from college, Sanders spent time on an Israeli kibbutz (communal farm), an experience which shaped his political views. Afterwards, Sanders moved to Vermont, where he worked as a carpenter, filmmaker, writer and researcher, among other jobs.

Sanders’ political career began in 1971, when he joined the anti-Vietnam War Liberty Union Party in Vermont. After several failed campaigns, Sanders resigned from the Liberty Union party in 1979 and worked as a writer and the director of the non-profit American People’s Historical Society.

In 1981, at the suggestion of his friend Richard Sugarman, a religion professor at the University of Vermont, Sanders ran for mayor of Burlington and defeated a six-term Democratic incumbent by 12 votes. Sanders won three more terms, defeating both Democratic and Republican candidates. In his last run for mayor, in 1987, he defeated a candidate endorsed by both major parties. Under Sanders, Burlington became the first city in the country to fund community-trust housing. His administration also sued the local cable television provider and won considerably reduced rates and a substantial cash settlement.

In 1988, Republican U.S. Congressman Jim Jeffords retired from Vermont’s At-large congressional district to run for the U.S. Senate. Republican Lieutenant Governor Peter Smith won the election, Sanders, who ran as an independent, lost by a small margin of the vote. In 1990, Sanders ran for the seat again and defeated Smith. He became the first independent elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 40 years, and the first U.S. Congressman to describe himself as a socialist in 60 years.

In 1992, he won re-election. In 1994, in the midst of the Republican Revolution that swept Republicans into control of the Congress, Sanders had his most difficult re-election campaign, but he defeated Republican State Senator John Carroll. In total, Sanders was re-elected seven times and was the longest-serving independent member of the House.

Sanders’ lifetime legislative score from the AFL-CIO is 100%. As of 2006, he has a grade of “C-” from the National Rifle Association (NRA). Sanders voted against the Brady Bill and in favor of an NRA-supported bill to restrict lawsuits against gun manufacturers in 2005. Sanders voted to abolish the so-called ‘marriage penalty’ for income taxes and also voted for a bill that sought to ban human cloning. Sanders has endorsed every Democratic nominee for president of the United States since 1992. Sanders is a co-founder of the House Progressive Caucus and chaired the grouping of mostly liberal Democrats for its first eight years.

Sanders voted against the resolutions authorizing the use of force against Iraq in 1991 and 2002 and opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq. But he later joined almost all of his colleagues in voting for a non-binding resolution expressing support for U.S. troops at the outset of the invasion, although he gave a floor speech criticizing the partisan nature of the resolution and the Bush administration’s actions in the run-up to the war.

Sanders supports universal health care and opposes what he terms ‘unfettered’ free trade, which he argues deprives American workers of their jobs while exploiting foreign workers in sweatshop factories.

Sanders is a critic of Alan Greenspan. In June 2003, during a question-and-answer discussion with the then-Federal Reserve chairman, Sanders told Greenspan that he was concerned that Greenspan 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.’ Senator Sanders said in 1998 that investment banks and commercial banks should remain as separate entities.

Sanders had mentioned on several occasions that he would run for the Senate if Jeffords (with whom he has a longstanding friendship) were ever to retire and he entered the race in 2005, following Jeffords’ announcement that he would not seek a fourth term. New York Senator Chuck Schumer, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, endorsed Sanders; Schumer’s backing was critical, as it meant that any Democrat running against Sanders could not expect to receive any significant financial help on a national level.

Sanders consistently led his Republican challenger, businessman Richard Tarrant, by wide margins in polling. In the most expensive political campaign in Vermont’s history, Sanders defeated Tarrant by an approximately 2-to-1 margin in the 2006 midterm election.

Sanders is only the third Senator from Vermont to caucus with the Democrats — following Jeffords and Patrick Leahy. He made a deal with the Democratic leadership similar to the one Jeffords made after Jeffords became an independent. In exchange for receiving the committee seats that would be available to him as a Democrat, Sanders votes with the Democrats on all procedural matters unless he asks permission of Majority Whip Richard Durbin. However, such a request is almost never made and is almost never granted. He is free to vote as he pleases on policy matters but almost always votes with the Democrats.

In 2010, Senator Sanders delivered an 8½ hour speech against the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010, the proposed extension of the Bush-era tax rates that eventually became law, saying ‘Enough is enough! […] How many homes can you own?’ (A long speech such as this is in the tradition of a filibuster, though because it did not block Senate action, it didn’t technically qualify as a filibuster under US Senate rules).

2 Comments to “Bernie Sanders”

  1. Despite his independent party designation, he is the best thing liberals have going in the senate. Long live Bernie Sanders!

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