Day in the Life:
In 2014 most of us had never heard of the man, but now Bernie Sanders is one of the most notable political figures of our lifetime. Only a few decades since the term “socialism” was blacklisted from American politics, Bernie Sanders has boldly forged a path that brings the concept at the forefront. Are Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and public education and sanitation already forms of socialism? Are we “democratic socialists” in denial, in need of a new New Deal?
Since his arguably hippie origins at University of Chicago, organizing sit-ins and at the front lines of racial integration efforts on and off campus, Bernie Sanders takes exception to the term “radical”. After all, what’s radical about opposing potential oligarchy and one-tenth of one percent of Americans owning as much as the bottom 90%? What’s radical about not wanting America to imprison more of its citizens than China and India combined? And equating the high school degree of 50 years ago, with a college degree today?
Bernie Sanders’ beliefs and passion stem from his parents’ Polish-immigrant backgrounds and the fact that his father’s side of the family were victims of the Holocaust. Upon learning this at a young age and discovering that Hitler and his party were elected into power, he concluded “that politics is, in fact, very important”. While scraping by on his way to a budding political career in the seventies, Sanders used to greet his friend and housemate in the morning, Richard Sugarman, now professor at University of Vermont, by saying “We are not crazy, you know”. “Could you say good morning first?”, Sugarman would reply.
We poured over interviews and put together a sample day for Bernie. He is notoriously silent about his private life, preferring to talk about “the issues” with reporters, but fortunately his wife Jane helps fill in some missing details:
Doesn’t Sleep Well
Bernie is a passionate workaholic, and juggling his presidential campaign with senatorial duties has kept the hectic pace of his youth alive. He attributes his endurance to track and field days in high school, where he served as captain of the team and specialized in long distance runs. Apparently he never hits the snooze button and starts his day off with coffee plus or minus scrambled eggs. He and his wife Jane will hop to Denny’s if they have the extra time.
According to a former political colleague in the seventies, Peter Diamondstone, the two used to debate through the early morning:
When I was on the road, I would stop at his house and I’d sleep downstairs, and we’d yell at each other all night long, and sometime around 3 o’clock in the morning, we’d say, ‘We gotta stop this,’ so we could get some sleep… Five minutes later we’d be yelling at each other again.
Even nowadays, political issues keep Bernie up at night. As per the New Yorker, Sanders reacted to the video showing the arrest of Sandra Bland, the African-American woman who died in a Texas jail, by saying; “It impacted my night’s sleep… I don’t sleep that great, and it made it even worse.”
Busy, busy, busy
Most reporters describe Bernie as “harried” and largely impatient, anxious and frenetic at work. His workplace since the early days contains scattered yellow legal pads full of notes, scribbles and thoughts. Rolling Stone provides an inside glimpse:
A week after Davenport, when Sanders bursts into the conference room of his Washington, D.C., office, he seems more harried and intense than usual. He’s scrambling to catch a plane to Burlington, though first he must vote against a defense-spending bill. Speed-walking and talking like a character from an Aaron Sorkin vehicle, Sanders makes his way to the underground monorail connecting the Senate offices with the Capitol. A young elevator operator calls out, “Good luck, Senator!”
Exiting the tram, which looks like a miniature subway car, Sanders marches into the Senate chamber and re-emerges almost immediately, having registered his vote with the clerk. “That’s democracy,” Sanders says wryly, before barrelling out a side door meant only for senators. “I have staffers with me,” he tells the guard, who seems confused but lets us pass. Outside, a car awaits. Sanders is anxious about missing his flight, and as we talk, he glances at his watch and occasionally micromanages the driver.
In contrast to Clinton’s band of 300+ staffers, and true to Sanders’ minimalist, frugal roots, his campaign team is incredibly lean. Sanders’ assumes responsibilities usually delegated to others such as: campaign finance director, pollster, social media specialist, direct mail writer… Sanders’ will even collect boarding passes and lead his staff through the airport. No chartered flights or private planes for this team:
Bernie’s effort is not without result. The New Yorker reports:
An analysis by the nonpartisan Web site GovTrack shows him tied for sixth place among senators who introduced the most bills in the 2013-14 session of Congress, and in tenth place for the number of bills that made it out of committee.
