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Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The Bernie Bashers Gear Up

by Ruth Conniff

Perhaps the most exciting Senate candidate in the nation is the independent, Socialist Congressman from Vermont, Bernie Sanders.

Sanders is the real thing. A champion of his low-income, rural constituents--the dairy farmers and working poor of Vermont--and a star among Burlington progressives, Sanders has a compellingly straightforward way of talking about politics. And he has been tackling the problems that affect working families in a no-nonsense way. He was the first member of Congress to take a busload of constituents across the border to buy drugs in Canada, and he has had frequent, confrontational debates with Alan Greenspan when the former chairman of the Federal Reserve appeared before Congress.

When I interviewed Sanders recently for The Progressive, he warned that the Republicans' mounting troubles do not spell easy victory for the Democrats, who need to become more of a real opposition. As for the left, he urged liberals and progressives of all stripes to get out and talk to people who don't already agree with us. "We are right on the issues," he said, but the social and cultural divide is ours to bridge.

Of the Republican campaign against him, which was then just shaping up, Sanders said: "If you look at what they did to Max Cleland and what they did to John Kerry, we have a pretty good idea of what they can do. It�s the politics of personal destruction. They are incapable of debating issues, because their positions on all of the issues are horrendous. Their style has always been to try to personally destroy whom they run against. So we expect a great deal of negativity."

Sanders can't be surprised by the recent attack by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth slimeball John O'Neill, who calls Sanders "the most dangerous liberal in America." Sanders's candidacy "rises to the same level of danger as the thought of John Kerry as President," O'Neill writes on Newsmax.

As David Sirota points out on Huffington Post, the O'Neill screed against Sanders is as dishonest as was the Swift Boat Veterans' devastating attack on Kerry in the last Presidential election. Veterans' issues are among Sanders's top concerns, and he has been a tireless advocate for vets, loudly opposing Bush Administration efforts to cut veteran health benefits. Sanders has also led a long campaign for recognition of Gulf War Syndrome.

But the attack machine that O'Neill is part of works, as Sanders says, by ignoring issues and trying to smear candidates personally. It is also classic Karl Rove style to attack candidates not on their weaknesses but on their strengths--hence the broadside against John Kerry's military service.

I asked Sanders whether he thought the socialist label would be a big deal in this campaign. He shook his head. He has run so many campaigns, including one in which he was targeted by Newt Gingrich, that Vermont voters are too familiar with him to respond to the same old red baiting.

Instead, look for the really dirty campaign style of the type Karl Rove used against John McCain, John Kerry, and Ann Richards in her last Texas governor's race, to his everlasting discredit.

Sanders has been down that road before. But this time the stakes are bigger.

� 2005 The Progressive
The Bernie Bashers Gear Up


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