Bernie Sanders protesting the furlough of federal workers, October 2013 / Getty Images
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders seems to be getting more serious about running for president. He discussed it last November with Salon’s Josh Eidelson, but didn’t have much to say about it; the interview was mainly about the issues that animate him. Now, in a longer interview with John Nichols in The Nation he talks about a Democratic vs. third party run, strategy, money and more.
And separately, in an interview with Time magazine ’s Jay Newton-Small , he talks about the pluses and minuses of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama versus Bernie as presidential material, and why the left hasn’t produced an angry grass-roots movement like the Tea Party.
For some smart insight into his Jewish identity, check out this January interview with JTA’s Ron Kampeas.
None of the interviews discusses his age as a presidential consideration; he’s 72, which means he’d be 76 when he started his first term. Hillary is only 66, and some people talk about her age as a disadvantage. Ronald Reagan was 70 when he entered the White House and probably had dementia by the time he left.
Bernie still hasn’t yet decided to throw himself into it, but he’s getting down to strategies in his thinking. He tells Nichols he thinks the Democrats are too close to big-money interests and too many are too similar to Republicans. But he seems to be leaning heavily against a third-party bid, because the odds are very much against success and he doesn’t want to be a Nader-type spoiler:
I don’t wake up every morning, as some people here in Washington do and say, “You know, I really have to be president of the United States. I was born to be president of the United States.” What I do wake up every morning feeling is that this country faces more serious problems than at any time since the Great Depression, and there is a horrendous lack of serious political discourse or ideas out there that can address these crises, and that somebody has got to represent the working-class and the middle-class of this country in standing up to the big-money interests who have so much power over the economic and political life of this country. So I am prepared to run for president of the United States.
Nichols opens his piece with a pretty good summary of who Bernie is and what he represents:
In some senses, Sanders is the unlikeliest of prospects: an independent who caucuses with the Democrats in the Senate but has never joined the party, a democratic socialist in a country where many politicians fear the label “liberal,” an outspoken critic of the economic, environmental and social status quo who rips “the ruling class” and calls out the Koch Brothers by name. Yet, he has served as the mayor of his state’s largest city, beaten a Republican incumbent for the US House, won and held a historically Republican Senate seat and served longer as an independent member of Congress than anyone else. And he says his political instincts tell him America is ready for a “political revolution.”
Time’s Newton-Small asked Bernie what he thinks of Hillary Clinton. Bernie said he likes her, considers her “a very, very intelligent person.” But in terms of the “political revolution” this country needs, “I think it’s fair to say that Secretary Clinton probably will not be one of the more active people.”
Then, in a revealing moment, Newton-Small asked him bluntly whether he thinks Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders would make a better president. Bernie’s reply:
Bernie Sanders. So you’re asking your question more direct. [Laughter] And I think in this particular moment when the problems facing this country are so severe, when we have seen class warfare being waged by the billionaires against the working families of America, when we have seen the billionaire class use its money in an unprecedented way for its political purposes to let more right wing extremists, I think we need people in leadership roles in the House and the Senate and governors’ chairs, in the White House, who are prepared to stand up and say, ‘You know what? This country belongs to all of the people: the waiters and the waitresses who are trying to make it on low incomes, they have a right to see their kids go to college and all people, that the United States is going to join the rest of the industrialized world in guaranteed health care to all people as a right and not any longer be the only country, major country on earth that does not guarantee that right, that all kids regardless of income have the right to a college education, that we need a tax system which in fact makes it very clear that the wealthy and large corporations are going to start paying their fare share of taxes, that we’re going to have real campaign finance reform so that the Koch brothers and other billionaires cannot buy elections, that we’re going to overturn Citizens United.’ Do you think that’s Hillary Clinton’s agenda? I don’t think so.
The Nation’s Nichols asked him whether his identification as a socialist wouldn’t hurt him electorally. Bernie, in what could be his most unrealistic moment, says it shouldn’t.
No, that’s not a factor at all. In Vermont, people understand exactly what I mean by the word. They don’t believe that democratic socialism is akin to North Korea communism. They understand that when I talk about democratic socialism, what I’m saying is that I do not want to see the United States significantly dominated by a handful of billionaire families controlling the economic and political life of the country. That I do believe that in a democratic, civilized society, all people are entitled to health care as a right, all people are entitled to quality education as a right, all people are entitled to decent jobs and a decent income, and that we need a government which represents ordinary Americans and not just the wealthy and the powerful. The people in Vermont know exactly when I mean, which is why I won my last election with 71 percent of the vote and carried some of the most conservative towns in the state. If I ran for president, and articulated a vision that speaks to working people, I am confident that voters in every part of this country would understand that. The truth is that, very sadly, the corporate media ignores some of the huge accomplishments that have taken place in countries like Denmark, Finland, Sweden and Norway. These countries, which have a long history of democratic socialist or laborgovernments, have excellent and universal health-care systems, excellent educational systems and they have gone a long way toward eliminating poverty and creating a far more egalitarian society than we have. I think that there are economic and social models out there that we can learn a heck of a lot from, and that’s something I would be talking about.
Jonathan Jeremy “J.J.” Goldberg is editor-at-large of the Forward, where he served as editor in chief for seven years (2000-2007).