Interviewing Bernie Sanders as part of a team last month, I felt like I knew him. Back in the early seventies I worked with a cell of four community-organizing followers of Saul Alinsky. Some could be labeled “red diaper babies” — children of Russian-Jewish communists who emigrated to the United States. They wanted to incite revolution in Lowell, Massachusetts where I lived at the time. Bernie isn’t as radical as they were, but he’s close. His ideas, and they way he expresses them, brought them all back.
They wanted a communist revolution, but I didn’t. I was seduced by some leftist ideology, but it was a youthful flirtation. For them it was serious business. They started a community newspaper called “The Communicator” and recruited me to work on it when the City of Lowell wanted to extend a six-lane highway through the neighborhood where I was living. Together we organized the community against the highway and I became an opponent of Paul Tsongas, who was on the Lowell City Council at the time.
We fought City Hall and we won, but after that John Kerry opened his campaign headquarters a half mile from my house when he ran for Congress from Lowell’s Fifth District. His brother recruited me and I accepted. My Alinskyite friends tried to dissuade me because Kerry was a “liberal.” He would work within the system to change things, not bring down the system as Alinsky advocated.
Kerry, Tsongas, Dukakis
Kerry lost that election and went law school school. I went back to school to become a history teacher. Then I moved north to raise my children in a cleaner, more rural environment and here I am. Bernie moved north to Vermont from Brooklyn, New York a bit earlier. I’ve changed, but he hasn’t. I’m a conservative now but he’s still a left-wing socialist.
At the interview, Bernie said our community-organizer president campaigned for him, which makes sense given they’re on the same page politically. Bernie, however, is open about being a socialist while President Obama tries to stay in the closet. With Bernie, what you see is what you get, but not with the president. Obama knew he’d never get elected if he was as open about his intentions as Bernie is. Hillary knows that too. She did her senior thesis at Wellesley on Alinsky.
Bernie would have government take over the entire medical profession with single-payer health care. That was always Obama’s intent, but he pretended it wasn’t. Bernie would take over the entire energy industry as well. That’s Obama’s intention too, but again, he pretends it isn’t. He’s using the EPA to ram through cap-and-trade policies that Congress would not approve. He’d take over the entire fossil fuel sector and he’s begun by shutting down the coal industry.
Bernie is up front about what he believes and what he wants to do. I don’t agree with any of it but I respect his integrity. He’s not devious like the president and that’s part of his charm. My old red-diaper-baby associates in Lowell were open about what they were up to as well and they were even more radical than Bernie is. He doesn’t want to bring the United States down. He wants to turn us into another Sweden.
As I’ve written before in this space, I believe our community organizer president is as radical as my old Alinskyite associates. Obama wants to bring down the system, but he’s sneaky about it. As fellow conservative columnist Mark Steyn suggests: [O]ne way to look at the current ‘leader of the free world’ is this: If he were working for the other side, what exactly would he be doing differently?”
Bernie has spent most of his life in government, and that’s troublesome.The UK’s Guardian, however, says he worked as a carpenter once. That means he worked with his hands with other tradesmen on a job site. That would make him the first president in quite a while who has ever done that. Who was the last? Truman maybe? Coolidge? Lincoln? I don’t think Obama would know which end of a hammer to hold and which end to bang with. Bernie worked on a kibbutz in Israel and would have gotten his hands dirty there too. I like that.
Podcast of my question to Bernie
One thing surprised me during the interview though. I watched him closely while others questioned him and he seldom made eye contact. He’d look at them once, briefly, when they asked their questions, then look at something else or look into space as he answered. I believe it was more out of shyness than disingenuousness. As I said, there was nothing devious about him. He may be misguided, but he’s genuine.