For all that United States President Donald Trump is, the opposite can be said to be true of Bernie Sanders, the senior US senator from Vermont who is once again seeking the Democratic party nomination for the presidency come 2020.
And if the self-proclaimed democratic socialist manages to win and depose Trump from his throne in the Oval Office, Sanders would then be 79 — a very ripe old age indeed to begin a new career and attempt to restore the gravitas of that erstwhile noble office.
Since announcing his candidacy in the Democratic race last week, his campaign coffers have swollen by more than $6 million (Dh22 million), funds donated in small amounts from very ordinary Americans who are inspired by his message of equality, health care for all and greater taxation on those who can afford it.
In Europe, where values of decency, equality and social justice and a state-brokered social programmes are the norm, Sanders’ political philosophy isn’t radical, but simply the norm too. On the other side of the Atlantic — and south of the Canadian border — the mere notion of basic health care for all is akin to surrendering to a Communist regime, and any suggestion that those who make more money should shoulder a higher burden of any tax scheme is a page taken from the collective works of Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, Leon Trotsky, Mao Zedong and Joseph Stalin. Or for Sanders to suggest that third-level education should be open to all and where tuition fees are abolished, it’s like opening the gates of Rome to the hairy Visigoth and Vermont hordes. Unlike most other states, Sanders’ New England home accepts the concepts not as the radical ravings of some commissar and the local people’s soviet, but as the norm too.
Sanders made his announcement on Vermont Public Radio, saying: “I wanted to let the people of the state of Vermont know about this first.”
He then went on to call Trump a national embarrassment and a pathological liar.
Like Trump, Sanders was an outsider when the 2016 presidential primaries began, little known to the public at large and initially not given much of a chance against the Hillary Clinton machine.
But he came close to pulling off an upset and ended up winning 23 primaries or caucuses against the better-funded Clinton, galvanising a broad coalition with his anti-Wall Street rhetoric and talk of a “political revolution”.
Though the oldest candidate in the field, Sanders garnered passionate support among young liberals with his calls for universal health care, a $15 minimum daily wage and free public university education.
He made the fight against income inequality, which he has called the greatest moral, economic and political issue of our times, the centrepiece of his insurgent campaign.
Four years later, Sanders’ policies remain the same, but much has changed on the political landscape.
Trump won the election and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a young congresswoman from New York, is a rising Democratic star, embracing many of the positions held by Sanders.
“We have had more success in ideologically changing the party than I would have dreamed possible,” Sanders said in an interview with GQ magazine. “The world has changed.”
He was born on September 8, 1941, in Brooklyn, New York, into a family of Jewish immigrants from Poland. He attended Brooklyn College and later the University of Chicago, where he was active in the civil rights movement, attending the 1963 March on Washington where Martin Luther King Jr delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.
After graduating, Sanders worked on an Israeli kibbutz and moved to Vermont, where he worked as a carpenter and filmmaker. In 1981, he was elected mayor of Burlington, the state’s largest city, by a mere ten-vote margin and went on to win another three terms.
He served as mayor until 1989, winning election as an independent to the US House of Representatives in 1990. Sanders served in the House until 2006, when he was elected to the US Senate. He was re-elected in 2012 and 2018. He still lives in the city with his second wife, Jane. Together, they have four children and seven grandchildren.
While Sanders remains popular among many Democrats, some in the party are questioning whether their champion this time around should be a septuagenarian white man.
Multiple women have already joined the race, including Kamala Harris, a senator from California, seen as the early front-runner.
Some #MeToo movement activists have also come out against a Sanders candidacy after several employees on his 2016 campaign complained of sexual harassment by staffers. Sanders has issued an apology to the women who were harassed or mistreated. “We can’t just talk about ending sexism and discrimination,” he said. “It must be a reality in our daily lives.”
Famously short-tempered and irascible, Sanders also still displays the energy of a much younger man. For years, he ran marathons and enjoyed jogging long distances. To succeed in 2020, however, he’ll need to draw on every ounce of stamina picked pounding the pavements — this is by far his hardest race. But who would dare to write him off?
— With inputs from agencies