Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont has spent his career trying to remake American capitalism in a more Scandinavian image. His favored targets of late have been top finance regulators he considers far too deferential to Wall Street. Last year, Sanders spent five months trying to block a new Commodity Futures Trading Commission chairman before securing promises from Gary Gensler to aggressively fight market excesses.
Now Sanders is aiming at the top of the regulatory pyramid, putting a hold on the renomination of Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke, whom he blames for the country's financial collapse as a "key architect of the Bush economy.''. . .
Congress's only self-described socialist, the 68-year old Sanders gives the appearance of having stepped in from a tornado and speaks as though still trying to be heard over the noise.
His voice may finally be breaking through. Over 16 years in the House, his lonely crusades - which amount to a lifelong campaign to remake American capitalism and social policy - were usually received as little more than glitches in an otherwise well-functioning two-party system. Since his 2006 election to the Senate, however, Sanders has found that a junior senator's single vote is enough to keep him in the middle of things. . .
Sanders disappointed liberal allies who had counted on him to mount a one-man stand against the Democrats' health care bill for omitting a public insurance plan. Sanders, who had introduced an amendment to create a single-payer plan, had initially threatened to oppose any such bill without a public option. . .
Sanders eventually secured $10 billion to expand a national network of rural medical clinics that he calls "perhaps the most significant and least-known public health program in America.'' (The Senate bill had one perk just for Vermont: $600 million to cover the state's previous expansion of its Medicaid program.). . .
"He deep down believes he can change American politics,'' said Larry Sanders, the senator's older brother and a county councilor in Oxford, England, representing the Green Party. "He's not afraid of being boring and making the same points for 20 years.''
A longtime critic of mainstream media, Sanders controls the flow of his own information. He wrote radio ads for his congressional campaign with friends around his kitchen table. Before being elected mayor of Burlington in 1981, Sanders developed educational film strips about New England history - and one 30-minute documentary about Socialist presidential candidate Eugene V. Debs - for sale to local schools.
Last year, Sanders began working with muckraking director Robert Greenwald on weekly Web videos designed to build a national constituency around his issues. . .
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