Editorial: Speaking Truth, Getting Power By BECKY O'MALLEY

Tuesday January 24, 2006

Bernie Sanders has been in town this week, and he’s, to coin a phrase, a breath of fresh air. This is a man who seems never to hesitate to say and do exactly what he thinks is right, and it’s only been good for him. He was once the mayor of Burlington, Vermont, and for years he’s been the sole member of the U.S. House of Representatives from that small state. His biggest claim to fame is that he’s an independent, not a Democrat, in a state where Democrats and Republicans have traded off in political jobs most of the time. Now he’s running to replace retiring independent (formerly Republican) Senator James Jefferds, against someone he describes as “the richest person in Vermont,” a real Republican candidate who’s expected to spend as much as he wants of his own considerable fortune to beat Bernie. The Sanders camp thinks that they can hold their own, in a state where only about 600,000 souls live with three or four hundred thousand voting, for about $5 million. That’s a big number, but nothing like as big as expenditures in more populous states like California, where the war chest for a senate race is more like $15 million. So Bernie is touring the country unabashedly trying to raise what he needs to win, and judging by the enthusiasm with which he was received at the Berkeley function I attended, he’s well on his way. Turns out a lot of people still admire a person who speaks his mind. 

On the other hand, we have the depressing spectacle of Sen. Hillary Clinton. If there were ever a politician who embodied Jim Hightower’s quip that there’s nothing in the middle of the road but yellow lines and dead armadillos, it’s poor pathetic Hillary, who has managed to turn herself into a dead armadillo in a remarkably short period of time. Not only that, the person who’s set himself up as the arbiter of Democratic congressional candidates for 2006 is her old buddy Rahm Emanuel, the architect, long ago, of her disastrous attempt to please everyone with a health care plan that was the original armadillo compromise, doomed to die.  

I was all set to take off on Sen. Clinton’s right turn, in which she’s positioning herself as being more conservative than most voters recently polled, when Molly Ivins stole my thunder. So now I can just refer readers to Molly’s Jan. 20 column. We’re going to try to get permission to reprint it here, but in the meantime it can be read on the Creator’s Syndicate website at creators.com. Here’s the lead: “I'd like to make it clear to the people who run the Democratic Party that I will not support Hillary Clinton for president. Enough. Enough triangulation, calculation and equivocation. Enough clever straddling, enough not offending anyone. This is not a Dick Morris election. Sen. Clinton is apparently incapable of taking a clear stand on the war in Iraq, and that alone is enough to disqualify her.” 

Amen and hallelujah. 

However. Coming up like a cyclone from what used to be called left field is—big surprise—Al Gore again. I never expected to hear KPFA devote many hours of airtime to replaying a speech by a former Democratic candidate, but Gore’s stirring—it can only be called—oration on Martin Luther King Day to the American Constitution Society has been burning up the air waves all week. Gore called for an independent counsel to investigate whether George Bush broke the law in authorizing domestic eavesdropping without court approval. He sounded like the man he should have been when Bush stole the presidency from him in 2000, and it’s just possible that losing that election has turned him into someone who could lead this country back to where it should be.  

I asked Bernie Sanders if we were going to be stuck with Hillary in 2008, and he mentioned a few other intriguing possibilities besides Gore, among them John Edwards. Hillary’s a temptation for feminists, of course. She’s tried very hard to turn herself into the supposedly electable “honorary man” who’s not afraid to be bellicose, like our own Di-Fi, but we have better candidates and role models in our Barbaras, Lee and Boxer.  

Anyone who’s on the fence has a good chance to see Hillary in action this week in San Francisco and support a good cause at the same time. The San Francisco Bar Association’s charitable foundation has her on a program in conversation with TV journalist Jane Pauley on Saturday night, Jan. 28, at 7 p.m. Maybe she’ll surprise us all and call for withdrawal from Iraq. Go, and ask her about it. 

And one more role model: Jean Siri, twice mayor of El Cerrito, who died suddenly on Friday with her boots on, still an elected member of the East Bay Regional Parks District Board at 85. If she thought anything needed doing, she just went out and got it done without waiting for permission: everything from saving the bay to housing the homeless. We’ll miss her. 

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P.S.: While we’re on the subject of strong-minded women, Berkeley Councilmember Betty Olds left me a message saying indignantly that she has not endorsed Tom Bates for mayor, as I mistakenly reported last week. I should have known better than to believe that rumor, and I’m glad to stand corrected.