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NYT: The Socialist Senator

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  • Ram Lau
    January 21, 2007 The Socialist Senator By MARK LEIBOVICH http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/21/magazine/21Sanders.t.html When Bernie Sanders visits a high-school
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 21, 2007
      January 21, 2007
      The Socialist Senator

      When Bernie Sanders visits a high-school class, as he does regularly,
      students don't hear a speech, a focus-grouped polemic, a campaign
      pitch or, heaven forbid, practiced one-liners. Nor, in all likelihood,
      do they hear Sanders tell stories about his family, childhood or some
      hardship he has endured. He makes no great effort to "connect"
      emotionally in the manner that politicians strive for these days, and
      he probably doesn't "feel your pain" either, or at least make a point
      of saying so. It's not that Sanders is against connecting, or feeling
      your pain, but the process seems needlessly passive and unproductive,
      and he prefers a more dynamic level of engagement.

      "I urge you all to argue with your teachers, argue with your parents,"
      Sanders told a group of about 60 students at South Burlington High
      School — generally liberal, affluent and collegebound — one afternoon
      in mid-December.

      The newly elected senator whipped his head forward with a force that
      shifted his free-for-all frizz of white hair over his forehead.
      (Journalistic convention in Vermont mandates that every Sanders story
      remark on his unruly hair as early on as possible. It also stipulates
      that every piece of his clothing be described as "rumpled.")

      "C'mon, I'm not seeing enough hands in here," he said.

      A senior named Marissa Meredyth raised hers, and Sanders flicked his
      index finger at her as if he were shooting a rubber band. She bemoaned
      recent cuts to college financial-aid programs.

      Sanders bemoans these, too, but he'd rather provoke.

      "How we going to pay for this financial aid?" Sanders asked. "Who in
      here wants us to raise taxes on your parents to pay for this?"

      Not many, based on the show of hands.

      "O.K., so much for financial aid," Sanders said, shrugging.

      Next topic: "How many of you think it was a good idea to give the
      president the authority to go to war in Iraq?"

      No hands.

      "C'mon, anyone?"

      He paused, paced, hungry for dissent, a morsel before lunch. Sanders
      says he thinks Iraq was a terrible idea, too, but he seemed to crave a
      jolt to the anesthetizing hum of consensus in the room.

      "Iraq is a huge and very complicated issue," Sanders said, finally.
      ("Huge" is Sanders favorite word, which he pronounces "yooge,"
      befitting a thick Brooklyn accent unsmoothed-over by 38 years in
      Vermont.) He mentioned that Vermont has had more casualties in Iraq
      per capita than any other state in the union, including one from South
      Burlington High School.

      "O.K., last call for an Iraq supporter," he said. Going once, going twice.

      By this point, Sanders's cheeks had turned a shade of dark pink with a
      strange hint of orange. It's a notable Sanders trait; his face seems
      to change color with the tenor of a conversation, like a mood ring.
      His complexion goes orangey-pink when he's impatient (often when
      someone else is speaking), purpley-pink when he's making a point or a
      softer shade of pink when at rest, "rest" being a relative term.

      Next question from Sanders: "Should people in this country who want to
      go to college be able to go, regardless of income?"

      Wall-to-wall hands, with the exception of one belonging to Andy Gower,
      a senior in a backward baseball cap who recently moved up from North
      Carolina. Relatively conservative, Andy is a conspicuous outlier in
      the class. Bernie knows how he feels, having spent eight terms as the
      lone Socialist in Congress, and the first to serve in the House since
      the 1920s.

      "Why do you think that?" Sanders asked Andy.

      He replied with a question of his own: "Why should people who can
      afford to go to college pay for people who can't?" He was sheepish at
      first but gained momentum. "Why should people who are successful in
      this society be burdened by people who aren't? It's just a fact of
      life. Some people will succeed, and some people won't. And it's just
      the way it's going to be and has always been."

      A few classmates smirked, shook their heads. But Sanders was suddenly
      buoyant. He stomped forward, clapped twice — provocation achieved.

      Hands were shooting up everywhere, and Sanders contorted his mouth
      into a goofy grin.

