It was a couple of weeks ago when Senator Bernie Sanders (I- Vermont) announced that he would be campaigning for the Democratic nomination in the 2016 Presidential Election. As soon as he announced his bid for presidency, social media sites went wild. After all, Sanders marks the first openly Socialist politician who has a legitimate chance at getting a major party’s nomination. After over half a century of Americans cringing at the word “socialism” and equating it to life under Josef Stalin, we have finally thawed our Cold War views enough to lend a self-described socialist politician our ears.
With the 2016 Presidential Election looking like a showdown between two political dynasties represented by Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush, Sanders provides a fresh alternative option. For this reason, Sanders is drawing the support of young adults, who otherwise feel disenfranchised with the 2016 candidates.
One look at who the average donors are for both campaigns magnifies the differences in what these two candidates represent. While the majority of Sanders’ campaign contributions come from either individuals or union groups, as opposed to Hillary Clinton who receives the majority of her campaign funds from large corporations and banks.
While Sanders might be riding on a wave of grass-roots organization and anti-establishment ideas, some are unsure that he will be able to wrestle the Democratic nomination from political hegemon Hillary Rodham Clinton. Clinton, they say, has far too much money and far too much political experience to be beat by a Junior Senator who just recently got brought into the political limelight.
Yet the same exact criticisms were made about then-Senator Barack Obama; he didn’t have an extensive political resume, he didn’t have nearly the amount of funds that Clinton had, and, above all, he didn’t have the world-famous Clinton name recognition. Despite all this, Barack Obama out-campaigned and out-fundraised Hillary Clinton, won the Democratic nomination, went on to win the general election and got re-elected four years later.
Now I’m not saying that this exact same scenario is going to unveil itself like it did in the 2008 presidential election. I bring it up because it is absurd to rule out Bernie Sanders as a legitimate political candidate this early in the cycle. Sanders is a breath of fresh air in the stale political environment that is American presidential candidates.
A Little Background on Bernie Sanders
Bernie Sanders was born in 1941 to a Polish immigrant and a New Yorker born to Jewish immigrants. While getting his degree at the University of Chicago, he was a prominent participator in the Civil Rights Movement and was a student organizer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Sanders graduated with a degree in political science in 1964. In 1990, Sanders became the first independent politician voted into the House of Representatives in 40 years by beating contender Republican Lieutenant Governor Peter Smith on a 56%-40% margin. Ever since then, Sanders has enjoyed winning re-election by comfortable margins.
When his predecessor Jim Jeffords announced that he would not be seeking a fourth term as Senator, Sanders seized the opportunity and ran for Senate. After receiving the endorsement of various prominent Democrats, Sanders beat his opponent Rich Tarrant decisively. Sanders was reelected in 2012 with 71% of the vote. Sanders is currently the longest-serving independent in Congress.
As any other successful US politician in the 21st century, Sanders has a strong online presence. But Sanders’ social media approach is different than any other major politician’s. Despite his Facebook posts being reminiscent of an old grumpy grandparent’s timeline, they garner tens of thousands of “likes” and shares. Rather than using “buzzwords” that allow a Facebook search algorithm find his posts and help them go viral, Sanders mostly post long blocks of text on what’s wrong with the current state of our nation superimposed on a simple image.
Some criticize this approach and paint Sanders as a grumpy old man telling all these youngesters to pick up their pants. While one can see why this may be, Sanders is addressing actual issues that our country faces and provides realistic solutions for them. Rather than being a mouthpiece for big corporations and financial institutions, Sanders seems to be speaking on behalf of middle class America.
Bernie Sanders on the Issues
- Sanders is a big proponent of women’s reproductive rights; he’s rated as heavily pro-choice by the NARAL Pro Choice America advocacy group.
- Co-sponsored a bill that would expand contraceptive coverage in the United States to “help reduce unintended pregnancy, reduce abortions, and improve access to women’s health care”.
- Believes that gays should have the right to marry.
- A vocal critic of federal mass surveillance and data collection procedures, Sanders has voted against allowing electronic surveillance without a warrant. He also voted in favor of requiring courts to obtain a warrant before monitoring phone calls.
- Voted in favor of net neutrality.
- Favors raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour from $7.25, but he wouldn’t oppose raising it to $15 an hour.
- As one can see from the pictures he posts on Facebook, Sanders does not shy away from attacking Wall Street and big banks. He believes that banks that are “too big to fail” should be too big to exist; these banks should be dissolved into smaller institutions because they currently wield too much power over the economy.
