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Get Ready For Senator Bernie
A letter from Vermont


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EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece appears in the April 10, 2006, issue of National Review.

Barack Obama, who has become a U.S. senator, millionaire, best-selling author, and Grammy Award winner in just the last year, came to Vermont the other day for what the Burlington Free Press described as a “rock-star-like appearance.” While he did not walk on water, Obama did draw a crowd too large for the hall where he was scheduled to speak in support of the Senate bid of Congressman Bernard Sanders.

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Sanders is running to succeed the retiring James Jeffords, who, of course, left the Republicans in May 2001, costing the party control of the Senate. Jeffords got his picture on the covers of the big newsmagazines and wrote a book about his conscience, but he did not go over to the other party. While he voted reliably with the Democrats, he fastidiously maintained that he was an Independent. Sanders, too, is an Independent — they are one thing that does grow well in Vermont’s poor soil — but he didn’t have to quit one of the major parties to get there. Throughout his long political career, Sanders has consistently and stridently argued that the two major parties neglect the interests and needs of “working Americans” and favor plutocrats whose money keeps them in power. Sanders and his supporters refer, disdainfully, to the “Demicans and Republicrats” — shades of George Wallace in 1968, including the wounded pugnacity.

But if Sanders is down on the Democrats, one wonders why the party’s biggest star would come here to stump for him. Don’t the Democrats have a dog in this fight? Well, actually, no; Vermont’s Democratic party is not running a candidate for the Senate and has endorsed Sanders. So, for that matter, has the national Democratic party, whose chairman, Howard Dean, tried mightily, when he was governor of Vermont, to keep Sanders out of Congress, campaigning hard for his opponents.

Evidently, the Democrats have decided that they can’t beat Sanders, but — since he has voted with them on the big issues — they can live with him. Obama’s visit, then, is just a routine political stop to raise a little money and dispense a little glitter for the party’s sanctioned candidate, right?

Could be. But it might also be that Obama and the Democrats need Sanders more than he needs them. . . .

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