      "At the end of the day, democracy is a tough process," Sanders said
      finally, arms restored to their flailing default positions.

      "The discussion we've had in here is at a higher level than what we
      often have on the floor of the United States Congress," Sanders
      gushed, for as much as he ever gushes, which is not much.

      And given some of the things Sanders has said about the United States
      Congress, maybe this wasn't such a gush after all.

      Sanders has always been an easier fit in Vermont than in Washington.
      Being a Socialist in the seat of two-party orthodoxy will do that.
      While he has generally championed liberal Democratic positions over
      the years — and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee endorsed
      his Senate campaign — Sanders has strenuously resisted calling himself
      a Democrat. And he has clung to a mantle — socialism — that brings
      considerable stigma, in large part for its association with
      authoritarian communist regimes (which Sanders is quick to disavow).

      But he does little to airbrush the red "S" from his political profile.
      On the wall of his Congressional office hangs a portrait of Eugene V.
      Debs, the Socialist Party presidential candidate of the early 20th
      century. A poster in a conference room marks Burlington's sister-city
      relationship with Puerto Cabeza, Nicaragua — one of a few such
      alliances he forged with cities in Marxist states during his 10-year
      stint as mayor of Vermont's biggest city in the 1980s.

      Socialism brings Sanders instant novelty in Washington and, in many
      circles, instant dismissal as a freak. But Sanders's outcast status in
      Washington probably owes as much to his jackhammer style as to any
      stubborn ideology. It is a town filled with student body president
      types — and Sanders, for his part, finished a distant third when he
      ran to be president of his class at James Madison High School in Brooklyn.

      Few would describe Sanders's personality as "winning" in the classic
      politician's sense. He appears to burn a disproportionate number of
      calories smiling and making eye contact. "Bernie is not going to win a
      lot of `whom would you rather live on a desert island with' contests,"
      says Garrison Nelson, a professor of political science at the
      University of Vermont. No matter. Sanders's agitating style in
      Washington also constitutes a basic facet of anticharm, antipolitician
      appeal at home.

      "I'm not afraid of being called a troublemaker," Sanders says,
      something he's been called many times, in many different ways, many of
      them unprintable. "But you have to be smart. And being smart means not
      creating needless enemies for yourself."

      In this regard, Sanders has not always been smart, especially when he
      was first elected to the House in 1990. He called Congress "impotent"
      and dismissed the two major parties as indistinguishable tools of the
      wealthy. He said it wouldn't bother him if 80 percent of his
      colleagues lost re-election — not the best way to win friends in a new

      "Bernie alienates his natural allies," Representative Barney Frank,
      the Massachusetts Democrat, said at the time. "His holier-than-thou
      attitude — saying in a very loud voice he is smarter than everyone
      else and purer than everyone else — really undercuts his
      effectiveness." The late Joe Moakley, another Massachusetts Democrat,
      waxed almost poetic in his derision for Sanders. "He is out there
      wailing on his own," Moakley said. "He screams and hollers, but he is
      all alone."

      Frank says he came to like and work well with Sanders, with whom he
      served on the House Financial Services Committee. His early objections
      were over Sanders's railing against both parties as if they were the
      same. "I think when he first got here, Bernie underestimated the
      degree that Republicans had moved to the right," Frank told me. "I get
      sick of people saying `a curse on both your houses.' When you point
      out to them that you agree with them on most things, they'll say,
      `Yeah, well, I hold my friends up to a higher standard.' Well, O.K.,
      but remember that we're your friends."

      Among his House colleagues, "Bernie's not a bad guy," is something I
      heard a lot of. "You appreciate Bernie the more you see him in
      action," says Senator Chuck Schumer, the head of the Democratic
      Senatorial Campaign Committee, who served with him for several years
      in the House. A fellow Brooklynite who is nine years younger, Schumer
      attended the same elementary school as Sanders (P.S. 197) and the same
      high school (James Madison, which also graduated a third United States
      senator, Norm Coleman, Republican of Minnesota). "Bernie does tend to
      grow on people, whether it's in the House or in Vermont," Schumer says.

