(HOST) Vermont has long been known for electing moderate voices to the U.S. Senate – a practice that commentator Frank Bryan fears is now over.
(BRYAN) The United States Senate is Vermont’s lifeline to the Republic. In the Senate Vermont is as big as California.
That is why it is so troublesome to hear a national comedian, more popular with the Democrats than the Republicans, joke “It was hard to see how Vermont could become more marginalized on the national scene, but they’ve done it with the election of Bernie Sanders to the Senate.” Sometimes the truth hurts – and makes us laugh.
But for me this truth mostly hurts. And understand. Sanders is the only politician for whom I have done both television and radio campaign ads. I have voted for him consistently since his first election to Congress.
But now, for the first time in modern history Vermont has but one voice in the Senate. And this voice is not a moderate one.
Both Sanders and Leahy have ranked at the most liberal end of the broad based and prestigious ideological voting score published by the bipartisan National Journal. I placed their scores in a standard five point scale, where scores of zero to twenty would be considered extreme conservatives and eighty-one and above considered extreme liberals, while those in the three middle cohorts are either moderate conservatives or liberals or true moderates.
Both Leahy and Sanders averaged extremely liberal scores between 1991 and 2005, scoring eighty or above throughout.
Compare these figures to Vermont’s true independent in Washington, Jim Jeffords. Although his liberal ratings increased after his blow up with the Bush White House, he still remained within the moderate liberal cohort (with a rating of sixty-nine between 2001 and 2005. More reflective of his entire career, however, his scores between 1991 and 2001 averaged only sixty-one – too liberal for many Vermont Republicans perhaps, but clearly the record of a moderate and independent thinker.
In short we have replaced a real independent with an intense partisan. For Bernie Sanders is no independent. He is imprisoned by his own ideology. And unlike Jeffords he is driven by a combative personality prone to hyperbole. Many, including me, suffered these characteristics because it was refreshing to have a congressperson who truly understands the plight of the working class get up on his soap box and pull no punches.
But that was for the House of Representatives where Bernie was one of 435 and where the role of Vermont’s lone member is primarily that of ombudsman. Sanders did this well. And because he did he was resoundingly rewarded a seat in the Senate.
But lets us be clear about one thing.
Vermont’s long and productive tradition of moderation in the Senate is now over. This tradition produced some great Senators including Ralph Flanders who led the fight against McCarthy in the 1950’s, Warren Austin, who became America’s first Ambassador to the United Nations and George Aiken an American jedi of reasoned deliberation in Washington.
This fall we heard a lot of candidates, both Democrats and Republicans, lay claim to Jim Jefford’s legacy. Jim Jeffords will soon leave the Senate.
And he has not been replaced.
Frank Bryan is a writer and teaches political science at the University of Vermont.