Campaign Was Not Radical, Says Sanders, Just 'What Most Americans' Want
In exclusive sit-down with The Nation, former presidential contender opens up about his successes, fears, and the fight going forward
Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign proved to the corporate media and political elite that the progressive ideas he championed—healthcare for all, free college tuition, progressive taxation, a living wage—are not fringe ideas. In fact, as the senator explained in an exclusive interview with The Nation magazine, this is what most Americans want.
"I believed from my heart of hearts that the ideas I was talking about were not courageous, radical, bold ideas," he told editor Katrina vanden Heuvel and national affairs correspondent John Nichols. "The ideas that I was talking about are what most Americans would support if they had the chance to hear these views, which they do not under normal circumstances."
"You could watch CNN for the next 14 years, and you're not going to hear a discussion about the need for a single-payer health-care system," he continued. "You're not going to see a critique of the drug companies, and you're not going to hear much discussion about income and wealth inequality. My view was that if we could get out to the American people, get the exposure, make the personal contacts, we would do well."
His primary concern entering the presidential race, he said, was "not want[ing] to run a campaign that would be counterproductive to the progressive vision that so many people in this country share."
"If I ran a bad campaign," he explained, "then what would the establishment say? 'Bernie Sanders came up with all these progressive ideas, nobody listened to him, that's not what America is about. These ideas are not the ideas of the United States.' A failed campaign would reflect very badly on the vision that many of us share. That's why I was motivated and determined to run a serious and strong campaign."
Which he did. The senator from Vermont won more than 12 million votes and forced the Democratic Party to produce what he and many others say is the most progressive agenda ever put forth by a major party.
The interview, conducted last week and published Tuesday, allowed Sanders to reflect while also providing space to discuss the future of the "political revolution" his campaign helped ignite. From his work on down-ticket races to his controversial endorsement of Hillary Clinton for president, the senator from Vermont talked openly about what's at stake in this election.
The former candidate has taken a lot of heat for endorsing his Democratic rival. But, as he explained to The Nation, the senator believes that he has a "responsibility to the people of my state—also to the people of this country" to protect them from a Donald Trump presidency, which he said would be an "absolute disaster."
"Now, do I have strong differences of opinion with Hillary Clinton? I think the whole world knows that," he said. "The goal here is not to say, 'Hillary Clinton is the best thing in the history of the world—she's great, she's wonderful, she's terrific."
But, when it comes to "the issues of importance to the people of this country"—things like free college tuition, expanded access to healthcare, pay equity for women, and climate change, among others—Sanders said that Clinton is now on record supporting those things.
"The point is not to say that we love Hillary Clinton or that we agree with her on all of the issues. The goal is to go above that and ask: Which candidate will do a better job for middle-class and working-class families? I think the answer is obvious."
To that end, Sanders reiterated a point he has made numerous times, which is that once Clinton is elected, it is his responsibility and that of progressives nationwide to demand the president-elect and the Democratic Party establishment stand by their promises. "[T]he day after the election, we will mobilize millions of people to make sure that we make her the most progressive president that she can be," he vowed.
"But if Trump is elected president," he lamented, "I just don’t know what America looks like four years after his election."