Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders “shunned” some of his closest personal friends as he moved away from Vermont socialist circles and into big-time Democratic Party politics, and the resentment still lingers today.
Sanders’ political star is rising as he positions himself as a left-wing alternative to Hillary Clinton. His rallies are drawing major crowds and helping drive the Democratic Party’s voter registration and mobilization efforts among liberals disenchanted by Wall Street-friendly Clinton. But as the media praises Sanders’ “socialist” credentials, socialists in the senator’s home state said there’s no love lost between them.
Peter Diamondstone, socialist co-founder of the Vermont-based Liberty Union Party that gave Bernie Sanders his first exposure to politics in the 1970s, said that he is now persona non grata in Sanders-world.
“My kid who he was so close with, my daughter traveled with him,” Diamondstone told The Daily Caller. “She remembers the time one of my daughters was sleeping on the floor while I was on the couch of his apartment. We were all yelling and screaming and arguing all night. Now he never says a word to her. My wife — who he campaigned with in 1971 — he has completely shunned her.”
Sanders ran for U.S. Senate twice and governor twice in Vermont between 1972 and 1976 on the Liberty Union ticket, picking up six percent of the vote in his last gubernatorial try. Sanders was on unemployment pay when he ran in ’74, according to a contemporaneous local newspaper article about him. Sanders’ alternative-press essay on masturbation and how women fantasize about being raped was also published in 1972, at the beginning of his political career.
“[Sanders] had never been involved with Liberty Union before. He showed up and said, ‘What do I have to do? I’ll do it.’ And we said ‘sure,'” Diamondstone recalled with a laugh. “Without him Liberty Union could not have survived. We refer to him as the silver tongue.”
Sanders quit the Liberty Union party in November 1977.
“He and I remained very good friends,” Diamondstone recalled, then paused. “Adversaries, true. We argued all the time. We couldn’t talk with each other without having an argument.”
Diamondstone recalled one campaign stop in a Manchester high school basement, when Sanders told teenagers that the voting age should be lowered to “puberty,” and Diamondstone asked him if he thought county elections boards should be doing genital checks.
“In 1980 Sanders wanted to be connected to a socialist name. He asked me to talk to the Socialist Party about getting him the vice presidential nomination and I did but it was too late, they already nominated” someone else, Diamondstone said.
Sanders was elected mayor of Burlington, Vermont, in 1980 and ten years later secured a seat in Congress, by which point he had turned his back on local socialists and thrown in with Democrats.
“In ’84 he became a full-time Democrat. People say he was an independent. That’s probably how he got into the Democratic caucus in Congress. When he first applied, the caucus said it’s up to your state committee and the state committee of the Democratic Party said NO. So he went to Leahy and Dean. They had a backroom deal. Nobody knows what the deal was. We hear rumors about it,” said Diamondstone. “When he campaigned for Mondale I followed him around and opposed him. My leaflet referred to him as a quisling. At that point it was no longer a friendly rivalry. It was a rift that divided us never to be healed to this day.”
Sanders said in 1971 at a campaign stop in a synagogue that he supported “no guns for Israel,” according to Diamondstone’s account. His flip-flop on that issue in Congress, coupled with his desire to add militarized F-35 bombers to the Burlington airport, show how much he’s changed. Sanders, top Democrat caucus member on the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, has also frozen out the Green Mountain Veterans For Peace, the only major anti-war veterans group in his home state.
“Ask him if he’s a socialist,” Diamondstone said. “Any time you ask him for details he talks about Sweden. Well, Sweden has never been socialist. If you were a socialist you wouldn’t be talking about the middle class, you’d be talking about no class. The middle class is a buffer between the upper class and the lower class.”
The national Socialist Party endorsed Sanders in his 1996 bid for Congress, but when the Socialist presidential ticket of Mary Cal Hollis and Eric Chester went to Vermont to campaign, they denounced Sanders and turned their backs on their own party’s endorsement of him.
“That was a big break in the Socialist Party,” Diamondstone remembered. “A big rift.”
In 1999, a number of Vermont socialists including former Sanders campaign workers staged an occupation of his congressional office to protest Sanders’ support for President Clinton’s bombing of Yugoslavia and Iraq. The incident led to 15 arrests at the behest of Sanders’ staff.
“The socialist party in Vermont is very weak and flimsy and none of those people support him,” Diamondstone concluded. “I don’t think that people who call themselves socialists and who stand for the withering away of the state and stand for a classless society, people who will talk about those things as the goal of our politics, I don’t know if any of those people support him. In Liberty Union there are revolutionary socialists and I don’t know one who supports him.”