Many years ago I pitched a magazine editor on a story about Bernie Sanders, then a congressman from Vermont, who’d agreed to something extraordinary – he agreed to let me, a reporter, stick next to him without restrictions over the course of a month in congress.
“People need to know how this place works. It’s absurd,” he’d said. (Bernie often uses the word absurd, his Brooklyn roots coming through in his pronunciation – ob-zert.)
Bernie wasn’t quite so famous at the time and the editor scratched his head. “Bernie Sanders,” he said. “That’s the one who cares, right?”
“Right, that’s the guy,” I said.
I got the go-ahead and the resulting story was a wild journey through the tortuous bureaucratic maze of our national legislature. I didn’t write this at the time, but I was struck every day by what a strange and interesting figure Sanders was.
Many of the battles he brought me along to witness, he lost. And no normal politician would be comfortable with the optics of bringing a Rolling Stone reporter to a Rules Committee hearing.
But Sanders genuinely, sincerely, does not care about optics. He is the rarest of Washington animals, a completely honest person. If he’s motivated by anything other than a desire to use his influence to protect people who can’t protect themselves, I’ve never seen it. Bernie Sanders is the kind of person who goes to bed at night thinking about how to increase the heating-oil aid program for the poor.
This is why his entrance into the 2016 presidential race is a great thing and not a mere footnote to the inevitable coronation of Hillary Clinton as the Democratic nominee. If the press is smart enough to grasp it, his entrance into the race makes for a profound storyline that could force all of us to ask some very uncomfortable questions.