      But he has clearly grown bigger in Vermont, and more seamlessly. "His
      bumper stickers just say, `Bernie,' " says Senator Patrick Leahy,
      Vermont's senior Senator and a Democrat. "You have to reach a certain
      exulted status in politics to be referred to only by your first name."

      Sanders is particularly beloved in Burlington, which elected the
      recovering fringe candidate as its mayor despite the Reagan landslide
      of 1980 — thus christening the so-called "People's Republic of
      Burlington." Some supporters called themselves "Sanderistas."

      His election to the Senate in November came at the expense of a
      too-perfect Bernie foil — Richard Tarrant, a well-barbered,
      Bentley-driving Republican businessman who spent $7 million of his own
      money so he could lose by 33 percentage points.

      "Congratulations, Bernie," a fan yells to Sanders outside his district
      office in Burlington. Sanders was out for a quick bagel on a balmy
      December morning, temperatures in the 60s — another day of Al Gore
      weather in the once-frozen north. He walked head down but kept getting
      stopped. "Now you gotta run for president, please," the congratulator
      added, something Sanders gets a lot of too.

      It is a reception that any natural, eager-to-please politician would
      relish — and accordingly, Sanders dispatches these glad-handing chores
      with the visible joy of someone cleaning a litter box, coughing out
      his obligatory thank yous and continuing on his way.

      Sanders's popularity in Vermont brings up the obvious questions: to
      what degree is he a quaint totem of the state, like the hermit thrush
      (the state bird), and could a Socialist be elected to the Senate
      anywhere else?

      In recent years, Vermont has joined — perhaps surpassed — states like
      Massachusetts and New York in the top tier of liberal outposts.
      Several distinctions nurture the state's credentials: It was the first
      place to legalize civil unions for same-sex partners; it is the home
      of Phish, the countercultural rock-folk band and contemporary analog
      to the Grateful Dead and of Ben and Jerry's ice cream (and its
      peacenik-themed flavors); and it is host to cultural quirks and
      ordinances like not allowing billboards, being the last state to get a

      The state has also incubated several politicians who have achieved
      national boogie-man status among Republicans. They include Leahy, the
      Grateful Dead fan and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee;
      former Senator James Jeffords, the liberal Republican who became an
      Independent in 2001, giving Democrats a temporary majority; and Howard
      Dean, the former governor whose presidential campaign boom (and
      perhaps fizzle) was tied heavily to his association with Vermont's
      progressive politics.

      Sanders fits snugly into this maverick's pantheon. But Leahy says his
      fellow senator appeals to an antiestablishment strain in Vermont that
      is not necessary liberal. Leahy notes that he himself is the only
      Democrat the state's voters have ever elected to the Senate. Before
      1992, only one Democratic presidential candidate carried Vermont —
      Lyndon Johnson in 1964.

      "A lot of the lower-income parts of our state are Republican," Leahy
      says, adding that many of them are populated by rural libertarians who
      are greatly suspicious of government intrusion into individual rights.
      "I saw Bernie signs all over those parts of the state."

      Sanders opposes some federal gun-control laws, which has helped him in
      a state where "you grow up believing it is legal to shoot deer on the
      statehouse lawn in Montpelier," says Luke Albee, a South Burlington
      native who was Leahy's House chief of staff.

      But again: Could Sanders be elected to the Senate anywhere else?

      No, not as a Socialist, Schumer says. "Even in New York State it would
      be hard."

      Massachusetts? "Maybe this year he could," Frank says, meaning 2006.
      "But if he were running in any other state, he probably would have to
      comb his hair."

      Leahy says that just any Socialist probably couldn't get elected in
      Vermont, either. But Sanders has made himself known in a state small
      enough — physically and in terms of population — for someone,
      particularly a tireless someone, to insinuate himself into neighborly
      dialogues and build a following that skirts ideological pigeonholes.
      Indeed, there are no shortages of war veterans or struggling farmers
      in Vermont who would seemingly have no use for a humorless aging
      hippie peacenik Socialist from Brooklyn, except that Sanders has dealt
      with many of them personally, and it's a good bet his office has
      helped them procure some government benefit.

