Not Pie In The Sky, But Pragmatic

There are several interesting articles about Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders making the rounds refuting the notion that Sanders ‘can’t get things done’, that he isn’t pragmatic or able to work the system. While the Dirty Fucking Hippies knew this a while ago, the Grey Lady seems to have finally caught up. But the most interesting piece is by a former Congressional Relations Officer at the Department of Veterans Affairs who describes how Sanders operated. First, he thinks Sanders hits the “best-practices trifecta” (boldface mine):

When I left VA a couple years ago, I went through my records and worked out that, over five years, I had interacted with 40-odd Senators and several hundred Representatives and their offices. Sitting here now, though, I can only count on two hands the combined number of Senators and Representatives who met my personal “best practice” trifecta:

•Being personally engaged
•Being knowledgeable about the issue
•Being outcomes-driven

Senator Sanders is the first person who comes to mind on that list.

He had good staffers (not surprising; if you want to work for a leftist Congressman or Senator, there aren’t many options):

Senator Sanders’ staffers were always consummate professionals who did their homework. If an issue popped and they weren’t sure of the specifics, they’d ask good questions and weigh the evidence before advising on a position. Even when they were being critical, did it without resorting to being mean. They were far and away some of my favorite people to work with; and when one of them came over to work for the Department in a senior adviser position, we were all pretty excited.

All of that discussion might have come off as a distraction from the question, but for me – and, again, having worked with literally hundreds of Members of Congress and their staffers – the way Senator Sanders’ staffers conducted their business and represented their Boss was a direct reflection of the Senator’s expectations: be courteous, but know your stuff and be sharp. Those principles are carried by the Senator, which brings me to my personal interactions with him.

When Sanders was involved, he was, well, involved:

Moreover, Senator Sanders was never a passive participant in the meetings he attended. He would engage with the subject experts, make the effort to understand what was being presented, and outline his vision and expectations for measuring progress. It’s that lattermost element that sticks with me the most when it comes to Senator Sanders – he’s always mindful of the outcome, and he doesn’t shy away from the less-attractive discussion of what it might take to get there….

In 2011, he’d engaged with the Smithsonian Institution to ensure that the products sold out of their museums’ gift shops were all made in America. Soon after that campaign, he asked us: How much of the products on VCS’ retail shelves are made in America?

Now, Senator Sanders could have looked at the fact that the percentage was less than 100 and raised a media stink in order to promote his agenda for bolstering US manufacturers. He could have threatened us with hearings if we didn’t “fix it.” He could have rushed to introduce legislation with an impossible-to-meet mandate for total compliance just so he could “stake a claim” to the issue. None of those actions would have been at all out of character for many Members of Congress, including more than a few who served on our oversight committees.

Instead, he asked for a teleconference (VCS is headquartered in St. Louis, and he didn’t think it necessary for the Director to fly to DC just to speak with him – also not common) so he could ask more questions about the data we provided. After the Director’s presentation, he made some suggestions about what he thought VCS could look at to boost the amount of American-made products, then asked for a follow-up meeting in a few months to check on their progress.

This engagement turned into a semi-regular series of about-quarterly calls between the Senator and the Director as VCS made changes in its suppliers (including an increase of engagements with veteran-owned small businesses) and marketing and retail displays to encourage the purchasing of “Made in America” products where possible.

I left VA in 2013, and the VCS Director in 2014, so I have no idea what happened to this initiative or the Senator’s involvement. But what struck me about his involvement at the time – and what’s stayed with me – is that it was readily apparent that he wasn’t trying to score any points by taking up this issue. As far as I know, the Senator’s never made his engagement with VA on this issue public. I was looking for anything in the public record to support that these exchanges took place, and I’ve come up with zilch.

As far as I could tell then and now, he just wanted to know that VA was doing the best we could to supply American-made products to veterans (that, if possible, were also made/supported by veteran businesses), and if we ran into any major issues, he wanted to help us overcome them.

This is not a ‘head in the clouds’ type of guy.

One of the frustrating things has been watching people buy into very simple tropes about Sanders without any evidence (there’s compelling evidence that Sanders accomplished more than Clinton ever did as a legislator). That doesn’t mean he’s the better choice, but this is a spurious line of attack.

Uncharacteristically, when Sanders has taken advantage of Congressional investigatory power, it has led to very concrete specific gains–not to mention some menschlichkeit.

I like a guy who knows the angles, but YMMV.

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2 Responses to Not Pie In The Sky, But Pragmatic

  1. plch says:

    Thank you! let’s hope more people understand this! the whole world needs more people like Bernie Sanders.

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