The Independent U.S. Senator from Vermont Bernie Sanders has a hunch about the American electorate, but he says the only way to be sure is to go out and meet them.
It's called the 'Fight For Economic Justice Tour,' but it's really what the self-identified Social Democrat described earlier this year as his attempt to travel the country in order to gauge the country's hunger for a grassroots 'political revolution'—couched in a possible presidential bid—to challenge the economic inequality and corporate malfeasance that have severely wounded the nation's democracy and are strangling its promise of shared prosperity.
Sanders was in Raleigh, North Carolina on Wednesday night to receive an award from the American Legion, but what many understood as a political stop designed as a prelude towards a possible presidential run in 2016. On Thursday the senator is scheduled for a town hall event in Columbia, South Carolina and after that, an event in Jackson, Mississippi on Friday.
"I want confirmation of what I believe is true.... that all over this country—in so-called Red States and in so-called Blue States—people are profoundly disgusted about what is happening and that they want real change." —Sen. Bernie Sanders
Earlier this week, Sanders confirmed that he will also be making upcoming visits to both Iowa and New Hampshire—two political bellwether states—and he has spent the last several months making it clear that he is "strongly considering" a possible primary challenge to the expected Democratic Party front-runner Hillary Clinton.
So what's the purpose of all this travel?
"This is about seeing whether ordinary people are prepared to stand up and fight and create a political revolution in the sense of what we have not seen in a very long time," Sanders declared on Wednesday.
In an interview with the Charlotte Observer on Wednesday, Sanders stated his position that economic inequality and the everyday suffering of ordinary people is at the core of his thinking on the country's current situation. "The main issue that I have is that in America today the middle-class is disappearing while the gap between rich and poor is growing wider," he said. "We need more people in politics working for ordinary people and not just the top 1 percent."
Sanders said he remains under no illusions that a run against someone like Hillary Clinton would be an uphill slog, but that he's not shy of the challenge. "I think the average American is a lot more frustrated with the establishment than a lot of people perceive," he told the Observer. "I think there's receptivity for voices that are going to speak for a working class that is being battered."
During his remarks on Wednesday, according to the North Carolina-based Progressive Pulse, "Sanders highlighted the nation’s dramatic rightward policy shift over recent decades by reading at length from the 1980 national Libertarian Party platform under which David Koch was a candidate for Vice President. The senator then explained how many of the once-radical right policies that Koch had advanced at that time (e.g. the demise of the social safety net, the end of campaign finance regulations) were now considered mainstream conservative values."
Sen. Sanders also appeared on MSNBC's The Ed Show on Wednesday evening to discuss his thoughts on where the country is at politically and whether or not a presidential run is in his future. Watch:
Asked by the host to put his current and upcoming travel plans in context and explain their purpose, Sanders responded: "Number one, I want confirmation of what I believe is true." Touching on the issues of wealth inequality, lack of universal access to health care, he said, "I believe that all over this country—in so-called Red States and in so-called Blue States—people are profoundly disgusted about what is happening and that they want real change."
Sanders said that even in predominantly Republican-controlled states like South Carolina and Mississippi, he believes people there want to hear politicians willing to say, "Enough is enough-- the Billionaire Class can't have it all. The middle class has got to get some of it."
Getting specific, he continued, by saying people are reading to hear his message: "That we need to change our trade policies so that American corporations invest in this country, not in China; That it is wrong that Burger King and other large corporations are fleeing America because they don't want to pay their fair share of taxes; That we need to fix our crumbling infrastructure and create millions of jobs; That, yes--the scientists are right: Climate change is real and that we have to transform our energy system away from fossil fuel. I believe that theses are not radical ideas. In fact, I believe that on every one of these issues, that a vast majority of the people agree."
Earlier this month, in an interview with ABC News' Jeff Zelaney, Sanders said that compared to a likely Clinton platform—who he criticized as detrimentally "hawkish" on foreign policy issues and too close to Wall Street on economic policy—his plan to take on income and wealth inequality and challenge the corporate "oligarchy" which increasingly controls the nation's political system would be "a damn good platform."
Earlier this week, The Hill explored the contours of a possible Sanders challenge to Clinton, as well as others who may rise from the left side of the Democratic Party to challenge her:
Liberal advocates say there are many questions about Clinton’s policy stances. She has stayed relatively quiet about domestic issues since retiring from the Senate in 2008.
“I would like to know more about where she stands. The world has changed a lot since her husband was president, and she hasn’t had to deal with domestic issues since she was in the U.S. Senate,” said Roger Hickey, co-director of Campaign for America’s Future. “The questions I would like her to debate and discuss is what do we do with this banking system that is a problem for the real economy.
“Do we continue to deregulate the way her husband did or do we break up the banks and make them less powerful?” he said.
Democratic activists acknowledge that Sanders is unlikely to present a serious threat to Clinton, but they are happy to see him jump in the race because they want a vigorous debate over Wall Street.
Warren has emerged as the leading Democratic voice on Wall Street reform, but she insists she does not plan to run for president.
“The big question that most progressives have for Hillary is, ‘Where is she now compared to the past?’ ” said Charles Chamberlain, executive director of Democracy for America, a liberal advocacy group. “In the past she sided with the Wall Street wing of the party. The reality is that the corporate, Wall Street wing of the Democratic Party is going away.
“The future of our party is the Warren wing, which is fighting to break up the big banks, expand Social Security and fighting economic inequality,” he said.
Liberal Democrats hope a challenge from Sanders or another populist candidate will force Clinton to move to the left on financial regulations, corporate tax reform and expanding Social Security.