Experience is a mixed bag in the political world.
On one hand, it provides a candidate with a lengthy resume chock-full of examples he or she can use to further their candidacy. Candidates with experience often use it in an effort to showcase how their values have remained consistent or how they have been put in situations where their leadership was a valuable asset. They say how their experience gives them an advantage over someone who is seen as a political novice. Someone who may talk a big game but whose own lack of experience might largely be seen as a disadvantage, especially toward complicated issues, both foreign and domestic. In this sense, one's experience is often seen as a tipping point between two equally qualified candidates.
On the other hand, experience also gives a candidate's opponents multiple opportunities to attack them. If a candidate has remained consistent in his or her views, the argument can be made that this person hasn't "evolved" and that they're stuck in an antiquated mindset on certain issues. In addition, candidates can argue that someone with experience has been around so long that they simply have become lethargic in a way that they're now simply going through the motions rather than actively engaging in good governance. And, most importantly, a candidate with experience has accrued a lifelong voting record, one that has become public record. Should a candidate ever say or do something contrary to his record, then his or her opponent can simply point this out and accuse the candidate of being a hypocrite.
Bernie Sanders has a record in public service that has lasted forty-five years and has amassed quite a record.
With that record comes decades worth of votes at the mayoral, congressional, and senatorial level. Each vote harkens back to Sanders' underlying political philosophy of democratic socialism. Yet each vote is something more in that it represents an opportunity for Sanders to remain consistent, not only in his core beliefs, but also in the way in which he regards the political process. Is he someone who says anything to get elected? Do his views change depending on which way the political winds are blowing? Are certain votes based on pragmatism and practicality rather than idealism and ideology? Is Bernie Sanders someone the people can trust as president of the United States?
Let us examine Sanders' record to see what his story tells.
A Mutually Beneficial Agreement with the Vermont Democratic Party
Bernie Sanders has consistently railed against what he perceives to be as the democratic establishment. However, his own personal history would tell of someone who has benefited greatly from their assistance. For example, in 1988, Bernie Sanders ran as in independent for Vermont's lone congressional seat and lost a close election to Republican Peter Smith with Democratic Party candidate Paul Poirier coming in a distant third. Seeing as how a far-left candidate like Sanders was syphoning votes away from the Vermont Democratic Party, the two sides got together and came to a mutually beneficial agreement: The Democratic Party would not run any serious challenger against Sanders while Sanders himself would refuse to establish a third party in the state and would adopt mainstream Democratic Party views. This paved the way for the 1990 congressional election where Sanders had the luxury of challenging a sitting Republican congressman with there being no chance of a Democratic opponent stealing votes away from Sanders.
An Unholy Alliance With The NRA
After taking up an anti-NRA stance in his 1988 congressional election, Bernie Sanders was actually endorsed by the NRA two year later. The reason? Sanders' opponent, sitting Republican congressman Peter Smith, had gone back on his word to the NRA and had endorsed an assault weapons ban. Because of this, Smith was targeted for defeat and Sanders was the "enemy of my enemy" and therefore earned the support of the NRA. Wayne LaPierre himself published a letter to 12,000 NRA members in Vermont with the endorsement stating "Bernie Sanders is a more honorable choice for Vermont sportsmen than Peter Smith." Thanks to the NRA's support and due to the fact that there was no aforementioned Democratic Party candidate running, Sanders finally broke through on his seventh attempt to run for either governor or congressman from the state of Vermont and made history as the first openly socialist congressman since the 1950s.
Open Support for Communist States
Bernie Sanders has insisted his political views are actually very much aligned with the average American voter. Yet it is a fact that Bernie Sanders chose to honeymoon in the USSR in 1988 while that country was still under the direct rule of communism. In addition, in 1985 as mayor of Burlington, Sanders was the only elected U.S. official to attend the anniversary of the Sandinista uprising in Managua, Nicaragua. Upon his return, Sanders described being impressed by the Sandinista leaders in that they weren't "political hacks" that some had portrayed them to be. That very same year, Sanders also spoke highly of Cuban president Fidel Castro. Sanders said, "In 1961, [America] invaded Cuba and everyone was totally convinced that Castro was the worst guy in the world. All the Cuban people were going to rise up in rebellion against Fidel Castro. They forgot that he educated their kids, gave their kids health care, totally transformed society." Although the tide is starting to turn in favor of reestablishing relations with Cuba, Sanders' open support for the communist country in the mid-1980s cannot be seen as the view of a typical American at the time.
The Arrest of Anti-War Protesters in 1999
Bernie Sanders has frequently mentioned his early activism in both debates and on the campaign trail. In fact, he often cites his sit-in at the University of Chicago in 1962 where he protested the university's segregated housing practices as the moment he became engaged politically. Sanders credits that moment and his subsequent arrest as being one of his most eye-opening experiences. So how then would Sanders respond 37 years later when a group of 25 upset Vermonters chose to share their frustration with then Congressman Sanders' foreign policy views by staging a sit-in at his Burlington office? The result was that Sanders had 15 of them arrested for trespassing. Long gone were the days where Sanders saw himself in the faces of up-and-coming political activists. Rather, we now had Sanders, a sitting United States congressman refuse to meet with his own constituents. I wonder how college Bernie Sanders would view the person he became.
A Hawkish Foreign Policy
Lastly, Bernie Sanders has had no problem painting himself as an anti-war candidate. He mentions his anti-Iraq War vote at least twice per debate as a way to highlight his sound foreign policy judgment. However, Sanders' voting record paints a different picture. His open support of NATO bombing in Kosovo in 1999 was the reason that his Burlington office was being occupied at the time. In fact, not only did his support lead to the protesters' action but it also forced one of Sanders' staff to pen an open resignation letter, criticizing Sanders' support of the military intervention. In addition, Sanders voted in favor of giving George W. Bush unilateral war powers after September 11th, a vote which has allowed a military presence in the country of Afghanistan to this day. And, perhaps most troubling, Bernie Sanders ultimately voted to fund the Iraq War. Was it simply a lost cause at that point or did Sanders now believe in the war effort? It's clearly not the Iraq vote he wants people talking about.
What It All Means
Here's the thing about Bernie Sanders' candidacy: He talks a big game of millions and millions of people rising up in support of his "political revolution." He's proud of his 3 million contributions. He speaks in broad, intentionally vague ways about his plans to enact universal health care and provide a free public college education. Yet when he's called out on something, it's unfair or a "low blow" in his mind. Because Bernie has been living in a bubble for the past three decades and has not been seriously challenged. He is running as a representative for all fifty states, not simply the state of Vermont. Bernie's hypocrisy might have flown under the radar there but on the national stage with so much at stake the voters have a right and an obligation to learn who Bernie Sanders is and what he stands for.
Unfortunately, it appears that the only thing Bernie Sanders has stood for all these years has been himself.