Published in January 2016 issue of Prospect Magazine
The parallels between Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn are striking. As this autobiography makes clear, they’re remarkably similar people: serious, principled, utterly lacking in humour. They’re also remarkably similar politicians: both formed progressive beliefs as young men, then spent a lifetime making the case for them, pausing only for food and sleep. Sanders’s denunciations of inequality, low wages, military overspending, giant corporations, big media, evil billionaires—all could be pasted into Corbyn’s manifesto.
The difference is that Saunders has done what Corbyn can, at this stage, only dream of: turned principle into electoral victory. Over the decades, he went from winning 2 per cent of the statewide vote in Vermont to gaining the mayoralty of its largest city, Burlington, by 14 votes and winning campaign after campaign as a congressman and finally senator—doing it all as an independent. (That, indeed, is the biggest paradox of his run for the Democratic nomination: he is not, and never has been, a Democrat).
Billed as Sanders’s “political autobiography,” this book is actually a reskinned version of his 1997 memoir Outsider in the House, so it has rather a lot about the Newt Gingrich Republicans of the 1990s and not much about George W Bush, Barack Obama or the financial crisis. But this matters surprisingly little: for Sanders, the only thing that’s changed over the past 20 years is that the bad guys have got worse. You may doubt that his presidential campaign can win over the wider American public in the way he won over the state of Vermont’s—but you’ve got to admire his tenacity.