      "People have gotten to know him as Bernie," Leahy says. "Not as the

      Sanders calls himself as a "democratic Socialist." When I asked him
      what this meant, as a practical matter, in capitalist America circa
      2007, he did what he often does: he donned his rhetorical Viking's
      helmet and waxed lovingly about the Socialist governments of
      Scandinavia. He mentioned that Scandinavian countries have nearly
      wiped out poverty in children — as opposed to the United States, where
      18 to 20 percent of kids live in poverty. The Finnish government
      provides free day care to all children; Norwegian workers get 42 weeks
      of maternity leave at full pay.

      But would Americans ever accept the kinds of taxes that finance the
      Scandinavian welfare state? And would Sanders himself trade in the
      United States government for the Finnish one? He is curiously,
      frustratingly non-responsive to questions like this. "I think there is
      a great deal we can learn from Scandinavia," he said after a long
      pause. And then he returns to railing about economic justice and the
      rising gap between rich and poor, things he speaks of with a sense of
      outrage that always seems freshly summoned.

      Sanders crinkles his face whenever a conversation veers too long from
      this kind of "important stuff" and into the "silly stuff," like
      clothes and style. "I do not like personality profiles," Sanders told
      me during our first conversation. He trumpets a familiar rant against
      the media, its emphasis on gaffes, polls and trivial details.

      "If I walked up on a stage and fell down, that would be the top
      story," Sanders says. "You wouldn't hear anything about the growing
      gap between rich and poor."

      When I first met Sanders in person on Church Street, there were big
      streaks of dried mud on his shoes and dried blood on his neck from
      what looked to be a shaving mishap. His hair flew every which way in a
      gust of wind. At six feet tall, he is wiry, but he walks with
      shoulders hunched and elbows out, like a big, skulking bird. From a
      distance, he looked as if he could be homeless.

      Closer in, the overwhelming impression made by Sanders is that of an
      acute worrier. He evinces the wearied default manner of a longtime
      insomniac, eyes weather-beaten with big lines and a perpetual slight
      cringe. His brow appears close to collapse beneath the weight of an
      invisible sandbag.

      Richard Sugarman, a professor of religion at the University of Vermont
      and a longtime friend, recalls that during Sanders's days as mayor,
      constituents would sometimes call him at his listed home phone number
      in the middle of the night. "Someone would call at 3 a.m. and say,
      `Hey Bernie, someone just threw a brick through my window, what should
      I do?' He was as hands on as anyone. ... Does he have an off-mode? Not

      Luke Albee, Leahy's former chief of staff, says: "He has no hobbies.
      He works. He doesn't take time off. Bernie doesn't even eat lunch. The
      idea of building a fire and reading a book and going on vacation,
      that's not something he does."

      As much as anything, this distills why Sanders has been an awkward fit
      in the chummy realm of Capitol Hill. He is no pleaser or jokester by
      anyone's prototype. I don't recall Sanders laughing more than two or
      three times in the 48 hours I spent with him in Vermont. His one
      memorably funny aside came when I asked if his Congressional office
      had a dress code.

      "Yes," he said. "You can't come in if you're totally nude," he said.
      He instituted the rule, he said, when his outreach director, Phil
      Fiermonte, who is now sitting next to him, came to work naked.

      "Totally nude," Sanders said. "On three occasions."

      He was kidding, presumably.

      Riding in the passenger seat of Fiermonte's car, Sanders was shouting
      into a brick-size cellphone, the likes of which were all the rage in
      the 1990s. He was talking to a staff person who was about to meet with
      someone from the office of Senator Edward Kennedy, chairman of Health,
      Education, Labor and Pensions, one of five committees that Sanders
      will sit on. Sanders voice filled the car.

      "Dental care is yooge," Sanders boomed into the phone. This has been a
      leitmotif of my visit — Sanders's crusade to improve dental health
      among Vermont's rural poor. He views this as an employment and
      economic issue. "How many employers are going to hire someone who
      doesn't have teeth?" he asks. "You go around this state, and you will
      find a lot of people with no teeth. It is their badge of poverty."

