Bernie Sanders’ brotherly love

02:20 - Source: CNN
Brotherly Love: A touching interview with Bernie Sanders' brother, Larry
Oxford, United Kingdom CNN —  

If you truly want to take the measure of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, just check out his wild white mop of hair.

That’s how his UK-based brother Larry, watching from an ocean away, knows that proximity to power has not changed the self-described socialist and independent senator now making an insurgent, some say quixotic, run at the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.

Larry, who moved to England in 1969, is also no stranger to long-shot political campaigns: He stood in Thursday’s UK general election as a Green Party candidate in the Oxford West and Abingdon constituency – with no realistic chance of winning.

The poor odds on Bernie’s presidential bid might be the price of his having never forsaken his left-wing roots, despite becoming a senator and chairing influential committees like Veterans Affairs that have the power to dole out millions of dollars.

“In terms of his dedication to his own views, he hasn’t shifted an inch,” Larry said of the 73-year-old brother he calls Bernard, with the accent on the second syllable. “Somebody said this – I think it is true. His hairdo is a giveaway.”

Other big-time politicians are more concerned about appearance and get a fancy coiffure once they are in positions of power and influence. “You have to look a little different. (But) Bernard, outside and inside, has not altered,” Larry told CNN in an interview in his kitchen, about a mile from the dreaming spires of Oxford University.

It’s not just blood that unites the pair, who grew up together in Brooklyn – they’re also political brothers-in-arms who have a passion for issues that sets them against big party power brokers.

Although they live thousands of miles apart, the brothers remain close and often speak by phone. Larry, the elder by six years, plans to join his sibling on the U.S. presidential campaign trail at some point.

Bernie paid tribute to his big brother last month, when he launched a presidential campaign that will see him take on prohibitive Democratic Party favorite Hillary Clinton.

“I owe my brother an enormous amount. It was my brother who actually introduced me to a lot of my ideas,” he said at the launch event.

Larry said that Bernie first really became politically engaged in 1960s Chicago when he went to university.

He learned “in practice, on the streets. In a way he learned in the stacks, in the library. I don’t think he learned much in class. He did learn a lot reading – he read hugely.”

READ: Windfall at Bernie’s: Sanders raises $1.5 million in 24 hours

Larry has watched his sibling’s political development from his British outpost ever since arriving in England at the end of the ‘60s. A retired social worker, he has lectured at Oxford and remains deeply involved in health and anti-poverty efforts.

Speaking with a New York accent now overlaid by the plummier tones of southern England, Larry rejected the idea that he and his brother are part of a fringe movement – even though they are ideologically well to the left of the political center in the UK and the U.S. and have shunned the big political parties.

“I don’t think we are out of the mainstream. I think that what we have noticed is that the mainstream has been ignored for a long time,” he said.

“Can you believe that you can have a politics that has vast amounts of money – rich countries – and more and more of it goes to a tiny amount of people?”

He concluded, “Something has gone strange.”

Like his brother, Larry campaigns on wide-reaching social issues, like government funding of health care and decent housing for workers.

He’s clearly deeply proud of his brother, including his ability to make a run for the White House after more humble service as the mayor of Burlington, a Vermont congressman and now a senator for the New England state.

Their father was a Jewish immigrant from Poland and their mother from a Jewish family in New York. The latest twist in Bernie’s career “inevitably … brings back thoughts of childhood, of family,” Larry said.

“My parents would have been over the moon,” he added, his voice cracking with emotion.