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A socialist in the Senate

WASHINGTON

History buffs argue that P.T. Barnum, America's great promoter from the late 1800s, never said, "There is a sucker born every minute." No matter. With the voters showing the truth of that adage, there is no reason to argue -- just accept.

It did not take long to select just one political race to demonstrate a near criminal stupidity in the popular selection of political leaders. And it was no accident that the winning candidate has craved and promoted socialism throughout his life.

There can be no doubt that Vermont voters made a bad mistake in electing Bernie Sanders as the first Socialist in the United States Senate. He cringes from that label, preferring to be known as an "independent."

Sanders, 65, was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., and by way of the University of Chicago moved to Vermont in the mass migration of hippies and anti-Vietnam War activists in the mid-1960s. He worked as a carpenter and journalist, was married and fathered a son, Levi. In 1971, he became a candidate for the U.S. Senate for the far-left Liberty Union Party -- an alternative to the Democratic and Republican parties. Bernie picked up a grand 2 percent of the vote.

Sanders had to have been a slow learner because he ran as candidate for Liberty Union three more times, achieving 6 percent of the vote before finally quitting.

Sanders had to work hard for those percentage points, promoting programs that included nationalizing all U.S. banks, public ownership of all utilities, ending of compulsory education and establishing a worker-controlled government.

By 1981, he began what became four terms as mayor of Burlington, traveling thence to the House of Representatives and the Senate, where his most outrageous schemes appear to have been put on the back burner.

But when may they appear again?

Bernie Sanders became an activist with the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), formed in 1983 when a splinter group of the Socialist Party (Michael Harrington's Socialists) merged with an SDS-splinter group known as the New American Movement.

DSA had a few celebrity members, including Gloria Steinem, who measured ability in inches, not percents; Ed Asner, the actor; black activist Cornel West; socialist writer Noam Chomsky; and "Honest John" Sweeney, boss of the AFL-CIO.

While stressing the advantages of socialism, it is estimated that the Sanders family is in the top 2 percent of income earners and it certainly has not suffered any financial losses from his time in Washington.

Like other much-criticized legislators, Bernie used campaign donations to pay his wife and stepdaughter more than $150,000 for campaign-related work since 2000, according to records filed with the Federal Election Commission.

Jane O'Meara Sanders, his second wife for the past 20 years, is president of Burlington College. They have four adult children. Jane Sanders received $91,020 between 2002 and 2004 for "consultation" and to negotiate the purchase of television and radio time-slots for Sanders' advertisements, according to records and interviews.

Approximately $61,000 of that was "pass-through" money that was used to pay media outlets for advertising time, Jane O'Meara Sanders said in an interview. The rest, about $30,000, she kept as payment for her services, she said.

Carina Driscoll, daughter to Jane O'Meara Sanders and Bernie's stepdaughter, who had been a member of Burlington City Council, picked up $65,002 in "wages" between 2000 and 2004, campaign records show. She had been her stepfather's campaign manager in 2000, his fundraiser and office manager in 2003; she was his database manager in 2004.

There was nothing illegal about all of this. But it does lead to some eyebrow-raising.

And here is the sucker-punch for all who voted for Bernie:

That Sanders was an extreme leftist was no problem for Democrats in Congress when they appointed him to a seat on the House Intelligence Committee. That year, 1993, he launched an atrocity known as the Sanders Initiative when the Democrat-controlled committee voted to reduce President Clinton's authorization to cut their budgets by 6.75 percent. But this was insufficient for Sanders; he introduced an amendment that required a minimum reduction in financial authorization for each individual intelligence agency of at least 10 percent.

Sanders refused to even examine the intelligence budget he proposed to cut: "My job is not to go through the intelligence budget. I have not even looked at it."

Half the Democrats in the House voted in favor of the Sanders amendment. As the terrorist attacks on America intensified year by year during the 1990s, Sanders steadfastly reintroduced his amendment. Every year thereafter, right until the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, the old fool put his amendment up for a vote.

Dateline D.C. is written by a Washington-based British journalist and political observer.

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