Bernie Sanders: To Defeat Oligarchy, I Would Run for President

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by
Common Dreams

Bernie Sanders: To Defeat Oligarchy, I Would Run for President

Latest interview with senator from Vermont shows that his reluctance to run would be outweighed by the scale of unaddressed crises and ignored issues

by
Jon Queally, staff writer

Senator Bernie Sanders, for the second time in as many weeks, is indicating serious contemplation for a presidential run in 2016 if none of the potential Democratic candidates show the proper urgency when it comes to addressing a key set of issues that he thinks now face the country and the world.

Stressing the overarching crisis of out-of-control income and wealth inequality coupled with the planetary emergencies of global warming and climate change, Sanders' message has been that unless these problems are put at the forefront of the domestic policy agenda he will feel compelled to run.

In an extended interview with Salon journalist Josh Eidelson published Wednesday, Sanders admitted he does not "wake up every morning with a huge desire to be president of the United States... I don’t."

"What distresses me enormously is that there is very little discussion about [our] major crises, and even less discussion about ideas that can resolve these issues."

However, he continued, "I do wake up believing [that] this country is facing more serious crises than we have faced since the Great Depression. And if you include the planetary crisis of global warming, the situation today may even be worse. And given that reality, what distresses me enormously is that there is very little discussion about these major crises, and even less discussion about ideas that can resolve these issues."

In an interview ten days ago with a local Vermont paper, the Independent senator for the first time indicated he would be willing to run if it seemed necessary.

“These are not normal times," he told the Burlington Free Press. "The United States right now is in the middle of a severe crisis and you have to call it what it is.”

As John Nichols reported for The Nation recently, a run by the Vermont senator would pit the populism that is bubbling up from the progressive base of the Democratic Party and among independents against what the Sanders plainly terms the forces of "oligarchy."

"That’s what oligarchy is. Oligarchy is when a small number of people control the economic and political life of the country."

A "small handful of multi-billionaires control the economics of this country," Sanders told Nichols. "Economically, they clearly have an enormous amount of power. And, now, especially with Citizens United, these very same people are now investing in politics. That’s what oligarchy is. Oligarchy is when a small number of people control the economic and political life of the country—certainly including the media—and we are rapidly moving toward an oligarchic form of society.”

According to Nichols, Sanders would enjoy a run again the oligarchs and the sytem that insulates them from the displeasure and will of the public. In their exchange, Sanders asked Nichols to imagine a presidential candidate who said to voters:

“I am going to stand with you. And I am going to take these guys on. And I understand that they’re going to be throwing thirty-second ads at me every minute. They’re going to do everything they can to undermine my agenda. But I believe that if we stand together, we can defeat them.”

Sanders continued:

“If you had a President who said: ‘Nobody in America is going to make less than $12 or $14 an hour,’ what do you think that would do? If you had a President who said: ‘You know what, everybody in this country is going to get free primary health care within a year,’ what do you think that would do? If you had a President say, ‘Every kid in this country is going to go to college regardless of their income,’ what do you think that would do? If you had a President say, ‘I stand here today and guarantee you that we are not going to cut a nickel in Social Security; in fact we’re going to improve the Social Security program,’ what do you think that would do? If you had a president who said, ‘Global warming is the great planetary crisis of our time, I’m going to create millions jobs as we transform our energy system. I know the oil companies don’t like it. I know the coal companies don’t like it. But that is what this planet needs: we’re going to lead the world in that direction. We’re going to transform the energy system across this planet—and create millions of jobs while we do that.’ If you had a President say that, what kind of excitement would you generate from young people all over this world?”:

Pivoting on those comments and the video interview (below) given to the Vermont paper, Eidelson asked Sanders to elaborate on a range of issues. Responding, Sanders spoke of the threats of climate change and unemployment; shared a critique of Walmart and the virtues of socialism; discussed the attack on programs like Social Security and Medicare; and offered an explanation to why a possible run against a Democratic candidate—whether it be Hillary Clinton or others—would be a positive strategy for bringing these often ignored, but vital, issues to the forefront of the national dialogue.

What follows are selected remarks from Sanders taken from his exchange with Eidelson.

On the political/media landscape and income inequality

"We are in a situation where we have not been since the late 1920s, before the Depression, where the top 1 percent owns 38 percent of the financial wealth of America, while the bottom 60 – six zero – percent owns 2.3 percent of the wealth in America. That is obscene beyond belief."

