The Times They Are a-Changin' | Inside Track | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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The Times They Are a-Changin' 

Peter Freyne, who has covered Bernie for decades, puts Sanders' Senate win in historical perspective.

Bernie Sanders

Published November 8, 2006 at 5:00 p.m.

Be forewarned — yours truly is writing this week's column on Tuesday before the polls close. The Seven Days printing schedule rules. Unlike The Burlington Free Press, Vermont's premier weekly does not own a printing press. Hey, aren't newspapers — ones made out of newsprint — getting old-fashioned?

Yes, indeed. Bob Dylan's inside our ears this morning. The times, they are indeed a-changin'. For one thing, yours truly has become a blogger. Old dog, new trick, eh?

"Freyne Land" was born at the ever-changing Seven Days website. And we've had the cyberspace pleasure of meeting a whole lot of familiar, as well as new, voices "out there" in the Vermont political blogosphere. So, for the election post-mortem, we'll see you over there in the clickable universe.

One thing we can do right now, however, is let that big grin spill across our Irish kisser. From now on, Bernie Sanders will be called "Senator Sanders." Another unique Vermont gift to the nation. Can't wait for "Meet the Press," eh?

Senator-elect Sanders embodies a direct link to the revolutionary spirit and the commitment to justice of the civil rights and antiwar struggles of the 1960s and early 1970s. He's kept the faith.

Right now, though, a brief pause would be nice, to recall some of those old battles with Burlington Mayor Bernie Sanders. Quiet little Vermont had never really experienced "loud" and "pushy" before. Loud and pushy, however, were Sanders' bread-and-butter communication skills. And passion was never, ever in short supply. In 1981, after several unsuccessful attempts, it all clicked in a four-way Burlington mayor's race. The 10-vote miracle victory happened.

Yours truly's "postgraduate" years behind the wheel of a Chicago taxi turned out to be the perfect prep work for dealing with Bernie the Bully on a regular basis. When Mayor Sanders called a presser — which he did almost every damn day back then — it was our job to ask the questions. Hizzoner did not like it. Did not like being questioned beyond the approved, acceptable softball inquiry. That's why the first nickname Sanders got in this column way back in the early 1980s, then in the Vanguard Press, was "Lord Bernie." In those days, yours truly was a whole lot more popular with Republicans.

Obviously Ol' Bernardo has mellowed. Haven't we all? Winning is enormously important to him, but it all starts with having something worth fighting for. The principles, the actual policy, is what counts to Bernie Sanders. Last week London's The Guardian had a feature on Vermont's new senator written by its Washington bureau chief Julian Borger:

He is an unapologetic socialist and proud of it. Even his admirers admit that he lacks social skills, and he tends to speak in tirades. Yet that has not stopped him winning eight consecutive elections to the U.S. House of Representatives.

"Twenty years ago, when people here thought about socialism, they were thinking about the Soviet Union, about Albania," Mr. Sanders told the Guardian in a telephone interview from the campaign trail. "Now they think about Scandinavia. In Vermont, people understand I'm talking about democratic socialism."

John McClaughry, the head of a free-market Vermont think tank, the Ethan Allen Institute, said Mr. Sanders is a throwback to that era. "Bernie Sanders is an unreconstructed 1930s socialist and proud of it. He's a skillful demagogue who casts every issue in that framework, a master practitioner of class warfare."

When Mr. Sanders, a penniless but eloquent import from New York, got himself elected mayor of Burlington in 1981, at the height of the cold war, it rang some alarm bells. "I had to persuade the air force base across the lake that Bernie's rise didn't mean there was a communist takeover of Burlington," recalled Garrison Nelson, a politics professor at the University of Vermont."

Yes, indeed, whatever happened to the communists, anyway? Is it true their real target all along was the National Hockey League?

What a nice compliment from John McClaughry. John's the gracefully aging former Vermont Republican state senator who in 1992 got his political butt kicked back to kingdom come by Howard Dean. Dean the Democrat got 75 percent of the vote to Sour John's 23 percent! It was Ho-Ho's first run for governor. You might say John McClaughry was his political launching pad.

These days, Johnny Mac's "free-market think tank" only has room for one brain — McClaughry's. This morning Sour John was on the WDEV radio airwaves with a blistering "commentary" attacking . . . ready for this . . . Bill McKibben! Bill is the author of The End of Nature (1989) and is currently a scholar in residence at Middlebury College. Global warming is Billy Boy's No. 1 issue. Said McClaughry to Radio Vermont listeners:

"McKibben is terribly worried about global warming. He seems to think the humans are cooking the planet by committing the sin of internal combustion and living better with electricity. That view is bad science, but it's good enough to get him the job at Middlebury — Vermont's headquarters for global warming hysteria."

"Global warming hysteria?"

Poor John.

