Odd man in

Posted: Jul 02, 2006 5:33 PM

Vermont is the only state in the union to boast a U.S. representative who openly calls himself a socialist. That sure says something odd about Vermont.

But what's really odd is Bernie Sanders himself. He may run as an "Independent," but his ideology strikes its independence chiefly by distancing itself from the accumulated wisdom of the last 50 years. Or 500. Yet he still wins elections, which just goes to show you that, as the old saw has it, "common sense is not so common."

The open secret is: he gets a lot of support from Democrats. In Vermont, he's just "a little to the left" of where Democrats dare to stand.

And yet, you've got to ask: To what extent is his national presence a result of Vermont conservatives joining the Bernie Bandwagon as an export technique . . . better ship the bozo off to Washington than keep him in Montpelier!

That notion only goes so far. Vermont's closet socialists still run the state. They were the ones who put into law 1997's campaign finance reform, capping voluntary donor spending at $300,000 for governor races, less for other state races.

Now the Supreme Court has ruled against it. Even Justice Stephen Breyer said that the law imposed "burdens upon First Amendment interests that (when viewed in light of the statute's legitimate objectives) are disproportionately severe."

Well, yes. But what's the non-severe proportion? How can more be bad when some is good? All of it must be bad . . . when free speech is the issue.

And free speech is the issue. Political talk may seem cheap, but getting the word out to others takes effort, time, and resources. Capping spending effectively squashes political speech.

Not all political speech, of course. The incumbents would still be allowed to make waves and hit headlines. Same goes for those front-runners who have already, in some other venue — say, another office — invested a great deal in the capital of public opinion.

This isn't accidental. Many politicians support spending limitations simply because they see themselves as having the inside edge. Campaign finance laws help keep the outsiders out.

This was all made clear by Bernie.

You see, though currently serving his eighth term in office, he's doing what he should have had to do years earlier, had term limits been in place: give up his office and seek another. He's running for the U.S. Senate position opened up by Jim Jeffords, who's shedding his political coil to retire. And Bernie has a lot of support, including the crucial endorsement of New York's Senator Chuck Schumer.

Howard Dean went the extra mile, too, making clear his party's ties with the atavism of socialism: "A victory for Bernie Sanders is a win for Democrats."

Nicely put.

Still, Bernie's up against some competition: Richard Tarrant, frontrunner in the upcoming Republican primary race. Tarrant is not that well known. Before yesterday, I knew next to nothing about him . . . while I've known all too much about Bernie for a very long time. (And I'm not from Vermont.)

Unfortunately, Tarrant has a lot going against him.

For one, he's rich. That helps with money for his campaign, but it may not exactly help when facing off against a socialist where wealth is considered the ultimate crime.

For another, he calls himself Rich. Rich Tarrant. This doesn't quite seem to work in his favor, unless he expects an upturn in voting from the fans of Ayn Rand and Scrooge McDuck.

Worse yet, Tarrant recently made a big whoop about the flag burning amendment, a whoop that turned into an "oops."

Tarrant forgets: he's not up against a fool. Bernie pointed out that the little flags Tarrant gave away, with a card affixed making a campaign statement, itself treated the flag with disrespect. This campaign ploy flouted the wording of U.S. Code, Title 4, Chapter 1, censuring the use of flags in advertising and especially the placement of signs on flagpoles and halyards. Trivial? Yes, in a sense it is . . . deeply trivial, if that makes any sense. But hypocrisy and stupidity offend many voters, and will not win votes to Tarrant from Vermonters sympathetic to Bernie.

And they seem sympathetic. Polls still show Sanders trouncing Tarrant.

Who is now spending millions to beat the favorite son.

Somehow, Tarrant had resisted the urgings of Sanders, last February, to abide by a four-point voluntary campaign-spending cap. Sanders had suggested a $2 million spending limit . . . for himself. He "generously" offered Tarrant an extra $250,000 on the limit, "spotting" him that as a handicap, since Sanders is so well known.

This is just brilliant. What a ploy! Tarrant would have been fool to abide by it — Bernie's name recognition is easily worth millions. But by simply offering the limit, and Tarrant rejecting it, Sanders couldn't help but look good.

Well, good to people sympathetic to socialism. To someone with common sense it likely seems cynical and silly.

The story has no end, so far, since the campaign goes on, and Sanders keeps bringing up the subject of money. But "the rest of the story" is quite a hoot, since by April Fools Day Sanders had broken his own suggested limit, had spent more than Tarrant, and had raised a huge chunk of his funds outside the state . . . while Tarrant foreswore outside-of-state funding entirely.

If you ask me, Tarrant looks better and better on the issue Sanders chose: money. But then, socialists almost by definition get rather loopy on the subject of money. You guessed it: Sanders is himself quite wealthy, but got nearly all his hoard from taxpayers. Tarrant's wealth may be far greater, but was earned by hard work and smart dealing. I suppose one could argue that, since he and his partner started their business with an SBA loan, Tarrant, too, is a recipient of the tax funds. But he paid his loan from the taxpayers back a long time ago. Bernie, well, gives back to the people in his own inimitable way, by trying to increase the size and scope of government.

Tarrant's story is sort of the anti-Bernie story, the story of the merits of capitalism.

Bernie is all talk.

Which was why it was so good to see the Supreme Court strike down Vermont's campaign finance law. By the letter, it had nothing to do with Bernie Sanders, a national figure. It pertained only to state campaigns. But the spirit of the law was "of a piece" with Bernie's socialistic commitment to limiting free speech by limiting spending.

So it's heartening to witness our judges rein in usurpations such as Vermont's tough campaign finance restrictions as "too much." It fits. Bernie Sanders himself is a bit "much."