On Saturday, during the ABC News Democratic presidential debate, the three remaining candidates for president had to answer some question about their spouses. Namely, how they'd step into a role that's become increasingly high-profile and politically demanding over the years. All three of them answered capably, but it was revealing of the respective fame and prominence of the people being discussed — the Sanders and O'Malley families aren't nearly so well known. So, here's a question: What does Jane O'Meara Sanders do for a living?
Sure, there are at least some stories about Jane and Bernie that people have heard about — in one particular case, a shorthand one that's been used rather demagogically in the Republican debates. It centers around them visiting the Soviet Union for their honeymoon in 1988, a fact clearly raised to portray Bernie as an outright communist, rather than the Democratic socialist he proclaims himself to be. In reality, as Bloomberg detailed, the trip was part-honeymoon, part official occasion, thanks to the establishment of Yaroslavl as a sister city to Burlington, Vermont, where Bernie was mayor.
But on the whole, they're not nearly as visible or powerful a political couple as the Clintons, nor do they have anything like the same public record together. In fact, it's possible you've never even seen Jane Sanders before, though she was shown for a brief moment during the debate, when Bernie was asked whether she'd "have a desk close by in the West Wing."
His reply was that "Given the fact that she's a lot smarter than me, yes, she would." And when you look back at her career history, that's not a terribly surprising response — Jane has a doctorate (although, according to The Hill, she mostly eschews attaching the Dr. prefix to her name), she's been an educator, and was described by The New York Times in 2000 as a "key adviser" throughout Bernie's long political life.
As CNN detailed earlier this year, Jane's role in her husband's career is considerable — she and Bernie share an office at his campaign headquarters, a notable fact even within the realm of politically active and motivated spouses. She did somewhat downplay her influence, however, denying that she was a policy adviser.
I think every wife, or every husband, is the most important adviser of their spouse so I enjoy it very much, he doesn't always listen to me as you may know. I'm not a policy adviser. I just give him a lot of advice and he decides what to take and what not to.
Jane Sanders is no stranger to high-visibility jobs, either, nor some pointed scrutiny. She's twice been a college president, for the first time as the interim president of Goddard College (where she received a degree in social work in the 1970s), and for the second time as the president of Burlington College in 2004. Her stint at Burlington ended in 2011, amid what's perhaps the only point of genuine controversy in her past — by the time she resigned, the situation between herself and the college was reportedly rather acrimonious, although her husband strongly defended her, denouncing criticism of the payment she received upon leaving.
All in all, Jane's professional and educational endeavors paint a pretty intriguing picture — someone who has firm conviction and belief in progressive principles, the confidence and experience to assert herself politically, and a mind towards social justice and the common good. Sound familiar? Those are qualities that could that be valuable in any presidential spouse, but let's be honest: if you're married to a guy like Bernie Sanders, that's got to be a match made in heaven.