Presidential Campaign

Bernie Sanders for president — Really?

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They accuse President Obama of being a socialist. He denies it. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) wants to be called a socialist. He embraces it. Obama is smooth and cool. Sanders is rough and gruff. Obama equivocates and evolves. Sanders is blunt and bombastic.

Obama, by style and persona, got elected president twice (as he so recently reminded us). Sanders looks very much like a presidential candidate in 2016. How do I know? That’s easy. He’s already been to New Hampshire and next week he’s going to Iowa.

Sanders is 73 years old and the junior senator from Vermont. But he’s no flinty, taciturn New Englander. Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., his Flatbush accent has not left him. And he loves to assail and argue.

{mosads}He started with a sojourn at a universally admired and respected institution of higher learning, the University of Chicago (it has more Nobel laureate winners than any other university in the world). As a student in the ’60s, he was involved and participated in all the movements that would label him a true “leftie.” Sanders moved to Vermont in 1968 and became a carpenter. He soon entered politics and failed miserably.

He chronicled his journey in a speech this week at the Brookings Institution. In 1971, he ran for the U.S. Senate in a special election as a third-party candidate and got 2 percent of the vote. In 1972, he ran for governor and got 1 percent. In 1974, he once again tried for the Senate and climbed to 4 percent. Not deterred, in 1976 he sought the governorship and received a lofty 6 percent. He then “gave the people of Vermont a break” for five years and in 1981 ran for mayor of Burlington (home of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.) He finally won an election by a landslide margin of 10 votes (after the recount).

In 1988, he tried for the U.S. House of Representatives and lost. But he came back and hit pay dirt: In 1990, he was actually elected to the House. You have to admire his persistence — talk about picking yourself up after being knocked down over and over. This underdog fighting spirit will strike a chord with many Americans if he does choose to run for president.

Now serving in his second term in the U.S. Senate, he won in 2012 with 71 percent of the vote. He conducted 70 to 80 town meetings and did not spend one dime on TV ads. His political philosophy is defiantly class warfare. He wants single-payer healthcare, free daycare for all children and a 50 percent cut in military spending.

He goes after the super wealthy with a vengeance and rails against the pharmaceutical industry and all corporate greed. Sanders has been called by many the “un-candidate.” In manner and speech he surely does not look “presidential.” In fact, he does not look senatorial, either. But that might be his greatest asset and attribute.

You must remember that the primary and caucus electorate in the Democratic nominating race is decidedly to the left and small in size. Sanders could catch fire. Hillary Clinton might want to send Sanders a thank-you note — he makes her look like the head of the local Chamber of Commerce.

Way back in 1972, centrist establishment Sen. Edmund Muskie (D-Maine) was thought to be the sure thing for the White House. Sen. George McGovern (D-S.D.) was polling at 1 percent or 2 percent. Everybody wrote him off as a one-issue candidate (he was anti-Vietnam War). McGovern had a devoted following that out-organized everybody and he miraculously got the nomination.

I know it’s very early, but Sanders will be a factor. He’s the “income inequality candidate” and in 2016, that has meaning and power.

Plotkin is a political analyst, a contributor to the BBC on American politics and a columnist for The Georgetowner.

Tags 2016 2016 presidential election Bernie Sanders Burlington Edmund Muskie George McGovern Vermont
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