the body politic

Wife of Bernie Sanders Suddenly Invisible

Bernie and Jane Sanders.
Bernie and Jane Sanders. Photo: Melina Mara/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Yesterday evening CNN published a profile of Dr. Jane O’Meara Sanders, who is married to Bernie Sanders. The profile is a decent length — more than 900 words. Here’s how many of those words are devoted to describing anything about Jane Sanders that is not related to how she met, reflects, works with, believes in, helps, or otherwise bolsters her husband: 25.

I’m actually being generous here because I counted the mention that she was “born in Brooklyn” even though that seems to have only been included because her birthplace was “a few blocks from the man who would be her future husband.” Likewise, the three children she had in a previous marriage are quickly folded into her current domestic situation, which is that, along with Bernie’s one child, the pair “regularly tell people that they have four kids and seven grandchildren.”

The 37 years that precede Jane’s marriage to Bernie — years during which she left Brooklyn to pursue a degree at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, married, had kids, dropped out of college, worked at a bank and supermarket, moved to Vermont, finished her bachelor’s degree, began working with juveniles at the Burlington Police Department, started a teen center, a newspaper, and a day-care program, earned a doctorate, worked as a provost for one small college and president of another, Burlington College, where her tenure provoked some controversy and ended in her resignation – are all compressed into the following sentence: “In interviews and conversations, Jane Sanders plays coy with her political skills and ability, despite her past as a school board member and provost of Goddard College.”

The brevity of her independent biography is mysterious. All of the above information is readily available. I Googled her! And found this very helpful Bloomberg story, in which Jane is quoted as saying, of her initial decision, after her husband was elected to Congress, not to leave her job in Vermont: “There are two choices: Live in your home state and have a weekend marriage or move to D.C. and possibly give up your job and uproot your children. When your spouse becomes a congressperson, you have to adjust your entire life if you want to stay married.”

Yeah, apparently you have to adjust your whole life because here are the things we learn about Jane Sanders from this lengthy story about her at CNN: that she is her husband’s most trusted adviser; that she travels on campaign trips with him; that they share an office; that she takes the stage with him at events and waves to the crowd “before getting a kiss on the cheek”; that she never thought this would be her life (I bet she didn’t); that they met in 1981 on the night he won his first term as Burlington mayor; that they worked together (her job unspecified) for seven years before marrying; that they spent their honeymoon in the Soviet Union; that “Jane has worked for her husband in the past” (her professional capacity unspecified); that she is “humbled by the possibility” of her husband becoming president; that she is savvy when discussing his opponent Hillary Clinton and says she doesn’t “do gender or identity politics” (note to Jane: Now might be a good time to start; your own identity is disappeeeeeeaaring …); that as First Lady she’d be a “sounding board” and someone “to talk things through with”; and that she might focus on education and how “the brain interacts with child development” (which would be a lot more resonant if any of her professional history had been chronicled in any detail); that some call her Bernie’s “wife-everythinger” and that that’s a role she relishes. “If I wasn’t married to him I would be volunteering for him,” Jane says. “Honestly, there’s no one I respect and admire more and that’s a great place to be as a wife.”

Oh, god, but you know a better place to be as a wife is one in which you still count as a unique human being with a rich and complicated independent identity and a long and varied career doing fascinating work outside of the shadow of your (also fascinating and indisputably charming, but still …) husband.

Wife of Bernie Sanders Suddenly Invisible