Bernie Sanders: The Populist Preacher Runs for President

30 Apr 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

A socialist throws his hat into the ring.

By all appearances, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is the prohibitive favorite for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016, but as of today, she’s not running unopposed. When the white-haired senator stands behind the podium, he hunches, and punctuates his points with the tips of his fingers close together, as if grasping a jelly bean. Bernie Sanders, the self-described socialist politician of Vermont, announced on Wednesday he plans to run for president against Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton.

He currently holds office as an independent and describes himself as a “democratic socialist.” He vowed to make fighting income inequality a key tenet of his platform, and will run to the political left of Clinton, who has already taken a progressive turn in her speeches and campaign appearances. “What we have seen is that while the average person is working longer hours for lower wages, we have seen a huge increase in income and wealth inequality, which is now reaching obscene levels,” Sanders said. “This is a rigged economy, which works for the rich and the powerful, and is not working for ordinary Americans. . . . Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, Sanders’s brother Larry is standing in next week’s UK general election – hoping to become the Green party MP for Oxford West and Abingdon in south-east England. Sanders, who plans to formally announce his 2016 campaign on Thursday, told the Associated Press and USA Today that he’s running. “I am running for president,” he told the AP. “I’ve been traveling around the country for the last year trying to ascertain whether there really is grass-roots support in terms of people standing up and being prepared to take on the billionaire class,” Sanders elaborated to USA Today. “I believe that there is.” Sanders has already begun making the media rounds this morning, striking a very optimistic tone during an ABC interview. “I think we’re going to have a surprise for you: we’re going to win this thing,” the Vermont independent said, adding, “People should not underestimate me.” For those who’ve followed the senator closely, that’s probably good advice, though it’s hard to deny the fact that he has an uphill climb ahead – one national poll conducted last week showed Sanders trailing Clinton among Democratic voters by a mere 52 points, 60% to 8%. To merely call Sanders a complainer, however, would ignore the urgency of his message: America really is in trouble. “All of you know what’s going on in America today!” the Vermont senator said in a speech last week in Washington, D.C., where federal workers were rallying for better pay. “We have millions of working people living in poverty, and 99% of all new income is going to the top 1%. That is not what America is supposed to be about!” The crowd surrounding him murmured its assent, and Sanders continued. “A great nation will not survive when so few have so much, and so many have so little!” It is a prophecy that Sanders has been preaching for many years.

Both hope to highlight core progressive issues … and neither is expected to win. “The people at the top are grabbing all the new wealth and income for themselves, and the rest of America is being squeezed and left behind,” Bernie Sanders said in an email to supporters declaring his candidacy, Reuters reported. “The middle class in America is at a tipping point. He’s not up for re-election until 2018 – he won a second term in 2012 with 71% of the vote – so launching a national campaign this year costs him nothing.

Clinton has been pulled to the left by the very existence of Senator Elizabeth Warren, whose tough-on-Wall Street politics have made her a favorite of those who are unsatisfied by Clinton’s more centrist positions. Billionaires are buying our elections, too many Americans aren’t getting by, income inequality is becoming so extreme, and the country is reaching a breaking point. It will not last another generation if we don’t boldly change course now.” Larry Sanders, meanwhile, told supporters on a Green party fact sheet that “the UK has had 30 years of governments shifting resources from the vast majority to the richest 1%”. Although he has no hope of winning the nomination, he might energise a protest vote against the Clinton juggernaut, especially if no serious left-wing candidate enters the race. Now, Sanders, the son of a Polish-Jewish paint salesman, a Brooklyn native and Vermont Senator, a former carpenter, filmmaker and writer, is running for president.

There is one nagging issue, though, that’s likely to come up in the coming months: Sanders is running in a Democratic primary despite not being an actual Democrat. While Sanders praised Clinton as an individual—“I respect her and like her”—he was quick to point out some key differences between their respective records. “I voted against the war in Iraq,” he said. “Secretary Clinton voted for it when she was in the Senate.” (Clinton for years said she would have voted differently if she had not received inaccurate intelligence, and later upgraded her statements to admit she had made a mistake.) The Democratic race for the nomination is likely to get more crowded in the upcoming weeks.

Bernie Sanders is the longest serving independent member of Congress, while Larry Sanders – who was born in New York like his brother but moved to Britain in 1969 – has been involved in UK politics for 15 years. Former Rhode Island governor Lincoln Chafee, former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley, and Jim Webb, a former senator from Virginia, are expected to join Clinton and Sanders as candidates. That remains true today – Sanders’ office has made it quite clear that, despite his bid for national office, the senator has not changed his party affiliation, is still not a Democrat, and remains a proud independent.

On the Republican side of the primary fight are Florida senator Marco Rubio, Texas senator Ted Cruz, Kentucky senator Rand Paul, who have all already announced. Indeed, Sanders has never been a Democrat – as the multi-term mayor of Burlington, he was a member of a small, state-based party, and as a multi-term U.S.

An independent candidacy could be appealing because of “huge frustration at both parties.” But the drawback was, he said, that it’s very difficult to get on the ballot in 50 states. Campaigns grew longer after the Democrats (and then the Republicans) rewrote their party rules to give more weight to primary elections in the states rather than secretive negotiations at the nominating convention. Debbie Wasserman Schultz nevertheless issued a statement this morning welcoming Sanders to the race. “Democrats welcome Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders as the second candidate to officially seek the Democratic Party’s nomination for President in 2016.” Wasserman Schultz said. “Senator Sanders is well-recognized for his principled leadership and has consistently stood up for middle class families.

He attracts the discontented and the progressive. “We had town hall meetings with Bernie Sanders,” said Hugh Espey, an Iowa-based activist who runs the Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement. “He got a great reception from everyday folks. Hillary Clinton’s supporters and outside groups are seeking to raise well over $1 billion, and the Koch brothers plan to spend close to $900 million this election. With 291,000 Twitter followers and nearly 1,000,000 Facebook likes, he’s got a much bigger following than more powerful senators like minority leader Harry Reid, Mike Lee, and Elizabeth Warren.

If the social network lacks the firepower of multimillion-dollar donor network, or the closed-door fundraiser in Miami Beach, it has the potential to total many millions made up of $25 or $50 donations. That will complement the more than $4.5 million Sanders has on hand for his 2018 Senate reelection campaign, according to an FEC report, which he could use for a presidential race. “We’re going to run a serious, credible campaign. It’s going to cost a lot of money,” said Tad Devine, who will be a top advisor to Sanders. (Devine held senior roles in the Al Gore and John Kerry presidential campaigns.) “The front-end budget will be in the neighborhood of $50 million up and through the early states,” Devine said. “There will be a full-fledged campaign in some early states, and to gain access nationally and put the national campaign in scope, there’ll be costs.” Sanders has earnest ideas, even if he hasn’t laid out all his policies in detail yet.

He wants the United States to spend $1 trillion on infrastructure projects across the country, which Devine says could put more than one million people to work. He supports tighter regulations on Wall Street, opposes free-trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership and proposes raising taxes on the rich.

This country and our government belong to all of us, not just a handful of billionaires.’” It’s a campaign about populism, about running against giants like Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush, and about underdogs—be they working families or presidential candidates.

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