Revenge of the Hippies: The Prescience of Bernard “Bernie” Sanders

For my first blog entry I am posting my comment on someone’s response to Sarah Lyall’s New York Times article about the young Bernie Sanders, saying that he’s bringing Beatnik back, and that inspired me to look more carefully at her review:

In actual fact, the young Sanders was post-Beatnik, to use an unflattering term for the highly respected literary movement, somewhat involving life-style, actually called The Beats. He was more of the Hippie Movement, which Beat originator Jack Kerouac rejected but his strongest co-founder and close friend Allen Ginsberg allied himself with.

Along with some friends and my younger sister’s friends, I founded an underground newspaper back then: some local news and many of the exact same kinds of articles Sanders and his friends were writing. What is strange in reading the NY Times article, which is mocking Sanders, et. al., is the degree to which much of what they were saying has come true! Even I didn’t think that so much of what he and we were publishing would be as prescient as it turns out to actually have been!

This writer even makes fun of the fact that “His current workplace, the United States Senate, is not exactly known for its thrill-a-minute dynamism.” But, seriously? I mean the Senate certainly has its problems but Bernie freakin’ Sanders went from what and where he was to the United States friggin’ SENATE – c’mon!

I am not one to lay off making fun of the “movement” I was somewhat allied with back in the day, and the oldsters who still only listen to the old hippie music, dress and wear their hair similarly to then, smoke the same dope, and cover the rear end of their old compact cars with “motivational” stickers rooted in that time – but I can since I was part of it. This is why I think I’m justified in complaining that Ms. Lyall, born in 1963, is being just a little bit too snarky.

Is there really anything to argue with about young Bernie’s opinion on the nature of work? I mean, have the masses of Americans really “progressed”? Is this statement from her article actually justified in fact?

The piece began with an apocalyptically alarmist account of the unbearable horror of having an office job in New York City, of being among “the mass of hot dazed humanity heading uptown for the 9-5,” sentenced to endless days of “moron work, monotonous work.”

“The years come and go,” Mr. Sanders wrote, in all apparent seriousness. “Suicide, nervous breakdown, cancer, sexual deadness, heart attack, alcoholism, senility at 50. Slow death, fast death. DEATH.

Well, OK, these are not the deepest thoughts I’ve ever heard, and maybe his CAPS key was sticking and he didn’t have enough money to fix it. And Viagra wasn’t invented yet, but who would have seen that coming? Then Lyall disparages the “freelance journalist” from Burlington yet again:

“If children of 5 are not taught to obey orders, sit still for 7 hours a day, respect their teacher, and raise their hands when they have to go to the bathroom, how will they learn (after 17 more years of education) to become the respectful clerks, technicians and soldiers who keep our society free, our economy strong, and such inspiring men as Richard Nixon and Deane Davis in political office,” Mr. Sanders wrote, referring to the president and the Vermont governor at the time.

Is Ms Lyall ignoring the fact that the way we train our children to become corporate cogs is now perhaps a more serious problem than it even was in Bernie’s youth? The fact is that the debate over Common Core, control over college curricula, the impossibility of paying college loans, and even the future existence of public schools indicates that educating our children is a much bigger issue now than it was then, both from the point of view of the Left and of the Right. Once again, Sanders appears to be the Seer of Vermont, rather than a feckless handyman who occasionally gets an article published.

Back in the ’70s Sanders also wrote favorably on the Cuban progress in healthcare while noting the existence of “distorted and inaccurate” reporting about our near neighbor in the Caribbean – fast forward to 2015 and he’s still right.  I’ll just include one more long quote from the article and let you look at it and see how you think it holds up forty-something years later:

In “Reflections on a Dying Society,” he declared that the United States was virtually going to hell in a handcart. Its food was laden with chemicals; its environment was being ruined; the threat of nuclear annihilation or “death by poison gas” was increasing; people were suffering from malaise and “psychosomatic disease”; citizens were being coerced and duped by the government and the advertising industry; and the economy was based on “useless” goods “designed to break down or used for the slaughter of people.”

The extent that our economy depends on the sale of sophisticated weapons of war and the manufacture of firearms hasn’t grown smaller – it’s larger! If you don’t believe me, ask the NRA. I’m sure they’ve got figures they’d proudly show.

