Races of the Week:Parke vs. Sanders

In most summaries of the party line-up in the U.S. House of Representatives, the numbers of Republicans and Democrats have almost inevitably been followed since 1990–by the words “and one independent who votes with Democrats for control.” That well describes Bernard Sanders, Vermont’s lone U.S. House member and the first avowed Democratic Socialist to have served in Congress in 40 years (and the first ever to have won a statewide election anywhere in the U.S.).

At age 63 and after 14 years in Congress, Bernie Sanders (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 8%) stands out about as much as he did in 1997 when he stunned the Washington social scene by being the only one of 1000 guests at a white-tie Austrian waltz ball to wear a business suit. His political agenda is, in Sanders’ own words, “tax reform, to make the rich and corporations pay; national health care for all Americans; major cuts in military spending. . . farm price supports for small family units; and a national energy policy emphasizing conservation and alternative fuel sources.”

To many conservatives in Washington who think most Democrats in Congress are Socialists who just won’t admit it, Sanders is refreshingly honest at a time when members of Congress increasingly appear to stand for nothing more than re-election. The shock-haired, bespectacled lawmaker from the Green Mountain State wears his unabashed socialism like an Olympic Gold Medal. His liberal constituents obviously like their congressman’s say what you mean-mean-what-you-say persona, since they keep re-electing him with ease.

But just how effective is Bernie Sanders? It is most telling that Rep. Barney Frank (D.-Mass), who has voted 90.4% of the time with his colleague from Vermont, also says of him: “Bernie alienates his natural allies. His holier-than-thou attitude–saying in a loud voice that he is smarter than anyone else and purer than everyone else–really undercuts his effectiveness.”

While he is not about to credit Barney Frank for inspiring him to run, Gregory Parke chose to challenge his state’s high priest of socialism for precisely that reason: because as iconoclastic as he is, Bernie Sanders just doesn’t accomplish a lot for his constituents. Like Sanders, Republican Parke can proudly cite his state’s history of electing “against-the-grain” office-holders of all political stripes and note that he, too, is a political outsider: he spent 21 years in the U.S. Air Force–four in the Middle East–and retired as a lieutenant colonel.”

Based on his experience, Parke campaigns with confidence in favor of the Constitutional right to keep and bear arms, to help restore America’s military might and intelligence capabilities, and make the President’s tax cuts permanent.

Although this is his first political mission, Parke managed to secure the GOP nomination with little difficulty and is already amassing battalions of volunteers–critical in a state where grass-roots politics and over-the-fence gossip still pack as much of a political wallop as big dollars for television.

“Independence” and “free spirit” are words that have been closely identified with Vermont politics for generations. Republicans ranging from the late liberal Sen. (1941-74) George Aiken and present conservative Gov. Jim Douglas and Democrats from moderate former Gov. (1962-68) Phil Hoff and liberal former Gov. (1991-2002) Howard Dean have demonstrated that quality in statewide office. Political newcomer Parke shows it, too, and, with the proper support, can finally retire Bernie Sanders.