Will Bernie Sanders be the first socialist in the U.S. Senate? Will it matter?

Since 1991, Representative Bernie Sanders of Vermont (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bernie_Sanders) has been the only independent and the only self-described socialist in the House of Representatives. Now he’s running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Jim Jeffords. And he looks very likely to win – he’s incredibly popular in Vermont. See this story from The Nation, 8/15/05 – http://www.thenation.com/doc.mhtml?i=20050815&c=1&s=nichols:

If he wins – will it matter? It won’t change the balance of power in the Senate: The incumbent, Jeffords (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Jeffords), is an independent (former Republican) but caucuses with the Democrats, and Sanders presumably would do the same. And Sanders will be but one voice out of a hundred. On the other hand, he seems to be pioneering a new winning strategy. From the same article:

Will the Democrats, perhaps, learn from his example? Move their political center of gravity leftwards? Repudiate the economic “neoliberalism” of the Democratic Leadership Council and embrace real economic populism? And if they do – will it help them win? Or is it unthinkable that what works in Vermont would work anywhere else?

As someone who votes Republican most of the time, I certainly hope so.

Vermont isn’t all that different. Yes, more of an appeal to populism would make a huge difference to the Democrats - Gore just dabbled with the appearance of it, didn’t seem all that sincere and certainly not at all credentialed, and still won. There’s a helluva lot more have-nots than haves, and they vote. Certainly offering an option to those who have been beaten down by the sagging economy but don’t have representation, and therefore vote for the party that claims to represent morality, would make a difference.

Don’t expect any change in the New Democratic view that is not *inherently * hostile to business, but do expect a shift to a view that business must recognize responsibilities to the larger world. “Socialist”, too, is a label from the past with perhaps no real negative effect today.

:confused: Are you sure the word “not” belongs in that sentence?

I’m sure a lot of Republicans are licking their collective chops HOPING that the Democrats move leftward en masse to a more socialist platform described in your OP. Not going to happen IMHO because I don’t think there is a huge pool of voters out there craving a more radically leftward shift. Maybe they (the Republicans and me in this case) will be wrong and the country outside of Vermont and a few other east coast states really DO yearn for socialism or even just more leftists liberalism…I’m not seeing it but hey, I’ve been wrong lots of times and this could certainly be one of them.

However, maybe Bernie Sanders is just, you know, a really popular guy who is well spoken and who folks like in spite of, not necessarily because of, his message. Sometimes folks get elected not on their message per se, but on…well, themselves. Or maybe his message has more of a regional appeal and not really a national appeal.


Upon rereading that, it doesn’t make sense to me, either. Yes, I do know grammar, dammit.

Okay, try this: The New Democratic view was a shift away from worker protection to promoting business as the economic engine that shouldn’t be *unduly * interfered with. I’ve been inclined to think they established the party as centrist, balancing workers’ interests with stockholders’. Unfortunately, they did it at a time when the GOP was losing interest in workers’ economic interests and shifted to a nearly totally business orientation - and did so successfully by rousing workers to vote for them anyway by beating the Guns, God, and Gays drums and playing down the effects of their economic policies. That left nobody truly standing up for the little guy. But people tend to vote their pocketbooks over preaching.

There’s a constituency there available for the wooing, it’s traditionally a Democratic one, and it won’t be that hard for the Democrats to woo it back if they simply seem sincere about it.

Not really a “socialist platform,” is it?

Will Bernie be the first socialist Senator? Yes

Will it matter? No

Despite what Elvis says, Vermont **is **different. First of all, almost everyone there (96%) is White-- it’s a very homegeneous population. Secondly, it’s tiny (only Wyoming has fewer people). Although it used to be staunchly Republican, the Democrats have been pretty well entrenched for the last 15 - 20 years.

Remember, this is the land of Ben and Jerry’s. It’s hardly a microcosm of the US. Politics in such a small state can be highly personal, and Vermonters are notoriously independent. Dena will have a lot more impact on the Democrats (obviously) than Sanders, and one of the things that Dean has learned is that labels matter. If “liberal” is a dirty word in politics, “socialist” something no one will want to embrace. There’s nothing the Republicans would like more than for the Democrats to align themselves a self avowed “socialist”.

