Our Opinion: Sanders remains consistently on point

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Some media outlets are using a nearly 50-year-old interview that the Brattleboro Reformer conducted with Bernie Sanders — then a Liberty Union Party candidate for Vermont governor and now a Democratic candidate for president — to imply that he once praised Alabama's then segregationist governor George Wallace.

"In an interview with the Brattleboro Reformer in 1972, Sanders, then 31, said Wallace 'advocates some outrageous approaches to our problems, but at least he is sensitive to what people feel they need,'" wrote Joseph Simonson on Jan. 30 for the Washington Examiner in a story headlined, "Bernie Sanders praised segregationist George Wallace as 'sensitive' in 1972."

The headline, clearly taken out of context, attempts to paint Sanders as another hypocrite politician, someone who structures and changes his message according to the political whims at the time. However, a complete read of the Reformer article, which ran on Oct. 28, 1972, shows that Sanders was actually not praising Wallace, but rather the way he was able to connect with his constituents.

Furthermore, the Reformer article shows how consistent Sanders' message has been over the decades. And clearly, much of what he said back then still applies today.

In the 1972 interview, Sanders talked about needing to address such issues as low wages, inadequate housing, the high cost of health care and the polluting influence of special interest groups in the political process.

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"He traced 'a general sense of helplessness' and lack of public confidence in elected officials to the politicians' lack of sensitivity and 'the fact that the government is not only indebted to special interests, but is also indentured to them,'" wrote the Reformer's reporter, William Poole.

"We don't need people making only $1.60 an hour," continued Sanders. "We don't need people living in broken down mobile homes. There is enough money around to provide good housing for people. And we don't need people fearful of getting sick because of $70-to$80-a-day hospital bills. We have enough money for a national health service."

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Although the numbers have changed over the past 50 years, Sanders' message has not.

An examination of Sanders' other interviews and writings from that time further prove his consistency, and completely debunk the implication that he would ever praise Wallace.

In an essay printed in 1972 in Movement, a magazine published by the Liberty Union, Sanders wrote about the ability politicians such as Wallace had in tapping into a sense of resentment and turning that resentment into votes. In speaking with supporters of Wallace, wrote Sanders, he found "a certain feeling of admiration and respect for" their anger at the political system. But then he goes on to compare Wallace to Adolph Hitler.

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"My mind flashed to scenes of Germany in the late 1920s. Confusion, rebellion, frustration, economic instability, a wounded national pride, ineffectual political leadership — and the desire for a strong man who would do something, who would bring order out of the chaos. ... Their attraction to Wallace goes well beyond the issues. They see in Wallace a man who is standing up to the Establishment — a tough little guy fighting for them. They admire his courage and his straightforwardness. 'He comes right out and says what he feels.'"

Responding to the Washington Examiner's Jan. 30 article, the Sanders campaign said, "Throughout his entire life, he's warned about demagogues like Wallace and Donald Trump using hate and fear to divide people up."

One can draw a fairly straight line from his assessment of voters' disenchantment to Donald Trump's election in 2016 and his popularity among his base despite his coarseness and narcissism.

Like him or not, Sanders had something to say back then that still resonates today.


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