- Believes banks’ chief executives should be barred from being on the Federal Reserve’s board of directors as it posses a direct conflict of interest.
- Sanders voted in favor of many stimulus bills proposed after the onset of the 2008 recession.
- In order to pay for the increased funding in higher education, Sanders suggests Wall Street foots the bill. As a part of the College For All Act, he proposes a “Robin Hood tax” that could potentially raise hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue. The tax would mean “imposing a Wall Street speculation fee on investment houses, hedge funds, and other speculators of 0.5% on stock trades (50 cents for every $100 worth of stock), a 0.1% fee on bonds, and a 0.005% fee on derivatives”.
- Vehemently opposes the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), a proposed regional regulatory and investment treaty that has been shrouded in secrecy since its conception. The TPP includes Japan, Australia, Chile, Mexico, Vietnam, and the United States among a few other Asian and Pacific countries. The actual contents of the TPP treaty have not been made public, but bits and pieces of it have been leaked by WikiLeaks. People in nearly all fields of industry, from environmental groups to internet freedom activists, have expressed their concerns on how this treaty will negatively affect the citizens of the countries involved.
- While we’re on the topic of the Trans Pacific Partnership… leaked documents have revealed that one of the provisions of the TPP is the creation of a supranational tribunal in which foreign firms can sue states and obtain taxpayer compensation for “expected future profits”. So if a country passes a new law or regulation that might “hurt” a company’s “future profits,” they would have the right to sue them in a court called the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS). The ISDS operates in a very secretive matter, with the arbitration process usually taking place between trade lawyers who do not have to comply to human right’s standards and who cannot be held accountable by the public.
- Being a big fan of Scandinavian country’s Modus Operandi, Sanders has introduced legislation which would essentially make higher education free. The College For All Act “would provide $47 billion per year to states to eliminate undergraduate tuition and fees at public colleges and universities”. The federal government would cover 67% of the cost while the states cover the other 33%.
- The College For All Act will also reform federal student loans, reducing the interest rate on them from 4.32% to 2.32%, as well as expand the work study program by allocating it more money.
- Voted in favor of increased federal funding for higher education.
The Environment & Energy
- Sanders is a strong believer that mankind’s use of fossil fuels has contributed to the climate change we’ve experienced in recent decades, supporting new stringent measures to reduce greenhouse emissions.
- Believes states should have the right to define emission standards that are stricter than federal standards.
- Voted no on authorization to build new oil refineries.
- Voted in favor of raising incentives for using alternative fuels.
- Bernie Sanders is a big fan of renewable energy, setting a goal for the United States to get 25% of its energy from renewable sources by 2025.
Foreign Policy & Immigration
- Bernie Sanders was a very vocal critic of US involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. He voted against emergency federal funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, predicting that the Afghan War would turn into a costly quagmire like Vietnam.
- Believes that regional allies such as Saudi Arabia should take control of the fight against the Islamic State, stating that they’re more than militarily equipped to take them on.
- Sanders supported President Obama’s use of executive action to prevent the deportation of thousands of immigrants and their parents. Sanders also voted in favor of comprehensive immigration reform in 2013.
- As a big fan of Scandinavian-style social democracy, Sanders believes that healthcare should be a right, not a privilege people should go in debt for.
- “The United States is the only major nation in the industrialized world that does not guarantee health care as a right to its people,” Sanders said. “Meanwhile, we spend about twice as much per capita on health care with worse results than other countries that spend far less. It is time that we bring about a fundamental transformation of the American health care system. It is time for us to end private, for-profit participation in delivering basic coverage. It is time for the United States to provide a Medicare-for-all single-payer health coverage program”.
It’s been 25 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union. In that time, socialist democratic countries such as Denmark, Norway, Finland, and Sweden have thrived and many have outdone the United States in terms of the education level and quality of life their citizens experience. Yet we as a country still flinch at any mention of the world “socialism” and automatically equate it to communism. But we must realize that our current system of unregulated capitalism has only made the rich richer while the rest of the country suffers.
By announcing his bid for presidency, Sanders has declared war on the big corporations and banks that decimated the US economy back in 2008 on behalf of the American citizens. While he may not win the general election, Sanders will at least force the other candidates to answer the tough questions that plague this nation. Not only that, but Sanders provides us with an actual view of how socialism operates, rather than the nightmares that Western syndications have shoved down our throat since the beginning of the Cold War.