      Improving dental care for the poor is a classic Sanders issue: unsexy
      and given to practical solutions and his obsessive attention. Sanders
      sees bad dental care among the poor as a "pothole issue" in Vermont,
      meaning it is pervasive and something that government should be active
      in fixing (like potholes). Teeth are tangible, especially when they hurt.

      Sanders's car pulled into the parking lot of H.O. Wheeler Elementary
      School in North Burlington, where he was visiting a drop-by dental
      clinic. The notion of "school-based dental care" excites Sanders
      immensely, and his gait speeds as he enters the school, past the main
      office, a classroom and several school officials he has come to know
      over multiple visits.

      "If you're a kid, and you're having dental pain, you're not going to
      be learning a lot," said Joseph Arioli, of Burlington's Community
      Health Center and one of a half-dozen program administrators —
      including a dentist in scrubs — convened around a dentist chair.

      The clinic provides free access to dental care for kids at high risk
      of neglecting their teeth. Students are typically seen during the
      school day, which means they miss minimal class time and their parents
      don't have to leave work to take them. Betsy Liley, a grant writer for
      the city, says that many households in Vermont own just one toothbrush.

      "Lemme guess, a lot of the dietary habits you see here are not great,"
      Sanders said. Nods all around. He said he'd do his best to secure more
      financing and vowed to return. And he told Liley that he might bring
      her to Washington to testify before a Senate committee.

      Walking out, Sanders didn't bother with goodbye — just as he didn't
      with hello — only a thank you and a "what you're doing here is yooge"
      over his shoulder.

      "Great program," Sanders said in the car. He likes to check in
      whenever possible. That's essentially what I did with Sanders in
      Vermont: check in, with programs that he's been involved with or wants
      to learn more about. He likes to hit lots of meetings, quick,
      businesslike transactions.

      Only once in six discussions I sat in on did Sanders indulge in a
      personal anecdote. He was in his office talking to Sharon Moffat,
      Vermont's acting commissioner of health, and the topic turned to
      dental care.

      "I have a personal story to tell you," Sanders said, and my ears
      perked up as I fantasized of learning the "Rosebud" episode that might
      explain Bernie's interest in teeth.

      "I was in the House cloakroom about five years ago," Sanders said.
      "And I was thirsty. I took a drink of grape juice. Blawww."

      He scrunched up his face.

      "It was awful, awful. Then I looked at the label. The amount of junk
      they put in there is unbelievable."

      Moffat nodded.

      "Anyway, I no longer drink that stuff," Sanders said.

      Sanders's parents were Jewish immigrants from Poland. His father, Eli,
      a struggling paint salesman who saw his family wiped out in the
      Holocaust, worried constantly about supporting his wife and two sons.
      His mother, Dorothy, dreamed of living in a "private home," but they
      never made it beyond their three-and-a-half-room apartment on East
      26th and Kings Highway. She died at age 46, when Bernie was 19.
      "Sensitivity to class was imbedded in me then quite deeply," Sanders
      told me.

      Sanders spent a year at Brooklyn College before transferring to the
      University of Chicago, where he studied psychology and helped lead
      protests against racially segregated housing on campus. He spent time
      on a kibbutz in Israel after graduation and then moved to Vermont with
      his first wife. "I had always been captivated by rural life," he says.
      As a child, Sanders attended Boy Scout camp upstate and used to cry on
      the bus as it returned him to New York at the end of the summer.

      In Vermont, Sanders worked many jobs for meager sums — as a freelance
      writer, filmmaker, carpenter and researcher, among other things.
      (Sanders has one son, Levi, and three stepchildren from his marriage
      to his second wife, Jane O'Meara Driscoll, the president of a small
      college in Burlington whom he met at a party on the night of his first
      mayoral victory.)

      Politics came to dominate Sanders's life. He was an early member of
      Vermont's Liberty Union party, an offshoot of the antiwar movement in
      Vermont. He ran as the party's nominee for the Senate in a special
      election in 1971 and finished with 2 percent of the vote. The
      following year, he ran for governor and received 1 percent. He would
      run two more times for statewide office that decade as a third-party
      candidate and never come close.