Good News! — We were just watching WCAX-TV, getting ready to catch the Noon News with Beth Parent, when the signs of change hit yours truly right in the kisser. No Richie Tarrant for Senate commercial! No Martha Rainville commercial! No Peter Welch commercial! No anybody for anything commercial.


Instead, they've gone back to Attorney Tony Lamb acting like a real sweetie as he promotes his law firm, followed by Ed McMahon pitching premier bathtubs to old folks who fancy "hydrotherapy jets."

Yes, indeed, back to reality!

Behind-the-Scenes — Political candidates get their mugs on everything. Their names are plastered everywhere, from bumper stickers to traffic circles. But political races are won and lost on organization. The grassroots is where it's at.

Filling the bill for newly elected U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders is one of Vermont's most highly regarded grassroots organizers: Ethan Ready (pronounced Reed-y). Ethan's just 30 years old, but he's been active in Vermont political campaigns for almost 20 years! Many of you know his much-heralded mom — former Addison County State Senator and Vermont State Auditor Elizabeth Ready. Chainsaw Liz's first state senate race was in 1988. She had quite the run.

Ethan told "Inside Track" the other day he started knocking on doors when he was 12. He worked on his mom's campaigns as well as for the Democratic Party and the Vermont State Employees Association. And he had quite the field-organizer reputation when Rep. Bernie Sanders recruited him a year ago to be the field director for his historic U.S. Senate bid. Ol' Bernardo wanted the best, and in Ethan Ready he got it.

"It's an organizer's dream to work for Bernie," said Mr. Ready, "because people react strongly to his message."

Ready may be more familiar with the highways and byways of the state of Vermont than any other field director out there. He's certainly knocked on more Vermont doors and chatted up more total strangers than anyone we know.

"We've been at it for a year," said Ethan, "and we've come a long way." Bernie, said Ready, "wanted the strongest grassroots campaign the state has ever seen."

Looks like Bernie got what he asked for, eh?

And it's hardly a fly-by-night operation, but one that involves intensive vote-canvassing and voter identification. Ready said his troops distributed more than 100,000 pieces of Sanders for Senate campaign literature to Vermont households, and knocked on more than 70,000 Vermont doors!

"I think that's something that's unprecedented," said Sanders, "and we're very proud of that effort. What excites me very much is, the turnouts have been phenomenal. There's a lot of excitement. People are ready for change. They want to end one-party government."

Got that one right, eh?

Dean Land — Vermont's well-known doctor-governor, Howard Brush Dean III, may not have won his party's 2004 presidential nomination, but he certainly looks poised on Tuesday afternoon to be in the right place at the right time. Dean is the indefatigable chairman of the Democratic National Committee, just when many a GOP incumbent coast to coast appears ready to go down in flames. Even in red states.

It wasn't that long ago, perhaps just months, that Howard Dean was still winning scorn from his party's prominent centrist/conservative wing, represented by the well-endowed Democratic Leadership Council.

There was no love lost between them. Dean called the DLC "the Republican wing of the Democratic Party." And it's no secret that the DLC was not happy with Dr. Dean as DNC chairman and, in particular, not happy at all with his "50-state election strategy" — the very strategy that on Tuesday appears to be positively groundbreaking! Earth-shattering! And the key to Democratic Party gains.

The very strategy that Ho-Ho told us on Monday "is being followed by the Democratic Party for the first time in several decades."

About time, eh?

Chairman Dean appears to have a future in politics. The 2008 election begins today.

Not-to-be-UnDunne — Democrat Matt Dunne, even if he finishes in second place, appears to have used the 2006 Lite-Gov race to his advantage. He's had incumbent Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie running and ducking and finally fighting back in the closing days.

Gov. Jim Douglas cut a one-minute radio spot for him, and Dubie pumped out a TV spot attacking Sen. Dunne's attendance record.

Win or lose, Not-to-be-UnDunne looks like an early favorite to win the 2008 Democratic nomination for governor.

Dunne's introduction of "service politics" and his radical notion that "for $61,000 the lieutenant governor's job should be a full-time job" have won him some well-earned notoriety. If the Throw the Bums Out Tsunami is a 4 out of 5, Brian Dubie's got problems.

Tarrant Farewell! — Well, we're not going to have Richie Rich Tarrant to kick around anymore. Don't think he'll be missed. His obnoxious lawn signs and annoying, insulting TV commercials have left him a reputation he'll never shake in Vermont.

In addition, Candidate Rich's lack of command of the important issues of the day was startling. All he could do was repeat the same memorized lines over and over and over. Pathetic!

His financial success — amassing a $300 million personal fortune — may have given Tarrant the luxury of frittering away more than $7 million of it without a care in the world, but, still, even a Florida millionaire should be ashamed of the gross self-indulgence. Why, Ol' Jack McMullen had a better grasp of the issues. Much nicer guy, too.

There's been some unconfirmed speculation Tarrant ran to show party loyalty and earn a Bush administration appointment. Perhaps an ambassadorship?

Lucky country, eh?

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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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