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Katy Burns: Bernie, go home

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks at George Washington University in Washington on Nov. 27. AP

  • Bernie Sanders talks with a reporter during an orientation session for freshman congressmen on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 28, 1990. AP

Monitor columnist
Published: 2/24/2019 12:40:14 AM

Bernie Sanders – to the amazement of absolutely no one – is running for president. Again.

And he’s running – again – on the Democratic ticket, although the Vermont senator is identified as an independent and has long insisted he’s a democratic socialist. But “democratic socialists” – whatever they are, exactly – seem to be sort of rare around here.

And so Bernie – and everyone calls him “Bernie,” not “Senator Sanders” – decided that he’d attach himself, as parasites are wont to do, to the good old Democratic Party, which cheerfully seems to accept … well, just about anybody.

He pulled the same stunt in 2016. And that worked out so well, didn’t it?

Well, no. It didn’t – as we all remember whenever we see or hear the current occupant of the White House. Or whenever we gaze at the wreckage of 70 or so years of bipartisan domestic and diplomatic policy our president has left in his wide wake.

Now we can’t really blame Donald Trump on Bernie. Hillary Clinton was a stupendously lousy candidate carrying enough baggage to fill a railroad luggage car – at least if there still are such things.

But his running against her in – and winning – the New Hampshire primary gave her a big push down the hill, and his acolytes kept shoving. Packs of offensive “Bernie bros” haunted her to the convention, and vowed they’d never vote for the woman who was clearly going to head the ticket.

It didn’t exactly help her in the general election, and we all know how that turned out.

Bernie, as it happens, has spent most of his adult life on a public payroll. After years as a local officeholder in Burlington, Sanders went to Washington. Since 1991 he’s been a member of Congress, first as a member of the House of Representatives and, since 2007, as Vermont’s junior senator.

All along the way, he has used – and dumped on – the Democratic Party even as he has steadfastly refused to join that organization.

And now Bernie – still not a Democrat and still determined not to be one – wants to hijack another Democratic primary campaign, which is his longtime modus operandi.

A few years ago, he happily outlined his strategy for a reporter from the Washington Post by citing one technique he’d use: Facing possible competition for his congressional seat, he’d file as a candidate in the Democrat primary, fairly certain he’d win Then, after the primary, he’d decline the actual Democratic nomination, presumably to preserve his purity. And, voila! He’d face the general election with no Democratic opposition.

It’s not, of course, that Sanders has used his accumulated seniority to accomplish much of real significance, although he gets credit for having been an effective chairman of the Veterans Affairs committee. His most notable legislative victory so far, according to his bio on Wikipedia, has been to get through a bill designating a postal facility in Danville, Vt., as the Thaddeus Stevens Post Office.

I guess that Vermonters – as long as they have at least one effective senator, the redoubtable Patrick Leahy – like having their gadfly around.

Curious minds might well ask what the senator has done in the last 28 years to advance his pet projects, notably Medicare for All and free public college education for all. Well, those curious minds would ask in vain, for he seems to have done nada. They’re great ideas, but enacting such major projects would require a lot of in-the-trenches grunt work, which might take time away from, say, running for president.

Nevertheless, back on the campaign trail, he is tooting his own horn. The other night, interviewed by MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, he patted himself on the back, something he likes to do.

“We’ve come a long way in transforming the Democratic Party in making it into a more progressive party. . . .” Bernie, there is no “we” here! You are not a Democrat! You are adamant that you will never be a Democrat! You do your best to neutralize and to disarm the Democratic Party!

There’s another factor to consider in all this presidential maneuvering, by the way. Bernie is also – what’s a nice way of putting this? – ah, yes. Bernie is old. And I can fearlessly say this because, well, I am also old. As, incidentally, is Joe Biden, who’s also said to be eyeing his own presidential run.

If Bernie by some wild chance would actually be elected, he would be just months shy of his 80th birthday when he is inaugurated. That is too old, and I say that as a Sanders contemporary. Whether we like it or not, we are prey to the maladies and infirmities that come along with being old. Does this country really want to be ruled by a gerontocracy?

The modern presidency is an exhaustingly stressful job. Look at our last two presidents. George W. Bush and Barack Obama were glowing with youthful vigor when they were sworn in. A scant eight years later each was notably more aged – gray-haired, with a lined face and somber mien.

(Yes, the current White House resident does seem oddly immune to the changes wrought by the burden of his job – he continues to sport a preternaturally orange complexion and an odd but unchanging furry thing on his head, not to mention the same black suit, over-long red tie and huge black overcoat he seems to wear everywhere. But he is truly sui generis, which I think all sides can agree is a good thing.)

Now – unlike four years ago – there’s a whole slew of people advocating the kind of things Bernie endorses. Kamala, Beto, Tulsi, Cory, Amy, Kirsten, Sherrod.

And – unlike the gentleman from Vermont, Joe Biden and, well, me – they are young.

(“Monitor” columnist Katy Burns lives in Bow.)

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