Outsider in the White House

The Book of the Week is “Outsider in the White House” by Bernie Sanders with Huck Gutman, published in 1997, with an afterword added in 2016. This was a combination bragfest / rant of a political-career memoir.

In 1981, Sanders was elected mayor of Burlington, Vermont. He was a member of the Independent party. The then-board of aldermen (equivalent to a city council) consisted of eight Democrats, three Republicans, and one Citizen Party member. They outvoted him at every opportunity. Nonetheless, he was able to get rid of sweetheart contracts, and establish:

  • competitive bidding;
  • a Little League;
  • a tree-planting initiative on city streets;
  • a summer concert series;
  • a Progressive Coalition that helped get board-of-aldermen candidates elected, who would help him. [In 1982, three of six Wards of Burlington won their elections. But the Coalition never did get a majority on the board];
  • community-oriented entities (such as the Burlington Women’s Council, and a Youth Office that included a Teen Center, to implement local initiatives such as Operation Snow Shovel); and music and cultural events.

Sanders improved city services in law enforcement, firefighting and sanitation. He secured programs for TRULY affordable housing (unlike in New York City). Although he was the mayor of a city, he delved into the foreign-policy issue of then-president Ronald Reagan’s wasting of taxpayer dollars in Latin America. For, those dollars could have been better spent taking care of U.S. citizens in his city.

In 1988, Sanders ran as an Independent candidate from Vermont for the U.S. House of Representatives, against a Republican and a Democrat. He nostalgically reminisced that they ran “… civil, issue-oriented campaigns. The debates were respectful and there was no negative advertising, no desire to ‘destroy’ the other person.”

As a Congressman in the 1990’s, Sanders attempted to legislate raising minimum wage, and blocking the elimination of a subsidy for home heating for the poor. He actually sponsored legislation to:

  • help dairy farmers in his state;
  • block a raise in pay (compliments of American taxpayers) given to the Lockheed-Martin board of directors and CEO;
  • create more affordable housing; and
  • stop insurance-company discrimination against the poor.

In 1996, Sanders wrote that Republican leaders went hog-wild in bashing: gays, immigrants, affirmative action, abortion and welfare. On that last issue, they made serious cutbacks which resulted in savings that were STILL less than an increase in military spending of about $60 billion over a six year period.

Sanders considers himself a socialist. His political philosophy toward economics seems to harken back to a 1940’s term that ought to be used more often–a label given to Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.: “NCL” or Non-Communist Left. Sanders wrote not one word about his views on any Soviet dictator. There was no indication whatsoever that he espoused the political system of Communism.

Schlesinger summed up NCL thusly: “The welfare state, I observed, did not at all mean direct government control over the economy. It was perfectly compatible with the free market. It meant simply the establishment of basic national standards of living for all citizens… The electoral process offered the means by which noncapitalists– farmers, workers, intellectuals, minorities– could invoke the state to defend themselves against capitalist exploitation.” Such process “… brought about a relative redistribution of wealth that defeated Marx’s prediction of the immiseration of the poor…” which leads to class resentments that boil over into violence when dissatisfaction reaches critical mass.

Read the book to learn more about Sanders’ political career. The following parody sums up Sanders’ description of the American political culture of the 1990’s and early 2000’s, just as the original theme song from the TV show “All in the Family” fondly recollects American popular culture of the 1930’s and 1940’s.


sung to the tune of “Those Were the Days” with apologies to the Estate of Gene Raskin.

Boy, the way Bill Clinton played.

Bills for war, tax cuts and trade.

Guys like Bush, they had it made.

Those were the days.

And you were told what you were then.

The Apprentice, Idol, Seinfeld, and Friends: made us long for a man like Ronald Reagan a-gain.

GOP smeared the welfare state.

Social media squelched real debate.

Gee, our online lives ran great.

Those were the days.