For the past several weeks, one of my favorite people, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, has been publicly floating the idea that, if no other strong progressives, like Elizabeth Warren, come forward to announce a run for the presidency in 2016, he’d consider doing it himself. Someone, according to Sanders, needs to address the collapse of the middle class, global warming and the widening gap between rich and poor in our country. (The quote accompanying the above photo comes from a recent interview in the Burlington Free Press.) Well, perhaps in prelude to an official announcement of some kind, Sanders took to Reddit yesterday evening to answer questions and rile up those of us who are tired of voting centrist Democrats into power who, in spite of their rhetoric, never really stand up and fight when we need for them to. Following are some of my favorite excerpts. If you like what you see, follow this link, read the whole thing, and start squirreling away money for his campaign. He’ll need it.
How can the bottom 99% gain control of daily life in America?
The fact of the matter is that tragically this country is moving toward an oligarchic form of society in which a handful of billionaires have enormous power over the economic and political life of this country. I am extraordinarily concerned about the obscene level of income and wealth inequality, which is worse today than at any time since the late 1920s. Further, it is totally absurd that in recent years the top 1 percent have earned 95 percent of all of the new income created in America. In order to turn this around, we need a level of grassroots activism that we have not seen for many decades. We need 10s of millions of people to become actively involved in the political process and to demand that Congress and the president respond to their needs and not just the needs of billionaires and large campaign contributors. So in a variety of ways we need to educate, we need to organize and we need ordinary people to get politically involved.
The current capitalistic system is considered a failure by many whether because it is crash prone, the disparity between rich and poor, or a large number of other reasons. What would be the three main things you would change about the current system?
I applaud the recent statements by Pope Francis, in which he levels strong and appropriate criticism of unfettered capitalism. No. 1, we need to invest significantly in the social safety net to make sure that every person in this country lives with dignity. It is an international embarrassment, for example, that the U.S. has, by far, the highest rate of childhood poverty in the industrialized world. No. 2, we need to move toward a national health care system which guarantees health care to all as a right and which, in fact, would be much more cost effective than the current dysfunctional system that we have. No. 3, we need to move toward a system of progressive taxation which makes certain that the wealthiest people in this country and the largest corporations start paying their fair share of taxes. Finally, we need real campaign finance reform which stops big money from buying elections.
As one of the few who did not vote for the Patriot Act, how do you feel about the recent public outcry over the NSA and spying from the Snowden leaks? Do you feel we could pass legislation to overturn some of the things in the Patriot Act?
Not voting for the USAPatriot Act was one of the better votes that I’ve ever cast. In my view, the NSA is out of control and is very clearly acting in an unconstitutional manner. Terrorism remains a serious issue and we must do all that we can to protect the American people, but we don’t have to do it through a massive invasion of privacy rights or undermining the constitutional rights of the American people. I am going to be working as hard as I can to pass the strongest legislation possible to end the abuses of the NSA and other intelligence agencies. If we are a “free country,” then we cannot have the U.S. government, or for that matter the private sector, invading the privacy rights or our citizens.
What steps do you think the United States must take in order to have a sensible energy policy and mitigate the threat of global warming as much as possible? What do you think of President Obama’s environmental policy so far? Has it been sufficient?
The scientific community is telling us, loud and clear, that global warming is the most serious planetary crisis that we face. If we do not get our act together, and transform our energy system there will be more floods, more drought, more extreme weather disturbances and higher food prices. Along with Senator Barbara Boxer, I have introduced the strongest and most comprehensive global warming legislation ever written. Among many other proposals, it includes a tax on carbon and significant funds to move aggressively to energy efficiency and sustainable energy.
Linguist and philosopher Noam Chomsky often talks about the importance of workplace democracy and trying to create a decentralized socialism (often referred to as libertarian socialism ). In other words, a democratic economy based on cooperatives and more participation at the local level. What are your thoughts on this? Do you agree that there should be more focus on things like worker ownership etc. and creating a more participatory democracy?
I agree. Democracy is not just the right to vote every two years. It also means having an impact on your job and where you work. For millions of Americans, a job means not only inadequate wages but also no control over how they spend 40 hours a week of their lives. They are, in truth, cogs in a machine over which they have no power. In Vermont, we have made modest progress in the concept of worker ownership and companies with have strong employee stock ownership plans. When I visit those companies, where workers really do have a say over the nature of their job it is clear to me that those workers feel much better about their work life. I have also introduced legislation which would make it easier for businesses to sell their companies to their own employees.
What is the solution to giving Washington DC back to the Voters and giving big money and lobbyists the boot?
If you are concerned about the economy, health care, the environment, women’s rights or any other issue you must be concerned about the disastrous situation regarding campaign finances. For many years, big money has had enormous power over what goes on in Congress and the White House. The horrendous Supreme Court decision in Citizens United made a bad situation much, much worse. We now have the extraordinarily undemocratic situation by which billionaire families like the Koch brothers, Sheldon Adelson and others are able to contribute hundreds of millions of dollars into the political process and to elect the right-wing candidates they support. Nobody I know, and this goes across the political spectrum, believes that American democracy is about billionaires being able to buy elections. Short term, we need a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and I and Rep. Ted Deutch have offered what I think is a very strong amendment. Further, we need to pass public funding of elections so that working people and middle-income people can participate in the political process and run for office without being dependent upon wealthy benefactors.