The Daily Bern: Sanders Was Progressive Before It Was Cool
Written by Natalie Davis on September 30, 2015
Say what you will about Bernie Sanders and his perceived flaws: He walks the progressive walk — pro-equality, anti-Vietnam War, pro-We The People — and he’s been on the right side of history on many societal issues for four decades. Alternet is shining a light on young Bernie, the fiery liberal who spoke to power on our issues long before it became, for some, a fashion statement — or politically expedient. Whatever your opinion of Hillary Rodham Clinton, you cannot argue that she is particularly forward thinking. Look at almost any progressive position she holds and you will see that Sanders held it first, and a long time before she could be bothered.
Here is a letter to the editor, posted on Alternet, that Sanders penned when he was running for governor of Vermont 40 years ago.
From the letter, we can glean that Sanders opposed the Vietnam conflict, supported people over corporations, decried out of control military spending and poor national priorities, spoke against legal lifestyle prohibitions, and stood — in the early 1970s — for USians’ sexual freedoms.
PolitiFact specifically focused its fact checking on same-gender marriage following Hillary Clinton’s Sept. 27 appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press. Host Chuck Todd stated that while she finally took up the marriage equality banner in 2013, Bernie Sanders had supported gay and lesbian citizens’ marriage rights for 20 years.
As mayor of Burlington, Vt., Sanders supported a gay pride parade in 1983, saying “we must all be committed to the mutual respect of each other’s lifestyle.” Sanders also put through a 1984 housing anti-discrimination ordinance that protected people based on “his or her sexual preference.”
In 1995 on the House floor, Sanders came to his feet to chastise a Republican congressman who attacked supporters of a tougher Clean Water Act as “the same people that would put homos in the military.”
According to a Boston Globe article at the time, “You used the words ‘homos in the military,’ ” Sanders shouted at Cunningham. “You have insulted thousands of gay people who have put their lives on the line in countless wars defending this country.”
So Sanders has a long track record on the side of gay rights in general.
When it comes to same-sex marriage and Todd’s reference to “20 years ago,” Todd is pointing to Sanders’ votes related to the Defense of Marriage Act.
Ah, yes, DoMA. President Bill Clinton signed that discriminatory piece of garbage into law in 1996 and then crowed about it on right-wing radio. Supporters of the bill included most Democrats, among them Maryland’s Sen. Barbara Mikulski (a closet case who dodged me repeatedly when I dared ask how she could back a hateful bill that targeted her own community and then state that “discrimination is wrong, pure and simple”) and then-First Lady Hillary Clinton. Both came around eventually, but not until we were deep into a new millennium.
Bernie Sanders, however, voted against DoMA, supported Vermont’s civil-union law in 2000, and publicly hailed the historic June 2015 Supreme Court ruling that established marriage equality in all 50 states.
He has also stood for civil rights and equality for pigmentational minorities for half a century. In July, Salon posted a list of 20 instances where Sanders showed himself to be a civil rights warrior, including being arrested in 1962 for protesting segregation of public schools in Chicago, standing against President Clinton’s 1990s welfare reform (a craven effort by Slick Willie to suck up to the GOP — “see, Democrats can hate the poor too!”), and noting publicly in 1991 that state-sanctioned murder unjustly targeted people with more than the average amount of melanin.
Sanders spoke on Capitol Hill against legislation to expand capital punishment (aka state-approved killings) in part because he found the practice largely racist.
“I’ve got a problem with a president and Congress that allows five million people to go hungry, two million people to sleep out on the street, cities to become breeding grounds for drugs and violence. And they say we’re getting tough on crime. If you want to get tough on crime, let’s deal with the causes of crime. Let’s demand that every man, woman, and child in this country have a decent opportunity and a decent standard of living. Let’s not keep putting more people into jail and disproportionately punishing blacks.”
It’s terrific that Clinton, whom many predict will win the Democratic presidential nomination, has come around to espouse certain humane points of view. But Bernie was there first. Clearly he meant what he said then and still does. He is not spouting progressive positions for mere political gain, but out of a longstanding commitment to principle. Can Hillary say that? Not honestly, I daresay.
With Clinton’s shrinking lead over Sanders, the frontrunner needs to start taking him seriously.