      That changed when he ran for mayor of Burlington in 1980, at
      Sugarman's urging. Sugarman studied the race and believed Sanders
      could win, if few others did. Sanders knocked on doors all over the
      city, campaigned day and night and beat a six-term Democratic
      incumbent by 12 votes.

      "People generally assumed this was a fluke and that he would be gone
      in two years," said Peter Clavelle, a friend who succeeded Sanders as

      Sanders spoke out against poverty in the third world and made
      good-will visits to the Soviet Union and Cuba, among other places that
      U.S. mayors generally didn't travel to during that time. But a funny
      thing happened on the way to what many had dismissed as a
      short-running circus. Sanders undertook ambitious downtown
      revitalization projects and courted evil capitalist entities known as
      "businesses." He balanced budgets. His administration sued the local
      cable franchise and won reduced rates for customers. He drew a
      minor-league baseball team to town, the Vermont Reds (named for the
      Cincinnatis, not the Commies).

      Sanders's appeal in Vermont's biggest city blended the "think
      globally" sensibility of a liberal college town with the "act locally"
      practicality of a hands-on mayor. He offered sister-city relations
      with the Sandinistas and efficient snowplowing for the People's
      Republic of Burlington. Before Sanders's mayoral victory, Leahy says,
      it was easy not to take him seriously. "Then he got over that barrier,
      and got elected. He fixed the streets, filled the potholes, worked
      with the business community. He did what serious leaders do." He was
      re-elected three times.

      In a sense, Sanders's stint as mayor become a template for his
      subsequent successes — and limitations — as a national officeholder.
      In the House, he gained great publicity and favor as an audacious
      critic with a geopolitical purview, but ultimately left his biggest
      mark with small-bore diligence to the local realpolitik.

      I was reminded of this when I asked Sanders in early January what his
      immediate legislative goals would be in the Senate. He listed these
      broad-brush priorities: 1) ending the Iraq war; 2) reversing the
      "rapid decline of the middle class" (a corollary to "addressing the
      gap between rich and poor"); 3) reordering priorities in the federal
      budget; and 4) enacting environmental laws to thwart global warming.
      When I asked how he would translate any of his priorities into
      concrete legislation, he nodded sheepishly and said, "I'm in the
      process of trying to figure that out now." It is an unsatisfying
      response somewhat reminiscent of Sanders's all-purpose invocations of
      Scandinavia whenever he's pressed on how his socialist philosophy can
      be applied to the two-party system he exists in.

      As a general rule, Sanders is much more convincing at proffering
      outrage than solutions. He can do this in Vermont, in part, because he
      is an entrenched political brand — "Bernie" — and voters will forgive
      a little blowhardedness (if not demagoguery) from someone they
      basically agree with and who has grown utterly familiar to their
      landscape, like cows. Sanders can also pull this off because, as he
      did in the mayor's office, he has buttressed his bomb-throwing with
      rock-solid attention to the pothole matters of dental clinics,
      veterans' benefits, farm subsidies, the kind of things an attentive
      politician operating in a tiny state (with a population of just
      620,000) can fashion a formidable political base from.

      After three terms as mayor, Sanders ran for Vermont's at-large House
      seat in 1988 as an Independent and lost by a small margin to Peter
      Smith, the Republican former lieutenant governor. He won a rematch in

      "When I came into the House, no one knew what to do with me," Sanders
      says. "I was the only representative from Vermont, so I had no one to
      help me. And I was the only Independent, so no one knew where to put
      me in terms of committee."

      Sanders was known as something of a pragmatic gadfly in the House. His
      grillings of former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan became a
      running burlesque, much awaited by many Hill and Federal Reserve
      watchers whenever Greenspan appeared before the House Financial
      Services Committee. ("Do you give one whit of concern for the middle
      class and working families of this country?" Sanders asked Greenspan
      in one representative exchange.)

      Sanders was not without his legislative triumphs. He was adept at
      working with people with whom he otherwise disagreed sharply — forging
      alliances with conservatives like Representative Ron Paul, Republican
      of Texas and a well-known libertarian, with whom he shared a common
      hostility to the U.S.A. Patriot Act. In what might have been Sanders's
      signature triumph of recent years, he was instrumental in striking a
      provision from the Patriot Act that would have required librarians to
      release data on what their patrons were reading.

