Saturday, December 11, 2010

Bernie and Bill

Yesterday Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) held the Senate floor for eight and a half hours while he spoke out against the compromise tax bill worked out by President Obama and the Republicans. It became an immediate internet media sensation, crashing the Senate’s live-feed TV server at times.

Meanwhile, at the other end of Pennsylvania, former president Bill Clinton met with President Obama, then came out and spoke to the White House press corps in support of the deal.

It was one of those split-screen things on TV that can make politics fun to watch. (I missed all of it; those 402 PDF reports that are going out next week don’t download themselves, y’know.) I’ve been catching up on my thread reading of other blogs and it’s fun to read the reactions of readers and writers; they are all over the map in terms of what good the deal will do for the economy, plus the family-feud dynamics of having the liberals arguing with each other over whether or not Barack Obama is the biggest sell-out in the history of the western world or he’s a principled negotiator who got the best deal he could out of the hostage-taking Republicans. As for Mr. Sanders, they ran the gamut from a waste of good time to invoking Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

I have to say that I admire both Mr. Sanders and Mr. Clinton; not necessarily for their stated political views all the time, but for the fact that these are two men who really do know how the world of politics is played. Mr. Sanders, a transplanted Broolynite (accent and all), has been a driving force in Vermont since 1981 when he was the mayor of Burlington and then the sole Congressman from the state, and now the the junior senator. He is a socialist and has never been shy about making his views known in spite of the fact that being a socialist has been turned into an epithet by people who have no clue as to what it means. But he’s never been a bomb-thrower or a rabble-rouser just to get attention in the style of Newt Gingrich, and he’s obviously figured out how to get along and work deals in Washington and Vermont. And there is probably no better living politician than Bill Clinton. He gets all of the angles, and best of all, he really loves politics; he doesn’t mind getting into the thick of it. He not only survived the impeachment battle brought on by the GOP (and his own failings), but emerged more popular than ever and made the Republicans look like the petty hypocrites that they are. And through it all, he never lost sight of the fact that what was at stake wasn’t just his political career, but what he was trying to do for the country as president: grow the economy and therefore make life better for everyone, regardless of politics.

There may a lot of differences between Bernie Sanders and Bill Clinton in terms of political views — the unapologetic leftist and the ultimate triangulator — but I can see them sitting down after both of their media circus events yesterday and having a drink and a laugh. I really don’t think that could happen between Mitch McConnell and Barack Obama, and that’s too bad.