Bernie Sanders' Brother? Yep, He’s a Socialist Too, Living in England and He Thinks the Candidate Is Looking More "Comfortable"
U.K.-based Larry Sanders, 81, has been cheering on his brother's unexpected surge in the Democratic race from across the Atlantic.
A version of this story first appeared in the April 22 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
"He's bought a better suit. Not a very good one, but better." So claims the proud elder brother of Bernie Sanders (or "Bernard," as he calls him) of the lifestyle changes his only sibling has made since becoming a national candidate. "Up until a couple of months ago, he was still using economy class in planes, which I told him was crazy because he needed to rest," Larry Sanders, 81, explains to THR, acknowledging that there's now a rented campaign jet. "But he was very uncomfortable to change."
A fellow lifelong socialist, Larry has been watching the Bernie phenomenon from across the Atlantic. After falling in love with a British woman while "on my travels," in 1969 he decamped to Oxford, where he's lived since (although he hasn't lost the deep old-school Brooklyn baritone), working as a lecturer, social worker and local government official. He recently was appointed health spokesperson for the U.K.'s environmentally focused Green Party ("not a paid job, alas").
Despite the distance between them, he's regularly in touch with Bernie ("But not as frequent as before the campaign — he's a bit busy") and spent five weeks following him around through to the end of November. "But it's very hard when he's running all over the place — you're there to be with him, and yet you can't be with him."
Like most others around the world though, he's been watching it all on TV.
"Seeing him speak, he does look more and more comfortable in the role," says Larry. "But he doesn't sound in the least bit different when talking person to person. I don't think it's gone to his head." Has Bernie gone Hollywood with his growing A-list support? "Ha! In my humble opinion, he's the least Hollywood person that's ever appeared on television."
After graduating from James Madison High School, Larry went to Brooklyn College (as Bernie would go on to do), from where he would begin to discuss politics with his then 11-year-old brother, although he plays down Bernie's suggestions as to how significant this was in shaping his ideology.
"He exaggerates, but he's been very nice. I did help him because I was that much older, so we talked about things. … I obviously knew more things than he did."
But it's this ideology that, as Bernie has also claimed, is behind "really mainstream" policies, pushing for greater equality, universal healthcare, an improved Social Security system and higher taxation for the rich.
And it's these policy positions — and the campaign's growing momentum — that Larry thinks will give Bernie the edge over Hillary Clinton ("a very weak candidate") in the primary, after which he'll go on to "wipe Trump up" in November's general election.
"It won't be easy, but my gut feeling is that he'll [beat Clinton] because of the excitement behind him," he says.
"I just saw the last poll, and New York had him 12 points behind, but he turned up in the Bronx and there were 18,000 people who came out to see him. Now the South Bronx is predominantly black and Puerto Rican, and they're supposed to be his weakest constituencies. So I think something enormous is happening. People kind of take it in their stride, but you don't win states by 70, 80 percent as he has done. It's unheard of."
Bernie's eventual victory over Trump — "Bernard is so much more superior as a candidate," says Larry, pointing to polls giving him a "20 or 30 percent" lead when they go up against each other in the general — would be the "most immense political event since Franklin Roosevelt's election" and a "world turning point" because of the size of the win.
"He would bring in a new Democratic Congress, with a lot of new blood," says Larry. "And he would then be able to move toward all the economic changes that he's talked about."
Viewing it all from the U.K. — where he says most people are "appalled and amazed" at Trump and see Clinton as "another conventional middle-of-the-road politician" — Larry notes that many Brits "are incredibly encouraged" by his brother's successes.
"Probably more significant for the rest of the world is that you would have, for the first time, an American president who didn't believe that America had to be the policeman of the world," he says. "Which would be a huge step, a giant change. It wouldn't make Utopia, the world is a difficult place and horrible things will carry on, but one horror will be removed from the pack."
While he claims much of the world may rejoice, is Larry himself prepared for the attention of being first brother?
"You mean will somebody take a shot at me?" he laughs. "I've actually already had a lot of attention, which I quite enjoy. I was bitten a couple of times by media people who weren't trustworthy, who took things I said out of context. Now I'm a little bit better at being careful, but I'm still not very good at it."