USA set to elect Socialist Senator in mid-terms
- In a set of elections which could be decided by the impact of a
wilfully mis-understood joke, it's refreshing to read about a Senator
who could be elected because he talks about "issues".
He may not be everybody's ideal of a Socialist and the only way he
might have influence in the Senate is because of a close decision is
the US mid-term elections.
AS to the rabid response to Senator Kerry's off-the-cuff remark but
as Samuel Johnson the great Anglo-Irish writer is reputed to have
said "Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrels".
Guardian | Vermont poised to elect America's first socialist senator
Vermont poised to elect America's first socialist senator
· Cantankerous campaigner strikes chord with voters
· New milestone nears after eight terms in Congress
Julian Borger in Washington
Thursday November 2, 2006
Amid the furious debate over Iraq and the speculation that George
Bush may be a lame duck after next Tuesday's mid-term elections, an
extraordinary political milestone is approaching: a cantankerous
65-year-old called Bernie looks set to become the first socialist
senator in US history.
Bernie Sanders is so far ahead in the contest for Vermont's vacant
seat for the US Senate that it seems only sudden illness or accident
could derail his rendezvous with destiny, after eight terms as the
state's only congressman. His success flies in the face of all the
conventional wisdom about American politics.
He is an unapologetic socialist and proud of it. Even his admirers
admit that he lacks social skills, and he tends to speak in tirades.
Yet that has not stopped him winning eight consecutive elections to
the US House of Representatives.
"Twenty years ago when people here thought about socialism they were
thinking about the Soviet Union, about Albania," Mr Sanders told the
Guardian in a telephone interview from the campaign trail. "Now they
think about Scandinavia.
In Vermont people understand I'm talking about democratic socialism."
Democratic socialism, however, has hardly proved to be a vote-winning
formula in a country where even the word "liberal" is generally
treated as an insult. Until now the best showing in a Senate race by
a socialist of any stripe was in 1930 by Emil Seidel, who won 6% of
John McLaughry, the head of a free-market Vermont thinktank, the
Ethan Allen Institute, said Mr Sanders is a throwback to that era.
"Bernie Sanders is an unreconstructed 1930s socialist and proud of
it. He's a skilful demagogue who casts every issue in that framework,
a master practitioner of class warfare."
When Mr Sanders, a penniless but eloquent import from New York, got
himself elected mayor of Burlington in 1981, at the height of the
cold war, it rang some alarm bells. "I had to persuade the air force
base across the lake that Bernie's rise didn't mean there was a
communist takeover of Burlington," recalled Garrison Nelson, a
politics professor at the University of Vermont who has known
him since the 1970s.
"He used to sleep on the couch of a friend of mine, walking about
town with no work," Prof Nelson said. "Bernie really is a subject for
political anthropology. He has no political party. He has never been
called charming. He has no money, and none of the resources we
normally associate with success. However, he learned how to speak to
a significant part of the disaffected population of Vermont."
Mr Sanders turned out to be a success as mayor, rejuvenating the city
government and rehabilitating Burlington's depressed waterfront on
Lake Champlain while ensuring that it was not gentrified beyond the
reach of ordinary local people.
"He stood this town on its ear," said Peter Freyne, a local
journalist."I tried to make the government work for working people,
and not just for corporations, and on that basis I was elected to
Congress," Mr Sanders said. He has served 16 years in the House of
Representatives, a lonely voice since the Republican takeover in
1994. He has however struck some interesting cross-party deals,
siding with libertarian Republicans to oppose a clause in the Patriot
Act which allowed the FBI to find out what books Americans borrowed
He says his consistent electoral success reflects the widespread
discontent with rising inequality, deepening poverty and dwindling
access to affordable healthcare in the US. "People realise there is a
lot to be learned from the democratic socialist models in northern
Europe," Mr Sanders said. "The untold story here is the degree to
which the middle class is shrinking and the gap between rich and poor
is widening. It is a disgrace that the US has the highest
rate of childhood poverty of any industrialised country on earth.
Iraq is important, but it's not the only issue."
In a state of just over 600,000 people he also has a significant
advantage over his Republican opponent, Rich Tarrant, a businessman
who has spent about $7m on his campaign. "Sanders is popular because
even if you disagree with him you know where he stands," said Eric
Davis, a political scientist at Vermont's Middlebury College. "He
pays attention to his political base. He's independent and
iconoclastic and Vermonters like that."
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