Sen. Bernie Sanders, set to host his official presidential campaign kick-off event in Vermont on Tuesday, spent Memorial Day weekend exercising his political chops by saying that his path towards the Democratic nomination will be focused on having a serious conversation with the American people about critical issues like stagnant wages and decades of growing economic inequality, the clear and present danger of planetary climate change, and the corruption of the nation's media and political institutions—increasingly controlled by corporate and elite interests—which consistently refuse to address such concerns.
"I don't go to fundraisers where millionaires sit around the room and say here's a million, here's $5 million for your Super PAC. That's not my life. That's not my world. And I think the American people are saying that is not what our politics should be about."
—Sen. Bernie SandersWith one local supporter in New England describing Sanders as a "badass left-winger" compared to anyone else in the field, the self-described democratic socialist had interviews with both CNN and the Associated Press in recent days during which he said that though he has no desire to take "cheap shots" at Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, he will certainly not hesitate to criticize her when it comes to key policy differences.
And discussing his colleague Sen. Elizabeth Warren—who has so far rebuffed all calls from progressives and liberal Democrats to enter the presidential race—Sanders said that he shares many of her concerns about the suffering middle class and the destructive role that Wall Street supremacy is having on the nation's economy.
Describing her as a "good friend," Sanders told AP that his and Sen. Warren's views "are parallel on many, many issues." And when it came to his role of challenging Clinton from the left, Sanders rejected the idea, offered by AP, that his candidacy should be narrowly viewed as an attempt to "shape the debate" among Democrat, progressives, or other voters. "Hillary Clinton is a candidate, I am a candidate," Sanders said. "I suspect there will be other candidates. The people in this country will make their choice."
According to AP:
For Sanders, a key question is electability. Clinton is in a commanding position by any measure. Yet his supporters in New Hampshire say his local ties and longstanding practice of holding town hall meetings and people-to-people campaigning — a staple in the nation's first primary state — could serve him well.
"Toward the Vermont border it's like a love-fest for Bernie," said Jerry Curran, an Amherst, New Hampshire, Democratic activist who has been involved in the draft Warren effort. "He's not your milquetoast left-winger. He's kind of a badass left-winger."
[...] Sanders has raised more than $4 million since announcing in early May that he would be a presidential candidate. He suggested in the interview that raising $50 million for the primaries was a possibility. "That would be a goal," he said.
On the issue of money's ever-increasing role in U.S. politics, Sanders described to AP how fighting back against the flow of campaign cash unleashed by the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision would be one of his key platform planks. "I'm not going to have a Super PAC in this campaign," he said. "I don't go to fundraisers where millionaires sit around the room and say here's a million, here's $5 million for your super PAC. That's not my life. That's not my world. And I think the American people are saying that is not what our politics should be about."
Meanwhile, appearing Sunday on CNN's Reliable Sources with Brian Stelter, Sanders said that in addition to the rise of money's centrality to political campaigns, a related obstacle to positive change in the country, in fact, remains the deplorable coverage offered by the nation's broadcast and cable news companies.
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Asked by Stelter if attacking the media would be an effective campaign strategy, Sanders responded:
Look, I don't know if it's a winning strategy or not, but this is what I do know: the middle class of this country is disappearing despite the fact that people are working longer hours and they're earning lower wages. We have seen an explosion in technology and productivity and yet all of the increase in income and wealth is going to the top 1 percent. Do you think that that's an important issue to discuss?
According to the scientific community, climate change is the great planetary crisis we now face. Do you think we might want to be discussing that issue?
You have the top 1/10th of 1 percent now owning more wealth than the bottom 90 percent. I'm the ranking member of the budget committee. I dealt with the Republican budget which throws 27 million people off of health insurance, cuts educational programs by tens of billions of dollars, gives tax breaks to billionaires. Do you know how much coverage that got, outside of the political gossip? Virtually nothing. [...]
... The scientific community is virtually unanimous in telling us that climate change is real, already causing devastating problems and that we have to reverse course. Do you think we're seeing that kind of discussion in the media?
And the coverage is never more noxious, suggested Sanders, than when it comes to presidential campaigns.
"In terms of campaign coverage, there is more coverage about the political gossip of the campaign, about raising money, about polling, about somebody saying something dumb, or some kid who works for a campaign and sends out something stupid on Facebook, right?" Sanders said. "We can expect that to be a major story. But what your job is, what the media's job is, is to say: 'Look, these are the major issues facing the country.' We're a democracy. People have different points of view. Let's argue it."
But will he go after Clinton?
"Of course Hillary Clinton and anybody else deserves criticism. When you have different points of view, I guess that's what criticism is about," Sanders told CNN. "But I will tell you that I have never run a negative political ad in the state of Vermont in my life. People of Vermont know that. I just don't think that that's what politics is about. So, will I criticize Hillary Clinton on her position of TPP, or the lack of position? Will I criticize her on her views of Wall Street? Will I criticize her on foreign policy? That's what democracy is about. But taking cheap shots at people, making it personal, I don't think that's what politics should be about."