Weekend Open Thread: Bernie Mane Festival, Stupid Vigilantes, Smart Rats, and a Tearful Reunion [plus BREA SUMMERFEST!]




Messy hair beats messy economic and foreign policy every time.

Messy hair beats messy economic and foreign policy every time.

Well, Bernie Sanders is now squarely in the news and reporters are honing in on him — and, if you can’t figure out what’s wrong with this, then you really ought to read this.

I was trying to figure out what job Bernie Sanders had before he was elected Mayor of Burlington, Vermont — answer: “Sanders worked many jobs for meager sums — as a freelance writer, filmmaker, carpenter and researcher, among other things” — and that led me to this 2007 story, from which I am quoting, appropriately enough, very liberally:

“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 workplace.

“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.”

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.

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.

There are lots of other fun stories to send you to today as well:

This is your Weekend Open Thread.  Talk about all that, or anything else you want to, within reasonable bounds of discretion and decorum.

About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-retired due to disability, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally runs for office against bad people who would otherwise go unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Corrupt party hacks hate him. He's OK with that too. He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)