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Now with income inequality becoming a defining issue in the 2014 midterm elections, Sanders is gaining a different kind of attention. He has become a go-to talking head on the subject on cable news networks, including the conservative Fox News.
“You have the Walton family of Walmart owning more wealth than the bottom 40 percent,” Sanders said. “While at the same time we’ve had a huge growth in the number of millionaires and billionaires.”
Sanders’ focus on issues of income inequality are true to his socialist reputation – one he continues to embrace as fiercely as he did in 1980, when he was the surprise winner of a mayoral election in Burlington, Vt. In 1990, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, and in 2006 won his first Senate election.
Sanders acknowledges a certain stigma attached to the label socialist, but believes Americans would be likelier to embrace the term if they were better informed about the benefits of socialism.
“The ideas do resonate, but there is a stigma regarding the word,” he said. “We went through a McCarthyite period, a Cold War with the Soviet Union. There is a misperception of what democratic socialism is.”
That might be changing. Where Sanders once was prone to excoriate fellow Democrats for their solicitousness of corporate interests or their failure to oppose cuts to entitlement programs, he now is likelier to praise them for embracing the battles he has waged for years.
Sanders notes Bill de Blasio’s successful run for New York mayor on a platform focused in large part on income inequality. Congress, too, has come along, he says. Entitlement reform formerly was a watchword among Republicans, and even among the president and some Democrats.
Now, Sanders says, “Most Democrats understand that Americans don’t want cuts in Social Security and Medicaid and Medicare. The Democratic Party is becoming more vigorous in trying to extend unemployment benefits, in raising the minimum wage. I see that as a step forward in understanding that the American people do not want to see more attacks on the children, the elderly and the poor.”
There has been speculation that Sanders may run for president as a means of keeping Democrats on the true path. He won’t count it out, but insists, again, that his personal ambitions are not the point – income inequality is.
“I don’t wake up every morning thinking about whether I should be president of the United States,” Sanders said. “But those issues have to be discussed. And if nobody else is, I will discuss them.”