Bernie Sanders On 2020 Election And Future Of Progressive Movement

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In this Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016 file photo, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. speaks during a campaign rally in Chicago. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)
In this Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016 file photo, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. speaks during a campaign rally in Chicago. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders ran for president in 2016, but lost the Democratic nomination to Hillary Clinton. As speculation picks up speed around who might make up the list of Democratic presidential candidates for 2020, Sanders' name has resurfaced as a potential member of the field.

Sanders (@BernieSanders), who was recently re-elected for a third term in the Senate and has written a new book, "Where We Go from Here: Two Years in the Resistance," has said he will run for president again if he concludes he's "the best candidate to beat Donald Trump."

Sanders tells Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson he hasn't come to that conclusion yet.

"What we are doing is now talking to people all over this country to see if our message of taking on the billionaire class, health care for all through a Medicare-for-all, single-payer system, raising the minimum wage to a living wage — 15 bucks an hour — demanding that the wealthy and the powerful start paying their fair share of taxes, dealing with climate change, etc., if that message is going to resonate throughout the country, and that's what we're ascertaining right now," he says.

Interview Highlights

On whether the midterms marked a big win for Democrats, and what Democratic victories say about the country politically

"Well I would have liked, obviously, bigger — as a member of the United States Senate, I would very much have liked the Democrats to gain control over the Senate. But given the terrain that they had to cover, and the seats they had to defend, they did fairly well. On the other hand, Democrats won almost 40 seats for the U.S. House, seven governor's seats and hundreds of legislative seats in state capitols all over America, so I think it was a strong victory for Democrats.

"I think people are saying, 'We don't want more of that. We have serious problems in this country. Let us come together to address them.' "

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), on what midterm election results say about President Trump

"I think it tells me that in many parts of this country, people are not only angry with Trump's tax breaks for billionaires, his attempt to throw 32 million people off of health insurance, his ignoring the painful reality of climate change. But they are also, even more so, sick and tired of his divisiveness, his hateful rhetoric, his attempting to divide us up by the color of our skin, or our sexual orientation, or the country we come from or our religion, and I think people are saying, 'We don't want more of that. We have serious problems in this country. Let us come together to address them.' "

On the Florida and Georgia gubernatorial races, which both featured progressive Democratic candidates who ultimately lost to Republicans

"If you look historically at Florida and Georgia, I think you will conclude [Florida Democratic candidate Andrew] Gillum got over 49 percent of the vote, which was a very, very strong showing. [Democratic candidate] Stacey Abrams, who ran a brilliant campaign, got over 48 percent of the vote in Georgia. This is an African-American woman running on a progressive agenda in Georgia — that's pretty good.

"I think when you look at [the] long term, and when you look at Florida — which by the way during that election passed the ballot item which will give the vote to people who have been convicted of felonies and who served their time — I think what Andrew did and what Stacey did is kind of transform politics in Florida and in Georgia, and I think in the South."

On writing that Democratic National Committee leadership tilted the playing field during the 2016 primary in favor of Hillary Clinton, and whether problems at the DNC have been fixed

"We have worked really hard. I mean if you read the book, it talks about a number of things. It talks about the need for us to develop a progressive agenda that speaks to the needs of working families. It speaks to the need to revitalize American democracy and increase the voter turnout, and I'm very delighted by the kind of turnout we had in the midterm election — and especially the fact that so many more young people appear to be getting involved in the political process.

"The other thing that I do talk about is the Democratic Party has got to come back to its roots. In my view, it has got to be the party of working families. It has got to take on the big-money interests, Wall Street, the drug companies, the insurance companies and stand for the needs of working families in urban America, in rural America and all across this country.

"What I did — and in fact we reached an agreement with Hillary Clinton after the ending of the primary to work together to bring about long-needed reforms within the Democratic Party. One of those reforms was ending the absurdity where in 2016, before the first primary vote was cast in Iowa, Hillary Clinton had already secured 500 superdelegate ballots. And that is ended. We worked with the DNC, and I think members of the DNC recognized that that process was not democratic, and as a result of the reforms, superdelegates will not be voting on the first ballot at the Democratic National Convention."

On whether the Trump administration should insist Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman be removed from power

"It's not our job to insist anything, but I think we should very much make it clear that the relationship between the United States of America and a government which was clearly complicit in the cold-blooded murder of a dissident [Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi], a government which does not tolerate dissent, a government in Saudi Arabia which treats women as third-class citizens, a government which has a very provocative and dangerous foreign policy which got them into Yemen, yeah, I think we have to fundamentally rethink our relationship with the crown prince and that government."

