Washington's Lone Independent

BERNARD SANDERS, newly elected to the House of Representatives from Vermont, has many things in common with other members of Congress. He has two arms, two eyes, two legs, an adequate command of the language and an office somewhere in the bowels of the Rayburn Building. Mr. Sanders is missing one thing, however. He has no party. He was elected by the historically most Republican-inclined state in the nation. He ran not as a Democrat or Republican, but as an independent. Amazingly, he talked the Vermont electorate into throwing out an incumbent Republican. More amazing, he is an avowed socialist, in favor of just about everything Ronald Reagan was against.

Whether he can have any effect in socializing the policies of the United States is an open question. But more curious (and we don't think there's another word that quite covers it) is what Sanders will do without a party. Representatives can advocate anything they want in Washington, but when it comes to constituent work, party clout is what counts. Sanders has toyed with joining the Democratic caucus, but the welcome has been extended only if he signs up with the party. So far he has decided not to.

The people he represents, the farmers and townspeople of Vermont, the most rural and one of the least populated states in the country (it has only one congressman) may find the reality of his representation lacking once the novelty of independence wears off. Without a party, will Sanders get important committee assignments? Will he get assignments at all? Will he pile up seniority? Will he be able to trade anything during Ways and Means squabbles to bring home the bacon for his constituents? Will anyone return his calls?

Both major parties have had their outsiders, but no one has ever been as completely outside as Sanders. His is an interesting test of whether a man can exist, let alone get anything done, in Washington unless he goes along and gets along.

He does have one advantage. He can stand in the well of the House and blast away at both parties. He might even be able to tell the truth when others feel constrained. Now that would be something.

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