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December 14, 2010

Is Bernie Sanders Running for President?

Even prior to Senator Sander's (I-VT) recent talkathon, one of the sharpest political operatives I know told me that Sanders might be preparing to run for President – probably as an independent. He has been commanding national media coverage, first with his reactions to disclosures, which he helped force the Federal Reserve to make, of blatant conflicts of interest in the awarding of TARP funds to banks whose CEOs were on the board of the NY Fed and then with his marathon rant against the tax compromise. Now there's a Sanders for President website (hat tip to Geoffrey Norman of Vermont Tiger).

IMHO Vermont Senator Sanders is more likely to run for President in 2012 than former Vermont Governor Howard Dean. An independent run would be consistent with Bernie Sanders' history even before he became one of just two independents currently in the US Senate and, according to Wikipedia, the first person elected to the Senate who identifies himself as a socialist. To Sander's advantage, he is often underestimated.

Prior to 1981 Sanders was a perpetual (actually four-time) third party candidate for the US Senate and Governor of Vermont; he never received more than 6% of the vote but was thoroughly despised by the major party candidates who had to share a platform with him and were neither as quick-thinking nor frank-talking as the young man from Brooklyn (where I'm also from) and who were certainly not as rude and acerbic as he can be.

In 1981 the too-comfortable Republican and Democratic establishments in Burlington, Vermont united behind incumbent mayoral candidate Gordon Paquette . When Bernie joined the race, he became, for the first time, one of the two major candidates; Americans are used to two person races. Sanders outworked Paquette and won by 12 votes. By coincidence, I had lunch soon afterwards with a member of the oligarchical (and then all-male) Ethan Allen Club. The talk of the club was that if just a couple of tables of people had bothered to get off their complacent butts and go vote, they would have been spared Bernie Sanders.

The Ethan Allen Club (now defunct) had a long time to regret its mistake. Bernie won reelection three times. Initially (in my opinion) the shake-up was good for Burlington; ultimately (again in my opinion) the prolonged Progressive administration has been bad for the city; but that's another story for another day.

Sanders went on to lose another campaign for Governor and one for the US House. However, two years later, running as an independent, he defeated first-term Republican Congressman Peter Smith. He ultimately served seven terms in the House. In 2006, again running as an independent although with no Democrat opponent and support from national Democrats, he had an easy time defeating the Republican candidate to succeed retiring Senator James Jeffords, who had, himself, been elected as a Republican but become an Independent caucusing with Democrats.

One reason Sanders might NOT run for President in 2012 is that he is also up for re-election to the Senate that year, although there is plenty of precedent for running for reelection to the Senate and also for higher office. Currently his seat looks pretty safe in Vermont.

Sanders fits the mold, outrage and all, of a modern-day Ralph Nader. And outrage is back in political style both on the right and on the left. A bad economy and bipartisan coddling of Wall Street have left many people feeling bitter and rebellious. On the right (or at least libertarian) flank, Republican Congressman Ron Paul says that there is at least a 50% chance that he'll mount another run for President. Ironically but not coincidentally, Paul and Sanders are colleagues in their opposition to the policies of the Federal Reserve (and Paul will become chair of the subcommittee with oversight of the Fed).

It's tempting to say we need less partisanship and a return to the political center. However, in practice, the political middle seems to be wedded to corporate welfare: witness TARP started under Bush and continued under Obama or Obama's appointment of the architects of the original bailout packages to most high economic posts. Bipartisanship seems to mean BOTH corporate welfare AND excessive individual welfare. "Bipartisan" bills are larded with giveaways to everyone's favorite constituencies. As a capitalist, I disagree with Sanders on almost every issue; but he is right on target in denouncing "socialism for the rich".

In the past, when the major parties have been too complacent and oligarchical, there has been an opportunity for Sanders as an independent. In this case the opportunity is more to be a spoiler than to become President. Nevertheless, it is a chance Bernie Sanders may seize.

Related posts:

Socialist Senator Sanders Saves Capitalism

And Here Comes the Pork

Election Analysis: It Was TARP that Boiled the Tea

We've Been T*RPed

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