A Power Couple
Much like the Clintons, Sanders and his wife Jane create a “power couple”, passionate about the same issues and out on a daily fight together. Perhaps embodying an evolution in politics, where couples take the helm rather than single individuals, the reality is the life of a U.S. Senator, let alone Senator running for President, is too busy for a regular family life, especially during the week. As Jane remarks to Bloomberg:
There are two choices: live in your home state and have a weekend marriage or move to D.C. and possibly give up your job and uproot your children. When your spouse becomes a congressperson, you have to adjust your entire life if you want to stay married.
Jane shares an office with Bernie at their campaign headquarters in Burlington, Vermont and has served multiple roles during his time in D.C., including: administrative assistant, spokeswoman, policy adviser, chief of staff, and media buyer. Bernie describes her as his “most trusted adviser”, and Jane can almost always be spotted in the first row of the crowds at campaign speeches and by his side at political events.
The two met the evening of Bernie’s first victorious mayoral election, when he unexpectedly won by 10 votes against a six-time incumbent. Although first meeting in Vermont, it turns out the two grew up within 15 blocks of each other in the Flatbush area of Brooklyn. “She’s a soulmate, a sounding board,” says Bernie. Jane describes the working relationship accordingly:
The yin and the yang — he and I balance each other… We have different approaches. I’m more social than he is, he is much more cerebral. He thinks things through, I feel things through.
Eats like a Paleo
When they finally get home for a good meal, Bernie likes to grill and prefers sustainable sources of meat and vegetables. His step-daughter Carina describes him as “Paleo before Paleo was a thing.” Favorite type of cut is a pork chop. Sanders’ passion for meat is captured well by his 2010 foreword to the cookbook, “Good Meat: The Complete Guide to Sourcing and Cooking Sustainable Meat”:
Some of the recipes in this book preserve the wonderful rich flavor of good meat, the kind of meat our great-grandparents took for granted, but which years of factory farming have displaced. Some of the recipes address the fact that good beef is leaner than what we are accustomed to — and, interestingly, good pork is fattier. Some of the recipes teach us to use cuts of meat we don’t encounter at the supermarket: Yes, there are wonderful recipes for chuck steak and leg of lamb, but there are also recipes for the parts of the animal that get made into bologna and hot dogs in conventional meat processing … Good Meat draws on a wide array of cooking traditions … to show us how, as we eat more healthily and sustainably, we can also cook, and eat, with great delight.
Apparently, he doesn’t mind the taste of his eponymous ice cream flavor, “Bernie’s Yearning”, created by fellow Vermonters Ben & Jerry:
— Matt Wilstein (@TheMattWilstein) February 10, 2016
Family is Where the Heart Is
Three things help Bernie relax: family (specifically his seven grandchildren), music and nature. When questioned why he made the move from New York to Vermont, he points to his love for the countryside:
When I was a kid growing up in Brooklyn, we lived in a lower-middle-class neighborhood in an apartment. I went to Boy Scout camp for three or four years. And going into the country was transformational for me. I remember on one occasion when I came back, I was crying, getting back into the city.
His house is covered with play toys, from pink, plastic kitchenette sets to wiffle balls and bats. His favorite thing to do with his grandkids is teach them chess, baseball and soccer. It’s also how he gets his rare bits of exercise nowadays. Another favorite is chasing the youngest around playing “Monster”.
Long walks with his wife is another favorite way to decompress, even when it’s cold outside they’ll make the effort.
According to his family, Bernie has two major splurges: a large swing-set in the backyard for the grandchildren, and a top-of-the-line car stereo. Bernie’s love for music predates his solo folk album, and his iPad is full of Beethoven, the Supremes, Temptations, Abba, Bee Gees, Celine Dion and country music.
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