"Four Amendments & a Funeral" by Matt Taibbi in the new Rolling Stone
Nobody knows how this place is run," says Rep. Bernie Sanders. "If they did, they'd go nuts."
Sanders is a tall, angular man with a messy head of gull-white hair and a circa-1977 set of big-framed eyeglasses. Minus the austere congressional office, you might mistake him for a physics professor or a journalist of the Jimmy Breslin school.
Vermont's sole representative in the House, Sanders is expected to become the first Independent ever elected to the U.S. Senate next year. He is something of a cause celebre on both the left and right these days, with each side overreacting to varying degrees to the idea of a self-described "democratic socialist" coming so near to a seat in the upper house.
Some months before, a Sanders aide had tried to sell me on a story about his boss, but over lunch we ended up talking about Congress itself. Like a lot of people who have worked on the Hill a little too long, the aide had a strange look in his eyes -- the desperate look of a man who's been marooned on a remote island, subsisting on bugs and abalone for years on end. You worry that he might grab your lapel in frustration at any moment. "It's unbelievable," he said. "Worse than you can possibly imagine. The things that go on . . . "
Some time later I came back to the aide and told him that a standard campaign-season political profile was something I probably couldn't do, but if Sanders would be willing to give me an insider's guided tour of the horrors of Congress, I'd be interested.
"Like an evil, adult version of Schoolhouse Rock," I said.
The aide laughed and explained that the best time for me to go would be just before the summer recess, a period when Congress rushes to pass a number of appropriations bills. "It's like orgy season," he said. "You won't want to miss that."
I thought Sanders would be an ideal subject for a variety of reasons, but mainly for his Independent status. For all the fuss over his "socialist" tag, Sanders is really a classic populist outsider. The mere fact that Sanders signed off on the idea of serving as my guide says a lot about his attitude toward government in general: He wants people to see exactly what he's up against.