’Tis the season for tendentious biographies of presidential candidates; this one’s favorable.
Washingtonian editor at large Jaffe (co-author: Dream City: Race, Power, and the Decline of Washington, D.C., 1994) returns with a very positive account of the political rise—and political convictions—of the U.S. senator from Vermont and candidate for the presidency. Sanders didn’t cooperate with Jaffe (the senator does not like to talk about himself), but the author did score an interview with Sanders’ wife, Jane, and conducted lots of boots-on-the-ground reporting, with help from others. Accordingly, the sections about Sanders’ Brooklyn boyhood, adolescence, collegiate years, and somewhat beyond are sketchy, and it’s not until Sanders entered public life after a move to Vermont—a third-party candidacy for Senate in 1972 (he drew just over 2 percent of the vote)—that the facts begin to flow. Jaffe charts Sanders’ electoral failures and victories (from Burlington mayor and beyond) and identifies his key aides and supporters. We also get occasional testimonials from voters, then and now. There were some youthful mistakes in Sanders’ life—a failed marriage, a child out of wedlock—and Jaffe, to his credit, does not neglect them. Nor does he fail to point out unpleasant aspects of Sanders’ political life—e.g., his back-and-forth relationship with the National Rifle Association, his failure (so far) to attract black voters. The author also explores the history of socialism and declares that Sanders, though far left in his youth, now has “his own distinct brand of socialist doctrine”—a brand that does not please many pure socialists. We learn, too, that Sanders is not easy to work with: he has the unpleasant trait of believing what he says and saying what he believes. Jaffe concludes that Sanders matters because he prefers democracy to oligarchy.
Clarifies some of the candidate’s fuzzy past but is hardly disinterested.