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Nadworny: The Vermont Candidate

Many years ago, I was traveling through Texas with a Swedish friend, when we stopped at a cowboy bar in Amarillo. The waitress saw, obviously, that we weren’t from Texas.“Where’re y’all from?” she asked.

“Sweden,” my friend replied.

“Sweden?” the waitress exclaimed. “Why my brother was in Geneva last year!”

We both nodded, thinking, close enough.

Then she turned to me. “How about you?” she asked.

“Vermont,” I answered.

Looking like she had just swallowed a lemon, she backed away in a hurry to get our beers.

I’m reminded of that encounter when I see how the media in the United States is reacting to Bernie Sanders’ Presidential campaign.

My first encounter with Bernie was at Boys State in Northfield back in the summer of ‘77. At that time, he was the perennially losing Liberty Union candidate. And he pitched a rip-roaring indictment of our political system to an auditorium filled with sweaty teen-age boys, urging us to stand up for the little guy against the rich and powerful in our society.

In those days Vermont was still pretty conservative. Most of the boys attending Boys State were from rural, farming towns and small cities. And most of them had had never heard a political speech like that.

Bernie received by far the loudest and most engaged applause of the week. But by the time we got back to our dorms, most of the kids were already shaking their heads declaring that Bernie’s vision could never work here in Vermont.

How times have changed. Eventually, Bernie’s popularity took root in Vermont and has remained consistently strong. Actually, I think Bernie Sanders may be the best personification of our Vermont brand around. He’s scruffy and unrefined. He’s a straight talker. He relishes disrupting the status quo.

And we might as well admit that Vermont does too. From civil unions to GMOs, we make controversial decisions that buck vested interests. So when Howard Dean lost in the 2004 primaries, it felt like his loss was at least partly a rejection of the Vermont Way.

Now a lot has changed since then. The nation has Obamacare and marriage equality. But when I see the media’s reaction to Bernie’s presidential campaign, I’m thinking that many Americans still may not be ready for our way of doing things.

Bernie Sanders, who in so many ways embodies our little progressive state, will show us through his campaign if people in the U.S. can envision a country that acts a lot more like Vermont.