"The great moral and economic and political crisis facing this country, which gets relatively little discussion, is the growing disparity in income and wealth that exists in America. We are in a situation where we have not been since the late 1920s, before the Depression, where the top 1 percent owns 38 percent of the financial wealth of America, while the bottom 60 – six zero – percent owns 2.3 percent of the wealth in America. That is obscene beyond belief. The worst wealth inequality in the entire — of any major country in the world. And in terms of income, the last statistics we have seen from 2009 to 2012 tell us that 95 percent of all new income in this country went to the top 1 percent.

"So what you have there is obviously [a] horrendous economic situation, but it is very dangerous to our political system. Because big money interests are putting huge amounts of money into the political process through Citizens United. And these are issues that have got to be addressed, or else in my view the United States will move very rapidly toward an oligarchic form of society when our economic and political life is controlled by a handful of billionaires.

"I see this as a huge moral issue, an economic issue, a political issue. There is virtually no discussion about that, virtually none. I don’t know how we can be a serious nation when this issue is not front and center, and there are not real ideas out there on how we address it."

On the crisis of unemployment

"Real unemployment is not 7.2 percent — it’s close to 14 percent, including those people who have given up looking for work, and who are working part-time. Youth unemployment, youth unemployment is close to 20 percent. African-American youth unemployment is close to 40 percent. These are crises. And yet day after day, we hear about the deficit — which is a serious issue — and we hear almost nothing about the unemployment issue, which among other things is having a horrendous impact on the current young generation, the kids who have graduated high school and college."

On climate change and global warming

"We have almost no movement at all [on climate change], virtually no movement in Congress on this planetary crisis."

"It is beyond comprehension — although the scientific community is almost unanimous in telling us that global warming is man-made, that it is already causing disastrous problems, and that those problems will only get worse in years to come — that we have almost no movement at all, virtually no movement in Congress on this planetary crisis."

On the social safety net and the middle class

"I would say that while the American people feel very strongly — and this is, by the way, across the board, Democrats, Republicans and independents — in opposition to cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, inside the Beltway, the political establishments, there is support for cuts to those terribly important programs. [...]

"We have a middle class that is disappearing, and somebody has got to be speaking strongly to defend our middle class."

On the value of a presidential run

"You can give all the speeches you want on the floor of the Senate, that’s great, but I think being involved in debates and being out there around the country allows — gives you the opportunity to talk about these issues in a way that you otherwise could not."

"The nature of media is that presidential campaigns and candidates are a means, to some degree at least, of getting these issues out there. And I think that you can give all the speeches you want on the floor of the Senate, that’s great, but I think being involved in debates and being out there around the country allows — gives you the opportunity to talk about these issues in a way that you otherwise could not."

On Elizabeth Warren

"Elizabeth Warren is [...] clearly one of the smartest people in the Senate. She is a true progressive. [...] She is doing a great job, and understands fully the issues facing the middle class and working class in this country. She is a very strong proponent in defending the working families in this country."

On Hillary Clinton

"I have known Hillary Clinton for a number of years, not terribly well, but I knew her when she was first lady and I knew her when she was in the Senate. I like her. She is extremely smart. But it’s — we will have to see what she has to say, so — but based on the kind of centrist positions that we have seen her take in the past, it remains to be seen — although I may be wrong — it remains to be seen whether she will be a forceful advocate for working families."

On socialism

"I think in recent years, especially since the Wall Street collapse of 2008, the American people are becoming profoundly disgusted about a nation in which a small handful of billionaires have incredible control over the political and economic life in this country. They are very upset that the middle class is disappearing, while the wealthy and large corporations are doing phenomenally well. And I think what we have seen is that a whole lot of people out there are prepared to support candidates who are willing to stand up to big money interests and protect working families."

On Walmart

"The Wal-Mart family, the wealthiest family in this country, should be paying their workers a living wage, not starvation wages."

"Now what is particularly outrageous about the Wal-Mart business model is that the Walton family that owns Wal-Mart is the wealthiest family in this country  … The six heirs of Sam Walton are worth about, I believe, over $100 billion. Which is more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of the American people, interestingly. And what is quite amazing is that one of the reasons this family has become so wealthy is that the taxpayers of the United States provide more welfare to the Walton family than any family in America. So that — when you have workers in Wal-Mart who in order to feed their families have got to go on food stamps, have got to go on Medicaid to get their healthcare, have got to live in government-subsidized affordable housing in order to have a roof over their heads — what that dynamic is, essentially, is that the United States, that the taxpayers of this country are in partnership with the Walton family. The Walton family makes all of the money – the wealthiest family in America – while the taxpayers have to subsidize the low-paid employees. And that to me is totally absurd.

"The Wal-Mart family, the wealthiest family in this country, should be paying their workers a living wage, not starvation wages."

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