Throughout his presidential campaign, Bernie Sanders has been Hillary Clinton's strongest rival, by far, for the Democratic nomination. Huge numbers of people are very excited about this 74-year-old Senator from Vermont. His campaign rallies have drawn massive crowds, sometimes in the vicinity of 30,000 attendees. The Washington Post and Bill Maher, among many others, have noted Sanders' “rock-star” appeal. And a recent poll of 75,000 voters in all 50 states found that Sanders had a higher approval rating (83%) among his constituents, than any other U.S. Senator. In short, Bernie Sanders is no fringe Democrat. Thus it is imperative for all Americans—whether they support him or not—to clearly understand who Sanders is, what he believes, and what he wants to make America look like.
When Sanders was a young man, he joined the Young People's Socialist League, the youth wing of the Socialist Party USA. In 1963 he was an organizer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, whose leadership subsequently grew increasingly militant, eventually culminating in the racist excesses of Stokely Carmichael, who exhorted blacks to “fill ourselves with hate for all things white,” and H. Rap Brown, who urged blacks to “wage guerrilla war on the honkie white man.” Sanders also worked briefly for the communist-led United Packinghouse Workers Union, and participated in a California hospital project organized by the American Friends Service Committee, an organization that unambiguously supported the Soviet cause while opposing America throughout the Cold War.
In 1971 Sanders joined the anti-war Liberty Union Party (LUP), on whose ticket he made unsuccessful runs for the U.S. Senate in 1972 and 1974, and for Governor of Vermont in 1976. Sanders's LUP platform called for the nationalization of all U.S. banks, public ownership of all utilities, and the establishment of a worker-controlled federal government.
Around 1976, Sanders left LUP and spent about two years as an amateur historian and film-maker, selling educational film strips to schools in New England. “His main project,” says the British newspaper The Guardian, “was a short documentary about his hero, Eugene Debs, an early 20th-century union leader who was a six-time presidential candidate for the Socialist party.”
From 1979-89 Sanders served as mayor of Burlington, Vermont. At one point during his tenure, he sparked controversy when he hung a Soviet flag in his mayoral office, in honor of Burlington's Soviet sister city, Yaroslavl.
According to an Accuracy In Media report, Sanders during the 1980s “collaborated with Soviet and East German 'peace committees'” whose aim was “to stop President Reagan’s deployment of nuclear missiles in Europe.” Indeed, Sanders “openly joined the Soviets’ 'nuclear freeze' campaign to undercut Reagan’s military build-up.”
In 1985 Sanders traveled to Managua, Nicaragua to celebrate the sixth anniversary of the rise to power of Daniel Ortega and his Marxist-Leninist Sandinista government. In a letter which he addressed to the people of Nicaragua, Sanders denounced the anti-Communist activities of the Reagan administration and assured the Nicaraguans that Americans were “fair minded people” who had more to offer “than the bombs and economic sabotage” promoted by Reagan. “In the long run,” Sanders said, “I am certain that you will win, and that your heroic revolution against the Somoza dictatorship will be maintained and strengthened.” Sanders even invited Ortega to visit Burlington, though the Nicaraguan president declined.
By no means was Sanders's trip to Nicaragua his only trek to a Communist country. He also visited Fidel Castro's Cuba in the 1980s and had a friendly meeting with the mayor of Havana. In an August 8, 1985 television interview, Sanders said: “In 1961, [America] invaded Cuba, and everybody was totally convinced that Castro was the worst guy in the world, that all the Cuban people were going to rise up in rebellion against Fidel Castro. They forgot that he educated the kids, gave them health care, totally transformed the society.”
During the same interview, Sanders also stated that he “was impressed” with Nicaragua’s Foreign Minister Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann, a Catholic priest whom Pope John Paul II had barred from celebrating Mass because Brockmann had defied a church rule forbidding priests from holding government jobs. Sanders characterized the foreign minister as “a very gentle, very loving man,” and called Daniel Ortega “an impressive guy” while criticizing President Reagan. “The Sandinista government, in my view, has more support among the Nicaraguan people, substantially more support, than Ronald Reagan has among the American people,” said Sanders. “If President Reagan thinks that any time a government comes along, which in its wisdom, rightly or wrongly, is doing the best for its people, he has the right to overthrow that government, you're going to be at war not only with all of Latin America, but with the entire Third World.”
When Sanders in 1988 married his wife, Jane, the couple honeymooned in Yaroslavl, Russia. In an interview with that city's mayor, Alexander Riabkov, Sanders conceded that housing and health care were “significantly better” in the U.S. than in the Soviet Union, but added that “the cost of both services is much, much, higher in the United States.”
By 1990 Sanders was a leading member of Jesse Jackson's National Rainbow Coalition, and he ran successfully for Congress as a socialist representing Vermont's lone congressional district. The following year, Sanders co-founded the Congressional Progressive Caucus, the socialist wing of the House of Representatives.
During each year of the Bill Clinton administration—starting in 1993, shortly after the first al-Qaeda attack on the World Trade Center—Sanders introduced legislation to cut the U.S. intelligence budget. He justified this approach by noting that “the Soviet Union no longer exists,” and that such concerns as “massive unemployment,” “low wages,” “homelessness,” “hungry children,” and “the collapse of our educational system” represented “maybe a stronger danger [than foreign terrorists] for our national security.”
In 2006 Sanders co-sponsored a resolution by Rep. John Conyers to impeach President Bush on grounds that he had led the United States into an illegal and immoral war in Iraq.
