What My Knees Have in Connection with Bernie Sanders' Candidacy

I retired from fulltime teaching in 2004 right before I turned 60, and since then I’ve taught, typically, one law school course a year.  I have seven textbooks that I need to keep up to date (and co-authors now on all of them, which was not true in the beginning), and it helps to teach from these books and see what changes time commands. 

But last year and this I’ve taught two courses in the spring semester, which is a full load for a faculty member, and I am now 76 years old.  What was easy 50 years ago (when, of course, I was 26 and first started teaching law) is now problematic.  Last spring the two courses were spread over four days, but this year they are both on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, one at 10:30 in the morning for 50 minutes and the other (by coincidence in the same classroom) at 1:30 in the afternoon.  My office is on the third floor, the classroom on the second, and the elevator is on the opposite end of the large law school building.  Since I enter the school on the side of nearest my office, this means I climb up and down a lots of steps carrying a heavy briefcase.  I counted the steps.  In a typical day I ascend or descend over 200 of them.  At 76.  Until you reach this age you can’t imagine what that means, but, reader, your day will come.

Last Wednesday (the third day of this weekly torture) just as I returned to my office after the first class my knees informed me that they were done for the day.  “No you’re not!” I reprimanded them in a stern and determined voice.  “Oh, yes,” they replied, very certain about this.  “Just sit for a couple of hours and we’ll be back with you.”  “Not an option, you sissies!”  Offended at this label they wisely shut up, and when I called on them to get me up and down the stairs once again their protest was expressed in mute pain.  Not call-the-hospital pain, just bitch-complain-swear pain.  Leaving the afternoon classroom I took the long route via the elevator, and the bitching didn’t lesson, nor did it increase.  When I got home an alcoholic drink and then a warm bath after helped a lot.

What has this got to do with Bernie Sanders and his run for the presidency, you might ask?  Nah—of course you can see it coming.  He’s two years older than I am and he just had a heart attack last October.  Things will be worse for him and get even more alarming faster.

If it were just knees that wouldn’t be a big deal. 

It’s not just knees.  In the middle of the night recently the index toe on my right foot woke me up with a burning pain that had me hopping around the bedroom.  In my entire life I had never had a single thought that made me aware of the fact that I even have an index toe on my right foot (as we all do) until it painfully demanded attention.  A few minutes of hopping around the bedroom (emitting words I learned in my early years in the Navy) and the toe relaxed back into its usual quietude, though sometimes at night it will throb like a plucked bass fiddle note, just to remind me of its fragility.

And then there are the strange pauses when I can’t remember obvious things that are pushing to come out of my mouth—words and phrases I have said all my life.  I cover well.  People (I think) don’t notice.  But this isn’t going to get better.  For the most part I can still do the same exercise routine I’ve had all my life, eat well, say I’m fine.  Things are good.  Good.  Really, really good.

But they’re failing.  All on a small level.  And this will increase and increase and get harder and harder.  And I have a heart that is only 37 years old (see below). 

Bernie has a 78 year old heart that had just needed repair, and a 78 year old body that’s two years older than mine.  If elected president he will be 79 on the day in 2021 when he’s sworn in, and turn 80 in September of that year, making him by far the oldest man ever elected (Trump was 70 when sworn in).  In 2008 when Sen. John McCain ran for the office he was 71, and he released more than 1,000 pages of medical records to show he was cancer-free and fit to serve as president.  Bernie has refused to release more than a few paragraphs from his doctors saying he’s fine—exactly the same non-information that Trump provides from his lips-sewn-tight physician.  If Bernie made it through all of the four years of office he would be 83 as it ended. 

Woodrow Wilson
The presidency is a daily relentless grind on the individual who sits in the Oval Office.  This is hard on the youngest of presidents, and it is a nightmare for the oldest.  Woodrow Wilson suffered a stroke in October of 1919 and his wife covered that up and did all the work until he retired from public office in 1921 (dying in 1924 at 67).  Franklin Roosevelt was stricken in his fourth term and died early after it began; he was 63.  Ronald Reagan, the oldest man ever elected prior to The Donald, was in the early stages of dementia when he left office.  Actress Barbara Cook in her memoirs tells of a dinner at the White House in his last year when he stood up and told a story to the small intimate upstairs dinner crowd in which he commented, “If Nancy were here she would tell you . . .” when she was sitting right at his side.