      But in keeping with his pragmatic gadfly's approach, Sanders was far
      more accomplished at filing amendments to House bills than actually
      writing and producing legislation of his own. He was also gifted at
      drawing attention to his issues and (just as important) to himself. He
      was the first congressman to lead a bus trip to Canada to help seniors
      buy cheaper prescription drugs.

      As he makes the transition to his new job, Sanders says his former
      House colleagues have teased him about not becoming "like the rest of
      them" in the Senate. Sanders jokes about this, as much as he jokes
      about anything. He says he will be required to enter a machine that
      zaps his brain and transforms him "into a member in good standing in
      the House of Lords."

      "We're talking about a completely different animal here," Sanders
      says. The House fosters a more hospitable habitat for the audacious
      and eccentric; their ranks tend to be camouflaged by its larger
      numbers, curtailed by strict time limits on floor speeches and reined
      in by the outsize power of the House leadership. Senators can speak
      for as long as they want and single-handedly buck the wishes of 99
      other senators by placing "holds" on bills and nominations. Tradition
      dictates that senators exercise such privileges sparingly.

      "There will be times when he causes the Democratic leadership some
      agita," Schumer predicts. "But knowing him, I think he's smart enough
      not to make any gratuitous enemies. He might make enemies, but they
      won't be gratuitous enemies."

      Sanders told me, "You have to ask yourself, Did the people send me
      here to give long speeches, or did they send me here to get things done?"

      By "you" Sanders means himself, as his sleepless Socialist adventure
      proceeds into the House of Lords.

      On a quiet morning in mid-December, Sanders was sitting in his new
      office in the basement of a Senate office building — it is a temporary
      office he will inhabit before he moves to another temporary office
      that he will occupy until a permanent space opens up, probably around
      March. It's all very exasperating, he said, this office-space
      situation. But he asked that I keep the specifics of his exasperation
      out of the article. He is trying to meet a stepped-up standard of tact
      and decorum in his new home.

      "Why can't we get these phone calls forwarded from the House office?"
      Sanders asked a staff person who is working temporarily at a temporary
      reception desk in the temporary-temporary office. Everything seems
      temporary, but not as temporary as before. Sanders has a six-year term
      now instead of a two-year one. Friends have advised him to pace
      himself, curb his impatience. He would seem ill wired for this, but he
      is trying. He even took a four-day vacation last month — and to Palm

      But now he has work to do, beginning with getting to know his
      colleagues. "Personal relationships are very important in the Senate,"
      he told me. He likes the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, a lot,
      appreciates that he gave him the committee assignments that he wanted
      — Health, Education, Labor and Pensions; the Environment and Public
      Works; Veterans' Affairs; Energy and Natural Resources; and the
      Budget. And wouldn't you know, Reid has an interest in dental care,
      too. He grew up dirt poor in Nevada, and his mother had no teeth. The
      first thing Reid did when he got his first job — at a gas station —
      was buy her a new set. So the Senate's leading Democrat gets the
      importance of dental care, which could help save teeth in Vermont.

      "Let's go somewhere else to talk," Sanders said, as we headed out the
      door of his temporary-temporary office. "We can get some coffee."

      We traversed a maze of hallways that lead into a Senate dining room.
      "Can we sit down in here?" he asked a busperson. Yes, but then Sanders
      looked at a bunch of tables covered in white linen table clothes, not
      what he had in mind.

      We walked upstairs, in search of a quiet place in the new
      neighborhood, on the Senate side. He kept navigating short hallways
      and turning back. An elevator opened in front of Sanders. It said
      "Senators Only." The attendant invited him on, but he hesitated,
      turned away and began looking for another route to wherever he was going.

      Sanders zigzags the Capitol this way barely recognized, or
      acknowledged (or congratulated, or urged to run for president). A few
      people stare at the new senator as he walks by — maybe because he
      looks lost, or famous, or maybe just because he looks like a strange
      bird out of Vermont.

      Mark Leibovich is a reporter in the Washington bureau of The Times.
      This is his first article for the magazine.
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