In November 2006 Sanders ran successfully for a seat in the U.S. Senate. Then-Senator Barack Obama, whom Sanders described as “one of the great leaders” of that legislative body, campaigned enthusiastically on Sanders's behalf. When a Washington Post reporter asked Sanders just prior to the election: “Are you now or have you ever been a Socialist?” Sanders replied, “Yeah. I wouldn’t deny it. Not for one second. I’m a democratic Socialist.”
In 2007, Senator Sanders and Rep. Maurice Hinchey together introduced the Media Ownership Reform Act, which was designed to tightly restrict the number of radio stations that any firm could own. It also sought to resurrect the so-called “Fairness Doctrine”—a measure that, if passed, would greatly diminish the influence of conservative talk radio.
Sanders has long maintained that “global warming/climate change” not only threatens “the fate of the entire planet,” but is caused chiefly by human industrial activity and must be curbed by means of legislation strictly limiting carbon emissions. In 2007 Sanders and Senator Barbara Boxer proposed the Global Warming Pollution Reduction Act, which, according to an MIT study, would have imposed on U.S. taxpayers a yearly financial burden of more than $4,500 per family, purportedly to check climate change. In February 2010 Sanders likened climate-change skeptics to people who had disregarded the Nazi threat prior to WWII: “During that period of Nazism and fascism's growth … there were people in this country and in the British parliament who said, 'Don't worry! Hitler's not real! It'll disappear!'” Accusing “big business” of being “willing to destroy the planet for short-term profits,” Sanders in 2013 said that “global warming is a far more serious problem than al Qaeda.” Stating unequivocally that “the scientific community is unanimous” in its belief that “the planet is warming up,” Sanders subsequently declared that the “debate is over.”
In September 2011, Sanders was the first U.S. Senator to support the anti-capitalist Occupy Wall Street movement, lauding its activists for focusing a “spotlight” on the need for “real Wall Street reform.” In March 2013, Sanders and fellow Senator Tom Harkin together introduced a bill to tax Wall Street speculators. “Both the economic crisis and the deficit crisis are a direct result of the greed, recklessness, and illegal behavior on Wall Street,” said Sanders. He made no mention of government's role in creating those crises.
On April 29, 2015, Sanders announced that he was running for the Democratic Party's 2016 presidential nomination, citing economic inequality, climate change, and the Citizens United Supreme Court decision as issues of particular concern to him.
In May 2015, Sanders told CNBC interviewer John Harwood that he was in favor of dramatically raising the marginal tax rate on America's highest earners. “[When] radical socialist Dwight D. Eisenhower was president,” Sanders said sarcastically, “I think the highest marginal tax rate was something like 90 percent.” When Harwood asked whether Sanders thought that was too high, the senator replied: “No. What I think is obscene, and what frightens me is, again, when you have the top one-tenth of one percent owning almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 [percent]. Does anybody think that is the kind of economy this country should have?”
In September 2015, Sanders's presidential campaign received the support of the former Weather Underground terrorist Bill Ayers, who wrote: “I believe that among the Sanders supporters there are thousands who are dissatisfied, who are disgruntled, but who do not have a coherent left analysis, who therefore are open to our ideas as they weren’t before they got involved in the Sanders surge.... So, why don’t we joi[n] a Sanders local campaign or go to a mass rally?... We could have lists of places and projects where anarchists and others are working with people in projects that are using anarchist and community participatory ideas and vision. Places where Bernie supporters might get involved once they knew about them.”
In a September 14, 2015 campaign appearance at Liberty University, Sanders was asked: “If you were elected president, what would you do to bring healing and resolution to the issue of racism in our country?” Characterizing America as a nation “which in many ways was created … from way back on racist principles,” Sanders' reply made it clear that he viewed racism as a trait found chiefly in white people:
“We all know to what degree racism remains alive in this country.... And I cannot understand, for the life of me, how there can be hundreds of groups in this country, whose sole reason for existence is to promote hatred [against] African Americans or gays or Jews or immigrants or anybody that is different from us.... [L]et us be clear, that when you have unarmed African Americans shot by police officers—something which has been going on for years—that is also institutional racism and cries out for reform.”
During a Democratic presidential debate on November 14, 2015—in the aftermath of the horrific ISIS terror attacks that had killed well over 100 people in Paris a day earlier—Sanders was asked if he still thought (as he had indicated on numerous prior occasions) that climate change was the biggest threat facing the world. He replied:
“Climate change is directly related to the growth of terrorism and if we do not get our act together and listen to what the scientists say, you’re going to see countries all over the world ... struggling over limited amounts of water and land to grow their crops and you’re going to see all kinds of conflict.... [W]hat happens in, say, Syria … is that when you have drought, when people can’t grow their crops, they’re going to migrate into cities. And when people migrate into cities and they don’t have jobs, there’s going to be a lot more instability, a lot more unemployment, and people will be subject to the types of propaganda that al Qaeda and ISIS are using right now. So, where you have discontent, where you have instability, that’s where problems arise, and certainly, without a doubt, climate change will lead to that.”
Bear in mind, as was noted at the beginning of this article, that Bernie Sanders is by no means an unusual Democrat. His worldviews, agendas, and values are, by and large, the same as those of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and any other leading Democrat you can name. Sanders is simply more candid than the rest in acknowledging—with great pride, in fact—that he is a socialist.
Thus, all that remains on election day is for Americans to decide if they want to live in a country—and raise their children in a country—modeled on the ideals of Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama.