Everybody knows Bernie SandersBernie SandersDNC vice chairwoman apologizes to Sanders 7 pieces of advice for Hillary Clinton Wasserman Schultz backs down, won't open convention MORE is a revolutionary.
But everybody does not know that he is a political authority who has compromised, cajoled, and coerced change into reality.
But, if you actually research Sanders’ record, you will find him a formidable administrator and leader who got “things done” almost to the point of excess.
As a young person, his fellow activists remember him as “very smart and very policy oriented,” often asking, “‘What can government do to solve this problem?' Or, 'What policy... should we be asking for?’” He was “not like the rest of us kooks, who didn't know what we were doing. He had more ideas, and he spoke better.”
Todd Gitlin, then-leader of Students for a Democratic Society, remembers Sanders and his compatriots as the “anti-utopians”— “pros” “impatient about fancy as-if thinking” who “took politics seriously.”
Evidently, even at 21-years-old, Sanders was, in fact, very concerned with getting “things done.”
In 1981, he ran for mayor of Burlington, winning by 10 votes. That slim margin grew and grew as he was re-elected three times, his constituents supporting him in such numbers because he “encouraged grassroots organizing, adopted local laws to protect the vulnerable, challenged the city's business power brokers,” funded training programs for women entrepreneurs, and raised taxes on business.
To foster community organization, Sanders implemented Neighborhood Planning Assemblies (“today, Burlingtonians credit the NPAs with raising the level of resident participation and discussion in local politics”), a Youth Office, an Arts Council, and a Women’s Council.
He “worked collaboratively with other politicians to create a more livable city,” not pushing pipe-dream proposals, but initiatives that were practical and effective.
As Frederick J. Bailey, a Republican banker, says, “It is a nitty-gritty job of day-by-day executive decisions, and he did it well. He got things done.”
Clearly, Sanders was the opposite of a smoldering, “ideologically pur[e]” radical who could not “get things done.”
As Greg Guma, Vermont writer and activist, says of the candidate's pragmatic streak— “He became what we call up here a ‘Vermont Exceptionalist.’”
Elected to the federal House of Representatives in 1990, Sanders passed more amendments than any other lawmaker serving with him: reducing the cost of college, expanding free health care, holding the IRS accountable, cracking down on child labor, increasing winter heating funding for America’s poor, and fighting against corporate welfare.
Elected to the U.S. Senate in 2005 (and endorsed by Barack Obama, Sens. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), and Howard Dean), Sanders succeeded in “forging a compromise” to get the first-ever audit of the Federal Reserve, a “cause that Republican congressman Ron Paul had been pursuing for decades.”
With the Affordable Care Act on the high-wire, and millions of Americans lacking health insurance, Senator Sanders leveraged his influence to secure enough funding for 10 million Americans to receive free health care through Community Health Centers. Now, even conservatives are requesting funding for Sanders' program.
Sanders also worked with Republican John McCainJohn McCainSyria activists cheer Kaine pick Clinton brings in the heavy hitters Guess which Cuban-American 2016 candidate best set themselves up for 2020? MORE (Ariz.) to overhaul the Veterans Administration; in an interview with National Journal, McCain praised Sanders’ work on the bill, saying, “I found him to be honorable and good as his word.” Sen. Jack ReedJack ReedDems to GOP: Admit Trump is 'unfit' to be president Armed Services leaders encouraged after first conference meeting US urges China to be calm in wake of South China Sea ruling MORE (D-R.I.) said that, “Frankly, without him, I don’t think we would have gotten it done… It was a great testament to his skill as a legislator.”
Bernie Sanders is a politician in the best sense: someone with a blood-deep commitment to justice for his constituents, coupled with the ability to make that vision— for a democratic, just America— as real as the poverty and hunger gripping our nation today.
He has even been called a “stealth politician” because “people think he’s just this guy who has super-liberal” tendencies, but, in actuality, he is “a brutally successful political knife-fighter.”
Bernie Sanders is no pure, uncompromising idealist, but a talented and effective change-maker.
To paint Sanders as unwilling to “sacrifice ideological purity in order to get things done,” is to ignore the fact of his accomplishment-filled, compromise-infused record.
Webb is a published writer on politics.