French voters made a major lurch backwards last week when they elected a Socialist for President, Francois Hollande. For France, it’s not that big a surprise. To one extent or another they’ve lived under socialism since the middle ages.
Of course having witnessed the oft-tried, always-failed reality of socialism, one wonders why they keep coming back. After all, it’s their unsustainable approach to the economy that has moved France to third-rate status with a first rate economic disaster.
But as with train wrecks everywhere, France’s election commands our attention momentarily before we shift to something relevant.
Though the state from which I write was named by a Frenchman, I have hopes that Vermont will move in a different direction in this fall’s election. That’s why I’m challenging the only admitted socialist in the U.S. Senate, Bernie Sanders.
For more than twenty years Bernie has served the role of interesting oddity in the otherwise staid halls of Congressional power. Bernie has proven that entertaining is not the same thing as compelling or convincing. In fact, for all his side-show hucksterism he’s accomplished almost nothing in his 20 years as a political figure. It’s time for an intermission, if not a conclusion, while we all join to put Vermont back on track.
Centuries ago, the Connecticut River valley bustled with trade, yet today tourism and an image of quaintness account for much of Vermont’s revenue. Yet there is much more to this state, and to those who struggle here to make ends meet, than that Hollywood-manufactured image conveys. Sanders belongs more to the Bob Newhart Show caricature than he does to the real state of Vermont and the real desire for reform you find among its citizens.
Tens of thousands of small cottage businesses testify to the industriousness of Vermonters, and the tolerance and compassion of our people should not be mistaken for leftist values or an embrace of profligate spending in Washington, DC. Vermonters want the opportunity to work, but also expect that their national government will be responsible in administering the taxpayers’ money.
It is precisely because of uncompromising ideology and a slavish fealty to interest groups like the big unions that our national government today is broken. For three years the Senate has been unable to pass a budget. Senators would, apparently, rather grandstand than make difficult policy decisions. During the eleventh hour of 2010, Sanders launched an 8 hour filibuster against a bipartisan tax deal because it marked one of the few instances in which President Obama reached across the aisle to work with Republicans. In Sanders’ view, his spending request for entitlement programs was too low.
Before Obama, Bernie Sanders could be laughed off as the quirky professor who was well-liked because of a fond, if irrational, nostalgia for the 1960s. During the Obama presidency; however, he has become a cheerleader for sending America’s government—and the economy that supports it—off a fiscal cliff.
A recent study by the civic accountability group Govtrack.us finds Bernie Sanders to the far left of all members of Congress when it comes to ideology. But when it came to leadership, he was in the lower third. His 2010 filibuster was, in fact, his most memorable moment in the Senate. As a member of the oversight committee of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, he has browbeaten ideological opponents but done nothing to advance America’s energy independence. On the budget committee, he has committed himself to extreme partisanship instead of rolling up his sleeves to find solutions for balancing the nation’s budget. America’s fiscal salvation depends, one might conclude after hearing him speak, simply on taxing the rich. In sum, what Vermont has gotten out of Bernie Sanders is a lot of bluster and few results.
Many may find it unsurprising for both France and Vermont to elect socialists, if for slightly different reasons. With Hollande’s success in the French elections, it is the first time since Mitterand that a socialist has occupied the Palais Elysee. In contrast, Bernie Sanders has become a fixture for Vermonters.
But with unemployment hovering just below double-digits and the hope for recovery remaining ephemeral, Vermont just may find it can no longer afford Bernie Sanders. Getting Americans back to work and returning the nation to fiscal health demands a government that also gets back to work—the work of the people. That work has more to do with helping, rather than assailing, the free market. Getting there requires a new, clear-eyed approach and the courage to challenge the old stereotypes.
This November is the right time for Vermont to send a message to Washington that it really is different. It is time to retire Bernie Sanders.
MacGovern is the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Vermont.