We often hear from Senator Bernie Sanders regarding legislative issues in Washington that affect Vermont, but many political observers and Vermonters were also intrigued recently when the Independent Senator commented in The Nation that he was “prepared to run for President” in 2016.
“This country today faces more serious problems than in any time since the Great Depression. If you throw in the huge issue of climate change and the survival of the planet, you could argue that this is one of the most pivotal moments in the history of our country,” Sanders told VPR. “What we need in a presidential campaign and what we need in politics in general is a serious debate about the serious issues facing America and the world. And I do not believe for one moment that I’m the only person who can raise the issues, but I think these are issues that have to be raised and if other people are not prepared to talk about the most important issues, I’m certainly prepared to do that.”
But will Sanders run just to raise this issues, regardless of whether he can actually win the presidency?
“Well, it’s a long way away from the presidential election,” Sanders said. “We still have a congressional election to deal with. But I have to believe that there is a profound disgust today with the political process. The reason for that is you have a middle class that is disappearing, more people living in poverty than ever before in the history of this country, and yet we also have more income and wealth inequality today than we have seen since the 1920s,”
Sanders said the top 1 percent now own 38 percent of the wealth and the bottom 60 percent own all of 2.3 percent.
“The people on top are doing phenomenally well, everybody else is falling behind. And I do understand that if I ran for president, I would have against me all of the big money interests, the Koch brothers and Wall Street and all these guys, but nonetheless we need candidates who are prepared to stand up for working families and the middle class. And that’s kind of where my mind is right now,” he explained.
All eyes are on former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton when it comes to trying to pick out Democratic candidates for the next presidential election. But Sanders said while he respects Secretary Clinton, it’s unclear whether or not she will run, and their views differ.
“I will tell you that I have known Hilary Clinton from way back when. I knew her from when she was First Lady and I was in the House. I certainly knew her as a colleague in the U.S. Senate. I like Hilary Clinton very much. No question that she is a very intelligent individual. But I think as I understand American politics and American history, nobody is anointed, that we need a vigorous debate about the issues that impact working families and I suspect that in my debate my views will be quite different from Secretary Clinton’s.”
With mid-term elections on the horizon, it’s also possible that the Republicans will maintain control of the House and could win a majority in the Senate, so Sanders thinks the country needs a president who’s prepared to veto conservative legislation.
“It would matter hugely in the sense that if you do not have a president prepared to veto the anti-women legislation that would certainly be coming down the pike, legislation that would make the climate change situation even worse, legislation that would give more tax breaks to the billionaires and millionaires, legislation that would substantially cut back on programs needed by the middle class, and working families, legislation that would attack social security, Medicare, Medicaid. Yes, it is terribly, terribly important that we have somebody in the White House that will veto that legislation. But at the very least, I think it would be a disaster, an unmitigated disaster, if you saw in the House and the Senate, right wing Republican control and a Republican president as well,” Sanders said.
At the same time, Sanders said he doesn’t feel that the democrats have been getting the message out to working families that their party is working for them.
“The Democrats, while they are much more sympathetic to the needs of working families, and you’re right it is the Democrats who are working to extend long-term unemployment benefits, Democrats who are trying to raise the minimum wage, Democrats who are trying to pass legislation to benefit the right of people to join unions and so forth and so on. But while all of that is true, I think they have not been as clear and as united on many of those issues, and I think they have been far too weak in dealing with issues like Wall Street. The largest financial institutions in this country who we bailed out five or six years ago are now larger than they were before. CEOs of those large financial institutions have paid billions of dollars in fines for their illegal activity — not one of them has found himself or herself in jail,” Sanders said.
If Sanders did run, he’s unsure if it would be as a independent or as a Democrat.
“That is an issue that I’ve got to talk to a whole lot of people about. There are advantages and disadvantages to doing both. I am the longest serving independent in American congressional history. The disadvantage is that I do not want to be in the position of helping to elect some right wing Republican as president of the United States. That I do not want to do and I’m not going to do, and there are ways that we could deal with that. The disadvantage of running as a Democrat is that right now for good reasons, you have people all over this country who are just sick and tired of the two party system. They see the Republican party becoming extremely right wing, and they do not see the Democrats as being tough enough in standing up for working families.
But Sanders says he has no timeline for announcing whether or not he’s running for president.
‘There’s plenty of time for that, right now the focus is obviously on the mid-term elections in 2014,” Sanders said.