On his relationship with Hillary Clinton since the 2016 election

"I don't talk to her very often. But I think I worked as hard as I could after I lost the primaries, I was in dozens of states all over this country campaigning, doing everything I could to see that Donald Trump was defeated. Obviously, Secretary Clinton and I have our differences, but I understood, and she understood, that we have got to work together — not only to defeat Trump, but also to bring the Democratic Party together around an agenda that speaks for the working people of this country."

Julia Corcoran produced this interview for broadcast. Jack Mitchell adapted it for the web.

Book Excerpt: 'Where We Go From Here'

by Bernie Sanders

During my campaign for president in 2016, I stated over and over again that the future of our country was dependent upon our willingness to make a political revolution. I stressed that real change never occurs from the top down. It always happens from the bottom up. No real change in American history—not the labor movement, the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, the gay rights movement, the environmental movement, nor any other movement for social justice—has ever succeeded without grassroots activism, without millions of people engaged in the struggle for justice.

That’s what I said when I ran for president. That’s what I believe now. That’s what I’ve been working to accomplish over the last several years. At a time of massive and growing income and wealth inequality, as our nation moves closer and closer to an oligarchic form of society, we need an unprecedented grassroots political movement to stand up to the greed of the billionaire class and the politicians they own.

And the good news is, we’re making progress. People in every region of our country are standing up and fighting back against the most dishonest and reactionary president in the history of the Re- public. In state after state they are also taking on establishment politicians who are more concerned about protecting their wealthy campaign contributors than they are with the needs of the middle class and the working people they are supposed to represent.

We’re making progress when millions of people, in every state in the country, take to the streets for the Women’s March in op- position to Trump’s reactionary agenda. We’re making progress when an unprecedented grassroots movement elects a young African American as mayor of Birmingham, Alabama. We’re making progress when tens of thousands of Americans turn out at rallies and town hall meetings to successfully oppose the Republican efforts to throw thirty-two million people off health insurance. We’re making progress when governors and local officials announce, in response to student demands, tuition-free public colleges and universities. We’re making progress when over the past two years hundreds of first-time candidates from every conceivable background run for school board, city council, state legislature, and Congress— and many of them win.

The good news is that the American people are far more united than the media would like us to believe. They get it. They know that over the last forty years, despite a huge increase in worker productivity, the middle class has continued to shrink, while the very rich have become much richer. They know that, for the first time in the modern history of the United States, our kids will likely have a lower standard of living than us.

The bad news is that instead of going forward together, demagogues like Trump win elections by dividing us. The bad news is that too many of us are getting angry at the wrong people. It was not an immigrant picking strawberries at $8 an hour who destroyed the economy in 2008. It was the greed and illegal behavior of Wall Street. It was not transgender people who threw millions of workers out on the street as factories were shut down all across the coun- try. It was profitable multinational corporations in search of cheap labor abroad.

Our job, for the sake of our kids and grandchildren, is to bring our people together around a progressive agenda.

Are the majority of people in our country deeply concerned about the grotesque level of income and wealth inequality that we are experiencing? You bet they are. Do they believe that our campaign finance system is corrupt and enables the rich to buy elections? Overwhelmingly, they do.

Do they want to raise the minimum wage to a living wage and provide pay equity for women?

Yes, they do. Do they think the very rich and large corporations should pay more in taxes so that all of our kids can have free tuition at public colleges and universities? Yup. Do they believe that the United States should join every other major country and guarantee health care as a right? Yes, again. Do they believe climate change is real? You’ve got to be kidding. Are they tired of the United States of America, the wealthiest country in the history of the world, falling apart at the seams, with roads, bridges, water systems, wastewater plants, airports, rail, levees, and dams either failing or at risk of failing? Who isn’t?

Further, a majority of the American people want comprehensive immigration reform and a criminal justice system that is based on justice, not racism or mass incarceration.

Today, what the American people want is not what they are get- ting. In fact, under Republican leadership in the House, Senate, and White House, they are getting exactly the opposite of what they want.

