A former colleague of the independent Senator asks, ‘What Makes Bernie Speak?’

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“You have two political parties that are controlled by monied interests,” he argues. “You have a corporate media. When you talk about consolidation, you are talking about oil and gas, banking, and perhaps most importantly, the media – where there are very few voices of dissent regarding our current position on the global economy. That gets to even the more fundamental issue – the health of American democracy. Do people know what’s going on? And how can they fight what’s going on? I fear that they don’t.”

He’s also critical of his “friends” on the Left. As he put it while serving as Vermont’s only Congressman (1990-2006), “I have long been concerned that some progressive activists do not stand up and fight effectively or pay enough attention to the needs of ordinary Americans. Right now, one of the issues I am terribly concerned about is what is being proposed for social security, which I think would be a disaster. It affects senior citizens today. It affects future generations. How much discussion is there of that issue among activists and intellectuals, who should understand it? I’ve heard very little…

…This gets close to the core of Bernie’s analysis: politicians and international financial groups protecting the interests of banks and the wealthy at the expense of the poor and working people behind a veil of secrecy. Governments reduced to the status of figureheads under international capitalist management. Both political parties kowtowing to big money flaks. And media myopia fueling public ignorance. His task, he says, is to raise consciousness and, when possible, expose the real agendas of the powerful.

He has also often stated that people should “keep working on what is a very difficult task; that is, creating a third party in America.” Despite this position, however, he has done little to help develop one in Vermont since leaving the anti-war Liberty Union Party in 1977. When I asked about it, he replied curtly. “I am very much preoccupied and work very hard,” he said. “I am not going to play an active role in building a third party.”

On the surface, it seems like a contradiction. But what those who view him as a possible breakaway presidential candidate in 2012 need to keep in mind is that Bernie has maintained an arms-length relationship with Vermont’s Progressive Party, which his own early victories helped to create. And although he frequently expresses the hope that the base for a third party will expand, and sometimes selectively lends support to candidates, sustained and active involvement in party-building would strain his mutually advantageous détente with Democrats.

Greg Guma worked with Bernie Sanders in Burlington during the 1980s and wrote The People’s Republic: Vermont and the Sanders Revolution.

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