I think, and have always thought, that Bernie Sanders is a very, very smart person.  He is dedicated, talented, and wants the best for the world.  But the man has faults that give me pause.  When he ran in 2016 I detailed them and what follows is a recap of that post (cited below).

Why won’t I support Bernie Sanders in spite of my admiration for his positions?  Let me give you a list.  Any one of these things alone would not be enough to keep him from being a strong candidate, but cumulatively they make his nomination a very, very risky proposition.  Here’s the list:

1.      He’s an announced Socialist.  Yes, I know that he’s a “democratic socialist,” a far cry from the basics of Marxism and communism, and that all the term really means is that he favors solving problems through the government, with his announced model being the Scandinavian countries.  But the term “socialist” has been mingled with “communist” for so long that to many voters subtle distinctions are lost and what they hear leads to images in their heads like this:

The Republicans and others are going to run political ads that will be brutal in linking Bernie to communism and the public will be scared by them.  It's not going to help that as a youth he once actually joined the Communist Party, and that he and his wife honeymooned in Moscow when it was the capital of the Soviet Union.

Even if the voters learn, in large numbers, what socialism is, they then will be told by the opposition that funding socialized programs will cost them a great deal more in taxes.  While the USA when he first ran had a top marginal tax rate of 41%, Denmark was at 60.2%, Sweden 56.6%, the Netherlands 52%, Finland 49% (although, surprisingly Norway was lower than the USA at 40%!).  Bernie will tell voters that this rise in taxes can be paid for by taxing the wealthy and (at last!) making them pay their fair share, but, alas, that depends on the cooperation of Congress (at which point we all laugh loudly).  Actually I’m in favor of universal health care, but I can’t imagine that anyone can get it passed in today’s political climate.   

Electing a socialist President of the United States is no small step.  It is a major change—Bernie himself is calling for a “revolution”—and lots of voters will stick to the devil they know rather than the devil they don’t.   Bernie doesn't help himself with politically stupid remarks.  Recently he praised Cuba's Castro for bringing literacy to his people.  That's right, but that's not all that Castro brought and that praise of Castro was politically damning.

2.  He’s too old.  If elected, President Bernard Sanders will be take the oath of office in January of 2021, the year that he turns 80 (he’ll be 79 the day he’s sworn in), making him the oldest person ever to enter that high position (Trump was 70, turning 71 in June after being sworn in to his first term).  He’s just recently had a heart attack, and two stents were inserted into his heart.  He was shortly back on the campaign trail, swearing he feels fine and has no further health issues.  He promised to release all of his health records but has recently changed his mind and refused to do so.  I’m 76 and I know that my health records will show all sorts of things reflecting the usual problems of my age.  I had major heart troubles of my own, solving them only by having a 27 year old heart inserted into my body in place of the original failing one.  Bernie has a heart about to turn 79 in September.  It will get worse.  His Vice President stands an excellent change of finishing his term, so he’d better choose wisely as to who it is.

3.  Bernie doesn’t play well with others.  In an article entitled “The Trouble With Bernie,” http://lansingcitypulse.com/article-12189-the-trouble-with-bernie.html, author Mickey Hirten, who agrees with almost all of Bernie’s positions on the issues, says that he would make an awful president based on what those Vermonters who’ve had to work with him in the past experienced.  Hirten was the editor of the Burlington Free Press when Bernie lived in Burlington and was the state’s only congressman.  He dealt with him on a regular basis.  Hirten comments:

Considering that the Free Press' editorial positions were very liberal, reflecting the nature of a very liberal Vermont community, one might think that meetings with Sanders were cordial, even celebratory.

They weren't. Sanders was always full of himself: pious, self-righteous and utterly humorless. Burdened by the cross of his socialist crusade, he was a scold whose counter-culture moralizing appealed to the state's liberal sensibilities as well as its conservatives, who embraced his gun ownership stance, his defense of individual rights, an antipathy toward big corporations and, generally speaking, his stick-it-to-them approach to politics.