Dena = Dean (those dyslexic fingers of mine are acting up again)

Dyslexics of the world untie! :slight_smile:

Uh… Pro socialized healthcare, pro-worker, pro-government, anti-corporation…

Hell man, did you read the title of your own op? :stuck_out_tongue:

Exactly. I don’t know if this necessarily makes him a ‘socialist’ as the definition of that could vary. I’ll say he certainly has ‘socialist’ tendencies though. I thought that was your whole point BG…first socialist US Senator and all that.

I guess my question to you and others who see a potential shift left in US politics is what indications are you following that seems to bring you to that conclusion? Are there actual indications that the US is either moving left or WANTS to move left? Is this a case of wishful thinking or are there actual trends showing this that we can examine?


Well, it seems clear from survey results that on a number of important issues, the US population as a whole is in favor of more liberal policies than those of the current government. For example, majorities oppose putting further restrictions on abortion but favor funding stem-cell research, government-funded universal health insurance, increasing the minimum wage, and repealing tax cuts for the wealthy. Majorities also think that reducing the budget deficit is more important than cutting taxes, strongly favor environmental protection laws, and have a positive opinion of the UN.

These are positions that dovetail very well with Sanders’s own views, so I don’t buy the claim that someone like Sanders is “too far left” for the US. It’s true that Americans tend to be very nervous about the word “socialist”, which is understandable given the long shadow of the Cold War. But that doesn’t stop us from favoring some policies that are rather socialist in nature. (Of course, we also want some non-socialist policies such as low taxes, too.)

In any case, Sanders will officially be an Independent if elected to the Senate, just as he is in the House. And I doubt that his “associations” will be much of a political problem either for him or the Democrats, since he seems to operate not by cleaving to any particular Socialist platform as by making strategic alliances with Republicans and Democrats alike, as the OP’s linked article notes:

Personally, I get the sense that Sanders’s success, like that of the late liberal politician Paul Wellstone, depends on his personal integrity and his willingness to treat his constituents like grownups while addressing their crucial concerns:

A national politician who uses his position actually to help his constituents understand the issues and listen to what they have to say about them? Wow! I’d be voting for this guy too if I lived in Vermont, and I’m no Socialist either.

Y’all realize Vermont is our eleventh province, right? You wouldn’t be electing a socialist, you’d be electing a slightly leftist Canadian.

I purposely didn’t add this to my analysis, but since you bring it up…

Think of Vermont as the mirror image/upside down verision of NH. NH has a narrow border with Canada, and a wide border with MA. It’s larger population centers are close to the MA border. VT, on the other hand, has a very narrow border with MA (the rural, western part) and a wider border with Canada. Additionally, its population center* (Burlington) is closer to Canada. And we’re talking Quebec here, folks, not New Brunswick. In fact, a significant portion of VT’s population is of French/French Canadian ancestry (about 25%).

Anyone who thinks VT is just like any other state hasn’t spent much time there…

*does it have more than one? :slight_smile:

None of which consitutes a socialist platform, which is my point. Starting from where America is now, it is possible to go a long, long way in the direction of economic populism without even verging on socialism. None of the Western European countries are considered “socialist states,” even though all of them have social-democratic welfare states. Nor would we be a socialist state, if we adopted similar programs.

My point was that Sanders would be the first self-identified socialist in the Senate, not that any specific proposal he ever has supported or ever will support would qualify as part of a “socialist” platform. Sanders has been in Congress since 1991. He is very, very aware of the practical political limits within which American leftists must work, and of what kind of proposals can and cannot be taken seriously in Congress in its present makeup.

It could be wishful thinking. But based on the Pew Political Typology (http://people-press.org/reports/display.php3?ReportID=242), with its analysis of who votes on what values, and who doesn’t vote and why, I believe that economic populism has a vast, as yet untapped pool of potential voting support, provided it can be dissociated (if only by emphasis) from cultural liberalism. I’ve run a thread on that: http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=312933

Huh? What difference does it make whether the top or bottom of a state has the wider border? Most of Vermont’s total border is on its west and east sides, and is solidly within the US. And Burlington VT is closer to New Hampshire than to anywhere in Canada. I call silly logic.

That would help explain their obsession with maple syrup . . . :smiley:

I’m surprised you have to ask. Everyone knows that things drain down…so its obvious that since Vermont has a wide border with Canada (wider than the one for NH) that the, er, Canada-ness, is draining down into Vermont at a faster rate than in NH. Er. Or something like that. No, really. Really really.


That’s an understatement in more ways than one, considering NH is the selected home of the Free State Project mostly because it’s already 2 steps on the way.