It seems to me that The Times should be paying more attention to someone who’s attracting thousands of supporters of all age groups and whose careful lists of current positions perfectly describe the progressive agenda. He may not end up as President of the United States of America, but he is surely having a major impact on the politics of this era. Though he still has “wild curly hair,” as she notes, his “brash Brooklyn accent” has been softened a lot by life in New England,  and his writing way back then may include an embarrassing column on sex (though it concludes with some timeless wisdom) on the whole, what is most notable about the writings of young Bernie Sanders is actually how extraordinarily well his thoughts hold up today, rather than the reverse.

Postscript: I have to laugh, having just checked the bio of the writer, to find out she’s a preppie with a degree from my alma mater, Yale. She apparently works from the London office:

7 thoughts on “Revenge of the Hippies: The Prescience of Bernard “Bernie” Sanders

  1. For me, Bernie Sanders represents a person whose value system is stable. Although he has evolved, as we all have, his values are steady, because he truly believes in them. And that’s a lot more than we can say about most people today, whose values shift with the wind. Perhaps, Lyall is unfamiliar with the concepts of stability, integrity and dedication to a cause. Unlike most politicians today, Bernie Sanders believes in something called humanity and the greater good. His bottom line is not money or power. That is why the Media hold him in such amused contempt. They’re afraid of him. After all, isn’t he going after them? Are they not part of the big corporations? Of the political machine? By calling Bernie Sanders a beatnik, Sarah Lyall is attempting to diminish him, by locking him into a stereotype. Unfortunately for her, and for The New York Times, she has succeeded in turning herself and her employer into — stereotypes. Stereotypes: locked and loaded.


    1. The way I led into my post might have been a bit confusing. Lyall wasn’t the one who referred to Sanders as a “Beatnik” – that was a friend of a friend on Facebook and he was being a bit humorous himself, I think.

      But it got me thinking since I was reading the article in The New York Times right at the same time. It’s another coincidence that I looked up Sarah Lyall’s bio at the same time I was in a discussion about a post my daughter made on my Timeline on Facebook about having felt she was in a sort of middle generation between Boomers and Gen X. I looked at that and found that the Baby Boom generation technically is considered to end with people born in 1964, while I had been considering Lyall’s article as having been by someone of different generation than Bernie and me. She was born in 1963.

      I do think there is a generational disconnect between her attitude to Sanders’s early bio and her life experience, and that this is one reason why she is a bit too snarky about Bernie’s ideas in the late sixties and doesn’t see the significance of the fact that he saw so far ahead. She is looking at his “career” as a journalist and making fun of its lack of significance (compared to her much more “productive” career at The Times, where she has written a lot of articles) but failing to see what I noticed, just looking at her quotes of his articles alone, which is that he and a lot of us who had these sort of typical ideas in our head back then actually were seeing into the future.

      I do agree with you that the somewhat smug and patronizing, dismissive, attitude of the corporate owned media is in a sense making them a stereotype of themselves – they have to be critical or else their “journalism card” might have to be invalidated!

      Just today I’m picking up more enthusiasm from commentators on CNN about the “significance of Sanders” story. At the same time it seems to me that Hillary Clinton’s first big interview since declaring is being discussed in a way that’s unfair to her! Can’t win by just trying to be honest and straightforward, can we?


  2. Cal, you state: The extent that our economy depends on the sale of sophisticated weapons of war and the manufacture of firearms hasn’t grown smaller – it’s larger!

    I also think that that the huge business of pharmaceuticals is an important player, as well as the entire medical service industry.


    1. I think Ms. Lyall was writing based on having read fairly little of Sanders’s writing – she says there was very little to read. I didn’t mention this in the post itself, but he did reflect the beginning (from what I know) of the anti-medical establishment thinking re: Big Pharma, which of course was not yet called that. Here’s a quote from the article:

      “he wrote some articles about health, including one in which he cited studies claiming that cancer could be caused by psychological factors such as unresolved hostility toward one’s mother, a tendency to bury aggression beneath a ‘facade of pleasantness’ and having too few orgasms.

      ‘Sexual adjustment seemed to be very poor in those with cancer of the cervix,’ he wrote, quoting a study in a journal called Psychosomatic Medicine.”

      So her article again uses a quote that makes his opinion sound silly. He can’t be prescient all the time! I have no way of knowing if her choice of quote is fair to what he actually believed then or not.


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