As he glared at himself on TV for the very first time, Bernie Sanders shook a fist at his own image on the screen.
“He looks like the village idiot”, the mop-haired candidate moaned. “I would never vote for a bum like that!”
The occasion was the Vermont gubernatorial election of 1972. Back then, Sanders’ self-assessment and accomplishments were considerably less than they are today. In fact, he was just another long-haired radical freak with political aspirations.
It was those aspirations that had landed me in Bernie’s cramped Burlington, Vermont, apartment. I was a brand new reporter for the leftist Vermont People’s Voice. He was an unknown protest candidate for the Liberty Union Party, which he had helped found. So, while everyone knew that his chance of winning was virtually zero, there we sat, watching the pre-taped candidates’ debate.
Both of us were at the beginning of our careers; he giving his first newspaper interview in his first political campaign; me enthusiastically writing down someone else’s words in what would become my life’s work.
Bernie did lose that race, one of four he ran before becoming Burlington’s mayor, eight-term Vermont pick for the U.S. House of Representatives, two-term U.S. Senator and, finally, a serious contender for the American presidency.
Re-reading that interview today, I am struck by how much of it could have been written, well, earlier this week. Under a headline asking whether this was “A New Kind of Candidate?”, Sanders declares, among other things, that “The main problem with this state and with this country is that too much power resides with too few people…You can’t talk about politics and… power without talking about the concentration of wealth…The first thing that has to happen is that the power and wealth has to be taken away from the relatively few people who possess it and redistributed.”
Regarding the environment, he offers this prescription: “Redistribute the wealth and let’s live. When people lose harmony with nature there’s not much else.”
I have followed Bernie’s career with incredulity over the ensuing years, marveling that an unapologetic radical could rise to positions of such prominence without shedding his radical garb. My own life followed a different path: from immersion in the counterculture and radicalism as a reporter for the old LA Free Press and Berkeley Barb to more than 20 years with the L.A. Times, all recounted in my memoir Nazis & Nudists. Eventually, I became something of a late-blooming neocon, contemptuous of the notion that a man like Sanders could succeed.
What a difference four decades can make; today I’m the one shaking his fist at the TV.
[Ed.’s Note: To actually see that original, first-ever in-print interview with Bernie, Click Here.]