The American people want a government that represents all of us. Instead, they are getting a government that represents the interests and extremist ideology of wealthy campaign contributors. They want environmental policies that combat climate change and pollution and that will allow our kids to live on a healthy and habitable planet. Instead, they are getting executive orders and legislation that push more fossil fuel production, more greenhouse gas emissions, and more pollution. They want a foreign policy that prioritizes peacemaking. Instead they are getting increased military spending and growing hostility to our long-term democratic allies. They want a nation in which all people are treated with dignity and respect, and where we continue our decades-long struggle to end discrimination based on race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and nation of origin. Instead, they have a president who seeks to win political support by appealing to those very deep-seated prejudices.

During the last several years, I’ve worked hard in Washington, but I have also traveled to thirty-two states in every region of our country. I have seen the beauty, strength, and courage of our people. I have also seen fear and despair.

I have talked to people with life-threatening illnesses in West Virginia who worry about what will happen to them, or their loved ones, if they lose the health insurance that keeps them alive. I have talked to young immigrants (Dreamers) in Arizona who are frightened to death about losing their legal status and being deported from the only country they have ever known. I have talked to a young single mom in Nevada worried about how she can raise her daughter on $10.45 an hour. I have talked to retirees and older workers in Kansas who are outraged that, as a result of congressional legislation, they could lose up to 60 percent of the pensions they paid into and were promised as deferred compensation for a lifetime of work. I have talked to senior citizens in Vermont who divide their pills in half because they are unable to afford the outrageously high cost of prescription drugs. I have talked to workers in San Francisco who, as a result of gentrification, are no longer able to live in the neighborhoods they grew up in and love. I have talked to family members around the country who have lost loved ones to the opioid and heroin epidemics sweeping the nation.

I would hope that each one of us honors the men and women who have, throughout history, put their lives on the line to defend our country. I will never forget meeting, in a small town in north- ern Vermont, an older gentleman who was part of the D-Day invasion at Normandy. I had goose bumps talking to him, trying to imagine all that he had gone through and the extraordinary sacrifices he and his comrades made.

In school, we teach our kids to understand and appreciate the sacrifices that veterans made in defending “our way of life.” But we spend too little time explaining to them what that “way of life” means.

Standing in Gettysburg in November 1863, soon after that terrible battle that claimed tens of thousands of casualties, Abraham Lincoln reminded his compatriots, and all of us, what that “way of life” was, and what our enduring responsibility in a democratic society is. He stated “…that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” Government of the people, by the people, for the people. Creating a nation that works for all, and not just the few. That was worth fighting for in 1863. It is worth fighting for today.

Maintaining a vibrant democracy based on principles of justice has never been easy. In these dangerous and unprecedented times, it may be more difficult than ever.

As a result of the disastrous Citizens United Supreme Court decision, billionaires are now able to spend hundreds of millions of dollars anonymously in ugly TV ads demonizing candidates who dare to stand up to them. Republican governors and legislatures are working overtime to suppress the vote, making it harder for people of color, poor people, and young people to vote.

The internet and social media now allow for the worldwide transmission of total lies, and the capability of targeting those lies to susceptible populations.

Further, recent studies show what the average American has long known. More and more mainstream media political coverage is devoted to gossip and issues of personality, and less and less to the major problems facing our country and the world. During the last presidential campaign, for example, there was almost no discussion devoted to climate change, the greatest environmental crisis facing our planet. There was hardly a mention that, in the wealthiest country in the history of the world, 40 million Americans live in poverty, or that we have the highest rate of childhood poverty of nearly any major country on earth.

Yes, I know. These are painful and frightening times. Many friends have told me that they dread reading the papers or watching TV. But let us be clear. Despair is not an option. This struggle is not just for us. It is for our kids, our grandchildren, and the future of the planet.

This book is about some of what I and millions of progressives have been trying to accomplish day by day over the last several years.

Some of that work took place inside the Beltway, and much of it outside the Beltway. But no matter where it took place, the goal has always been the same. We must create a vibrant democracy where the voices of all people are heard. We must build a nation that leads the world in the struggle for peace, and for economic, social, racial, and environmental justice. And we must unite our country while repairing the damage Trump has done trying to divide us up.

The struggle continues.

Excerpted from the book WHERE WE GO FROM HERE by Bernie Sanders. Copyright © 2018 by the author and reprinted with permission of St. Martin's Press, LLC.

This segment aired on November 26, 2018.


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Jeremy Hobson Former Co-Host, Here & Now
Before coming to WBUR to co-host Here & Now, Jeremy Hobson hosted the Marketplace Morning Report, a daily business news program with an audience of more than six million.



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