It always seems amazing to many Vermonters when Independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is off-handedly referred to as a raving left-wing radical and -- horror of horrors to the far right -- a "socialist."
If anyone actually listens to what he says and takes note of what he does in Congress, and has in the past as a member of the House, they would find someone more in line with Franklin Roosevelt than Eugene Debs, someone more concerned about the decline of the middle class and the working class and the poor in America than most others in national office, including anyone in the Obama administration.
In actuality, the senator routinely defends the rights of those on public assistance, Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security and those receiving Veterans Administration assistance or health care. He consistently defends the interests of working people versus the wealthy and large corporations.
By extension, he advocates for conservation and environmental protections and awareness, typically against those in the business world who wish to play fast and loose with environmental regulations -- or simply eliminate them.
He pushes an effective "Buy American" campaign.
These are radical positions? Since when? These are moderate to liberal positions, much the same as those taken by FDR, Harry Truman, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and most moderate Republicans like Nelson Rockefeller -- back when moderate Republicanism seemed possible.
Today, the people who believe Senator Sanders such a raving lefty are often admirers or members of the radical right, which is typified at the moment by the Tea Party.
Concerning that crowd, many moderate Americans by now agree that their radical never-raise-taxes first commandment is not a valid blueprint of governing. And it could keep us mired in a never-ending recession on the edge of a debt crisis that could bring down our financial house once again.
So, then, who is the radical here? The guy who echoes and defends the New Deal programs of FDR, the health care programs of the 1960s and the environmental regulation of the 1970s? Or those who think a great nation can simply refuse to pay down its debt -- and perhaps hold its breath until we all turn blue -- in order to wreck the programs they disagree with, or don't personally need.
Well, regardless of who the real radical is in 2011, recent polls show that Vermonters strongly approve of their "socialist" senator. In addition to crushing every potential 2012 challenger by 18 or more percentage points in a Public Policy Polling survey, the senator has an approval rating of 67 percent and disapproval rating of only 28 percent.
Polls are never exactly what they seem and only reflect a moment in time, but this one is pretty damn convincing: Senator Sanders is popular and -- we would venture a wild guess -- isn't considered all that radical by those who know him best.