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So, Now How You Feeling? 

Sanders holds a town hall meeting in Montpelier on the subject of Yugoslavia. Some longtime leftist activists break with Bernie; others agree with his pro-intervention view.

Bernie Sanders

Published May 5, 1999 at 4:00 a.m.

A little better, thanks. It really does help when you talk about it.

In Washington, D.C., it's duck-and-run time, which is why you don't hear of congressmen or senators holding town meetings on the subject of the War in Yugoslavia. Except here in Vermont, where our only congressman bravely did just that Monday night. In the sweat box of the Pavilion Auditorium in Montpeculiar, Bernie Sanders stood before a standing-room-only gathering and took the heat, literally.

The 220 folks in the audience spanned four generations, from a World War II bombardier to the colorful skateboard and spiked hair set. In between were the kids of the Cold War and veterans of the antiwar movement of the '60s. And most people in the room had two wishes: that the NATO bombing stop immediately, and the auditorium's ventilation system kick on before people started fainting in the sweltering enclosure.

One out of two ain't bad.

The gathering had the flavor of a '60s teach-in. Sanders set the line-up. You could fill Lake Champlain twice over with all we don't know about Yugoslavia, its history, its politics and its people. The panelists actually managed to shed a little light on the subject and provide some of the context for the horrific happenings of the day. When the cat callers started in, Ol' Bernardo was quickly in their faces, demanding and winning order and respect.

Clearly the audience was split. One segment was passionately behind an immediate end to the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. Some were among the 15 arrested for trespassing in Bernie's Burlington office last week.

A smaller bunch supported the NATO military campaign with gusto, wished it had come sooner, and called for the head of Slobodan Milosevic, dictator and war criminal — the monster behind the siege of Sarajevo, the shelling of Vukovar and the mass execution of 7000 boys and men in Srebrenica.

But the largest segment in Montpelier Monday night was somewhere in the middle. Torn between a deeply held commitment to peace and the responsibility to stand up to the fascism and genocide.

Old Vermont leftists found themselves on opposite sides for the first time on this one. Among them was Marc Estrin of Burlington. He rose to to tell the congressman, whom he has long supported, "You're leaving us behind." Sanders' acceptance of the "power politics monster," warned Estrin, "will erode your support."

Indeed, on the internet's UVM "ANTIWAR" listserv, where some progressives have vented their political views of late, Sanders' longtime political ally, Rep. Terrill Bouricius, has parted company with him. These two have been connected at their political left hips for over 20 years.

In a posting last Thursday, the spacier half of the Self-Righteous Brothers announced he was "saddened and angered to hear of Bernie's vote on supporting continued NATO bombing." Bouricius charged that Bernie "seems to be willing to accept what I believe to be NATO/U.S. propaganda." While calling Sanders "on whole, the best congressman by far," Bouricius writes, "his support for super-power violation of international law has earned my condemnation."

How honored! To be condemned by a Self-Righteous Brother!

Shown Terry's remarks during a Seven Days interview Monday, Sanders replied, "Terry's entitled to his opinion. But he's wrong!"

Yes, Bernie was against the Vietnam War and the Contra War and Grenada and Panama, but would he have fought in World War II to stop Hitler's conquest?

"Absolutely," he replied. "Where is the concern about Mr. Milosevic? The organized rape of 20,000 women? The executions? Are Progressives supposed to turn their backs on that? Is that what being a Progressive is about?" asked the founder of the Congressional Progressive caucus.

Another veteran of the Sanderista revolution of the 1980s, Seth Lipschutz, told the Monday gathering he could no longer keep silent. "A segment of the left is missing the boat on this one," he said. "If ever there was a time to counter mass murder and rape, this could be the time."

Almost 40 people stepped up to the mic to voice their very sincere feelings about the NATO attack on Belgrade. Everyone who wanted to had their say. Those who wanted to call Bernie Sanders a "sellout" and a "warmonger" had their say as weil: Democracy is a precious commodity.

Beautiful to watch.

One woman noted that Ol' Bernardo was "the only congressman" she knew who would have a public meeting on such a touchy subject, knowing full well that "half of the audience would get up and condemn him."

"I would be very happy if it was only half;" replied Sanders, in one of the rare light moments of a very hot night.

Meanwhile, while Bernie takes all the heat, don't expect GOP Sen. Jim Jeffords to hold a similar town meeting any time soon. Jeezum Jim got great play over the weekend as he donned blue jeans and work boots to pick up trash in the Burlington Intervale as part of Green-Up Day. He's on a roll.

Corrections — Last week, we got Sen. Jean Ankeney's 77th birthday wrong. It's March 29, not April 29. Sorry, Senator!

Ankeney and fellow Sen. Janet Munt, 76, comprise the unofficial "Granny Caucus." They really are quite unique, Lt. Gov. Doug Racine pointed out recently. "Unlike the rest of us," said Racine, "who worry about getting reelected," Jean and Janet "have no political fear." True enough, the dynamic duo is scorned by the Statehouse business lobbyists, who grudgingly accept the fact that they're unable to successfully spin either one of them.

"They have no fear of people being mad at them," said Racine the Conqueror, "or of not getting support in the next election. It's just not part of their equation."

Also, two weeks ago, Inside Track incorrectly identified the hotel at which the pharmaceutical company reps picked up the tab for lawmakers attending the American Legislative Exchange Council dinner. It was held at Rep. Dick Marron's Town & Country spa in beautiful Stowe. Sorry, Dick.

Speaking of drugs, you may recall our report on how one drug company lobbyist, Andrew MacLean, warned lawmakers drug companies might boycott Vermont if S.88 ever sees the light of day. That's the bill that would set pharmaceutical prices in Vermont at the much lower price Uncle Sam pays. However, Marjorie Powell, assistant general counsel for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PHRMA) told Rep. Paul Poirier's committee Friday that drug companies "will sell their drugs wherever there is a market." As for the threat of a boycott, she replied, "if anyone said that, they're in trouble. We don't have borders that let you do that in this country."

MacLean sat quietly in the corner of the committee room. Paul the Puckster was looking in his direction, but the lobbyist wasn't making eye contact with the chairman just then.

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About The Author

Peter Freyne

Peter Freyne

Peter Freyne, 1949-2009, wrote the weekly political column "Inside Track," which originated in the Vanguard Press in the mid 1980s; he brought it to Seven Days in 1995. He retired it shortly before his death in January, 2009. We all miss him.


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