Hirten quotes others who know Bernie.  Chris Graf, long-time Associated Press bureau chief in Vermont: “Bernie has no social skills, no sense of humor, and he's quick to boil over. He's the most unpolitical person in politics I've ever come across.”  A Vermont weekly spoke with Bernie’s former staff members and reported that “They characterize the senator as rude, short-tempered and, occasionally, downright hostile. Though Sanders has spent much of his life fighting for working Vermonters, they say he mistreats the people working for him.”  Steve Rosenfeld, Sanders' press secretary during his 1990 House campaign, is quoted as adding: “At his worst, he falls prey to his own emotions, is unable to practice what he preaches (though he would believe otherwise) and exudes a contempt for those he derides, including his staff.”

In a Time Magazine column political writer Joe Klein had this to say concerning Bernie’s comment about Hillary’s “damn emails” during the first 2016 Democratic debate:

If you kept the Brooklyn accent and replaced “emails” with “bunions” or “heartburn” or “kishkes” (Yiddish for intestines), you could have been eavesdropping at any given Thanksgiving dinner of my youth.  All Jews have an Uncle Bernie . . . . [H]e was a humorless Old Testament Jeremiah, not the sort of person you’d want holding forth in your living room for State of the Union addresses or declarations of war.  He barely smiled.

4.  He has no sense of humor.  As Klein just noted and others quoted above agreed, Bernie has no sense of humor.  His attempts at showing otherwise, appearing on Ellen DeGeneres’s TV show and trying hard to joke, are painful to watch.  Imagine a President of the United States who grumps his way through his job and you see how such an attitude can be a major flaw.  Frankly, this is a deal breaker for me.

5.  He’s Jewish.  I think the American People are ready, or at least almost ready, for a Jewish president, but he/she had better be personable and charming or it’s a no go.  Bernie is not that attractive candidate (which is a shame given that Jews typically have a terrific sense of humor).  Sadly, there is still much anti-Semitism in this country, probably more than even polls can reveal.  In a close race the percentage of the population who would refuse to pull the lever simply because a qualified candidate is Jewish might be enough to swing the election the other way.

6.  He’ll Lose the House and the Senate.  Currently the House is Democratic and the Senate Republican.  But Bernie has no “coattails” and the enthusiasm for him does not translate as enthusiasm for all the moderate Democrats trying to retain (or gain) house seat, and the major number Democrats will need to get a majority in the Senate.  So if Bernie squeaks by and is elected president he will likely face a hostile Republican Congress.  Nothing he proposes will get enacted during his presidency.  Mitch McConnell will continue to block movement in the Senate and Nancy Pelosi will no longer be the Speaker in the House.  Four years of stagnation awaits.

Summing up, my knees (three years younger than Bernie’s knees) tell me that Bernie is a bad choice as the Democratic nominee for president this year.  If you like his policies Liz Warren is much younger (six years younger than I am—she’s just 70), has a terrific sense of humor (she’s an old friend of mine), and she would certainly have coattails (women would flock to the poles to vote for her).  Mayor Pete is an excellent choice too, though he’s so young and does have the political problem of trying to convince the American people to elect a gay man (see post link below).

But Bernie?  Sorry, no.  Smart guy, but that would be a mistake.  Take it from my knees.


Related Posts:

“Ten Years Ago I Have a Heart Transplant,”  November 25, 2019; https://douglaswhaley.blogspot.com/2019/11/10-years-ago-i-had-heart-transplant.html

“A Gay President in 2021?”  April 29, 2019, https://douglaswhaley.blogspot.com/2019/04/a-gay-president-in-2021.html

“Why I Love Bernie Sanders’ Ideas, But Hope He Won’t Be the Nominee,” October 20, 2015; http://douglaswhaley.blogspot.com/2015/10/why-i-love-bernie-sanders-ideas-but.html

“Joe Biden, Plagiarism, and Why He Shouldn’t Run For President,” August 25, 2015; http://douglaswhaley.blogspot.com/2015/08/joe-biden-plagiarism-and-why-he.html


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