In 1972, did Sanders 'praise' George Wallace in Reformer?

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BRATTLEBORO — Right-wing media is having a field day with a Bernie Sanders quote from 1972 that appears, out of context, to praise George Wallace, the segregationist governor of Alabama.

"In an interview with the Brattleboro Reformer in 1972, Sanders, then 31, said Wallace 'advocates some outrageous approaches to our problems, but at least he is sensitive to what people feel they need,'" wrote Joseph Simonson on Jan. 30 for the Washington Examiner.

Sanders, now a Vermont senator and 2020 Democrat, said, "What we need are more active politicians working for the people."

The headline of the article — "Bernie Sanders praised segregationist George Wallace as 'sensitive' in 1972" — attracted millions of readers who wanted to learn if Sanders, the Vermont senator pursuing the Democratic nomination to run against President Donald Trump in November, really was praising Wallace.

A complete read of the Brattleboro Reformer article which ran on Oct. 28, 1972, shows that Sanders was actually not praising Wallace, but rather the way he was able to connect with his constituents.

The interview was given at a time when Sanders was the Liberty Union candidate for the governor of Vermont. In the interview, Sanders' comments reflect how consistent he's been in the nearly 50 years since his failed run for governor.

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"He traced 'a general sense of helplessness' and lack of public confidence in elected officials to the politicians' lack of sensitivity and 'the fact that the government is not only indebted to special interests, but is also indentured to them,'" wrote the Reformer's William Poole.

"We don't need people making only $1.60 an hour," continued Sanders. "We don't need people living in broken down mobile homes. There is enough money around to provide good housing for people. And we don't need people fearful of getting sick because of $70-to$80-a-day hospital bills. We have enough money for a national health service."

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Although the numbers have changed over the past 50 years, Sanders' message has not.

In an essay printed in 1972 in Movement, a magazine published by the Liberty Union, Sanders wrote about the ability politicians such as Wallace had in tapping into a sense of resentment and turning that resentment into votes. In speaking with supporters of Wallace, wrote Sanders, he found "a certain feeling of admiration and respect for" their anger at the political system.

"I came away from these Wallace interviews with two basic feelings. First, that democracy in America (in any sense of the word) just might not make it," Sanders wrote. "My mind flashed to scenes of Germany in the late 1920's. Confusion, rebellion, frustration, economic instability, a wounded national pride, ineffectual political leadership — and the desire for a strong man who would do something, who would bring order out of the chaos. ... Their attraction to Wallace goes well beyond the issues. They see in Wallace a man who is standing up to the Establishment — a tough little guy fighting for them. They admire his courage and his straightforwardness. 'He comes right out and says what he feels.'"

In February 2019, during a Town Hall hosted by CNN, Sanders returned to this theme to criticize the current president.

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"This President is the first President in the modern history of our country who is trying to divide our people up based on the color of their skin, the country they were born in, their sexual orientation, their gender, their religion," he said.

In response to the Washington Examiner's article, the Sanders campaign released a statement to the media.

"Almost 50 years ago, Bernie Sanders compared George Wallace to Hitler. Throughout his entire life, he's warned about demagogues like Wallace and Donald Trump using hate and fear to divide people up. The fact that Sen. Sanders has recognized this for decades shows that he's the best candidate to take on Trump."

Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 151, or raudette@reformer.com.

Editor's Note: The Reformer thanks Shannon Carr for forwarding to us the 1972 essay from Movement.


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