It has already started. The New York Times Upshot column confidently declared that Bernie can’t win the Democratic nomination because he is too liberal. Seems like his exhaled breath was barely cold before the pundits decided that his candidacy didn’t have a pulse, but so be it. It’s the nature of the horse race, and who am I to quibble?
But Bernie Sanders is one small “s” socialist who should not be underestimated. You don’t get to be a U.S. Senator, even from the bastion of NPR-listening, Saab-driving, Ben-and-Jerry’s-eating, Magic-Hat-drinking, snow-shoeing liberal Vermont, if you’re not doing something right. And the first indication that Bernie was more than a rabble-rouser who lucked into getting elected is rarely talked about: The fact that he was a damn good mayor.
I arrived in Burlington a few weeks after his legendary 10 vote victory over entrenched old-school Democrat Gordon Paquette. Legend has it that Paquette ran a good ol’ boy administration, full of patronage and inattention to detail. Things were bumbling along until he was blindsided when neighborhoods challenged his plans to build a highway link to downtown; when tenants in the city’s low-rent Old North End got organized, and when people rose up in opposition to building high-end high-rise condominiums on the Lake Champlain waterfront. Bernie was the orator who filled the power vacuum and stepped into the mayor’s office.
So Bernie was the original (OK, maybe not the original, but you get the idea) candidate of hope and change. He stopped the highway. The city amped up its housing inspection program and gave tenants more rights. As for the condos, they eventually got built (after Bernie was elected to Congress), though in a more tasteful, scaled-down design.
Perhaps more impressive, though, is that he hired an amazingly committed, super-competent staff of talented, creative problem solvers. Bernie ran a tight ship. He delivered services efficiently, attracted human-scale economic development, managed to find enough solutions to the sometimes conflicting demands of the long-time Vermonters and the post-hippie newcomers to win easy re-elections.
Socialists get tagged in this country as believing in a centralized, tightly controlled, inefficient bureaucracy. Burlington under Bernie was anything but. At one point, if memory serves, his treasurer, a recruit from corporate America (who liked to wear bow ties!), found an overlooked $1 million on the books.
So I’m with Bernie on all the issues. Every one of ’em. Income inequality. Money in politics. The Pacific trade deal. You name it.
But I’m also with Bernie because he proved he can actually run something and run it better than those who genuflect to the alleged efficiency of the free market. I’ve seen corporate America from the inside and “efficient” is the last word I would use to describe it
I fear that the New York Times is right: Bernie is pretty far out of the mainstream. But if “Main Street” knew just how good Bernie is at running things, maybe they could get past the whole “socialist” thing and see why he should be electable after all.