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Oppenheim: The Bernie Effect

Vermont is having its latest moment in the national spotlight compliments of Bernie Sanders. Let’s call it “The Bernie Effect.” And it’s worth wondering what it may mean in the long term for the rest of us.

Now, I’ve been here about a year, and it didn’t take long for stereotypes I might have had about the state to get broken down by reality.

Sure – we’ve got environmentalists and people standing for upright social causes, many who happen to own exquisite ski equipment. But we’ve also got poverty, drug addiction, a range of political views, and troubles ahead, including attracting businesses here for future jobs.

In other words... we’re complicated. Most cities and states are – but the perception of them tends to get reduced to something more simplistic. Politicians can be vehicles for those stereotypes. For good or bad, George W. Bush imprinted the nation with an oilman from Texas, and Barack Obama, a college professor from Chicago.

So how does the Green Mountain State come off when its increasingly popular candidate on the national stage is a Democratic Socialist?

First, you have to figure out what a Democratic Socialist is. Media Pundits tell us that the specific definition probably doesn’t matter, because in the end, the S-word – socialism – is just not going to be accepted by the general electorate anyway.

That may be true. But the reality is Bernie doesn’t want to nationalize our banks and industries. He touches on traditional democratic party issues, including regulation and income disparity, and in these areas, sets himself to the left of Hillary Clinton.

Bernie looks to Denmark and European nations that have modeled a mix of private enterprise from industry with a strong safety net from government.

But nuance isn’t what paints a state. Broader perceptions do. And so now, the poster child for the state of Vermont is a man who, in front of an audience of more then 15 million, skipped an opportunity to attack Hillary on her emails – and took an opportunity to promote his views on economic fairness.

That Bernie moment inspired Saturday Night Live to out-Bernie Bernie – with Larry David, whose cranky portrayal was an extension of David’s own persona.

I suspect the impression that one of our own may leave with the rest of the nation is that we’re no-nonsense, a bit detail-obsessed, don’t have the best hair – or even the best mood for that matter – but at the end of the day, try to be true to ourselves.

And that too, may be a stereotype.

But hey, we can live with it.

Keith Oppenheim, Associate Professor in Broadcast Media Production at Champlain College, has been with the college since 2014. Prior to that, he coordinated the broadcasting program at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan (near Grand Rapids). Keith was a correspondent for CNN for 11 years and worked as a television news reporter in Providence, Scranton, Sacramento and Detroit. He produces documentaries, and his latest project, Noyana - Singing at the end of life, tells the story of a Vermont choir that sings to hospice patients.
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