Senator Bernie Sanders: An American Icon

Senator Bernie Sanders (71) (I VT) is America’s No. 1 socialist. This accolade was headlined in an article, “Bernie Sanders: America’s No1 Socialist Makes his Move into the Mainstream”, The Guardian (UK) October 2011. The subtitle reads: “Vermont senator, for years a political exile, insists his left-wing beliefs chime with Americans far more than people think”. The gist of The Guardian article is that Senator Bernie Sanders has become ‘mainstream’, appearing as a regular on American TV screens, a fixture who critiques Wall Street, big business, as well as excesses in money and politics. He speaks his mind, and his words bespeak a genuine care and concern for average middle class families. He is honest and believable. He is irresistibly refreshing!

Senator Sanders is the embodiment of an American middle class bully pulpit, and he is rapidly becoming an iconic American political hero from coast-to-coast.

He is the only socialist to sit in the U.S. Senate, and he is up for re-election this year.

On October 19th, the senator attended his 41st campaign meeting of the year held in Putney, Vermont, speaking to a group of 250 Vermonters. Standing on a low-rise platform in a community meeting center and wearing an open-collared shirt with a navy blue sweater, sleeves pulled up, he leans onto a small wooden podium and immediately hits the hot buttons of what ails America: The economy is really worse than the reported figures. Unemployment is really 15%… people are hurting. The middle class is disappearing right before our eyes.

The Walton family… one American family… has as much wealth as the bottom 40% of American families… the top 1% owns 42% of all the nation’s wealth… the bottom 60% own 2.3% of all the wealth in the country.

The senator barks out facts without further elaboration because a few facts tell the whole story. To hear him talk, America’s political policies have moved so far off dead center that the country has become an aristocratic empire, similar to the great European monarchies of 250 years ago when only members of the royal court got the spoils. America’s royal courts; i.e., the U.S. Capitol building and the White House, are the Versailles of today.

The senator goes on to explain how the worst decision in the history of the Supreme Court was Citizens United, ruling that a corporation is a person. He hesitates for a moment, letting the ridiculousness of the matter settle with his audience. No further words are required.

He discusses energy and energy futures, offering a shortened version on energy pricing by stating: “Most people assume energy futures are used by the industry but 80% of the futures are controlled by speculators.” Again, he lets the short statement sink in for a moment. He does not need to elaborate. The people get it.

“Financial institutions are gambling casinos… they do not provide the funds to make jobs.” Again, the obvious implication of the senator’s abbreviated sentence structure adds to the dimension of the problem. People understand; their heads nodding, especially when he asks, “How do we go from a $236 Billion surplus to a $1 Trillion deficit? Two wars!”

He lambastes the hypocrisy of vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan, a man whom the Senator fears will be horribly detrimental to the middle class, and he suddenly spews out figures, again, and again to make his point:

…Social Security is the most successful government program in U.S. history. It has a $2.7 trillion surplus… It has a $2.7 trillion surplus… It has a $2.7 trillion surplus… this is an example of what government can do and do efficiently… those who hate government want to destroy Social Security.

What embarrasses him most as a member of the U.S. political establishment is the issue of global warming, and if the Republicans gain control of the Senate, the Chairman of the Environment Committee will be Senator James Inhofe (77) (R OK). Senator Sanders knows Inhofe; he talks to him. In fact, Inhofe gave him a copy of his new book, The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future, which describes global warming as a huge hoax perpetrated on the American people by the Hollywood elite and the UN. Addressing the issue, Inhofe informed the Voice of Christian Youth America in a radio address that God controls the climate, not humans: “The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous.”

Senator Sander’s final words of his Putney stump speech reference a 5-story building in the Cayman Islands, and this is when the senator, for the first time, adds a little humor to his speech, explaining how the building is headquarters to 18,000 corporations, and (tongue-in-cheek) you might expect it to be over-crowded with people… only 5-stories and 18,000 corporations headquartered in it, but it is not crowded at all because the building is nothing but a mail box for tax cheaters.

The signage in the room where Senator Sanders speaks reads: AN INDEPENDENT VOICE, FIGHTING FOR WORKING FAMILIES. No truer political words have ever been printed because Senator Bernie Sanders is a rare politician who believes if you’re going to talk the talk, you’ve got to walk the walk. He never deviates from what he says, and this is a creed of life in Vermont, where talk is not cheap, and as a result, in 2006 Sanders creamed his opponent, Rich Tarant (R) 65.4% to 32.4%. Tarant did not advance his campaign by driving a Bentley… in Vermont?

This year Sanders is running against John MacGovern, a rich businessman who is a former Massachusetts State Representative. Recent polls indicate Sanders will easily win by 16 points. Senator Bernie Sanders is one of the most popular politicians in America. Vermont voters give him an approval rating of 67% versus 28% disapproval, and he enjoys near unanimous universal approval with Democrats (93/5). His name has standing across the land more so than any other U.S. Senator. He has become the Nation’s Senator for progressives and for many democrats.

The Huffington Post carried an article authored by Senator Sanders, Let’s Fight for a Progressive Agenda, September 29, 2012. Here are highlights of what he said:

In my view, we will not make progress in addressing either the jobs or deficit crisis unless we are prepared to take on the greed of Wall Street and big-money interests who want more and more for themselves at the expense of all Americans. Let’s be clear. Class warfare is being waged in this country. It is being waged by the Koch brothers, Sheldon Adeslon, Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan and all the others who want to decimate working families in order to make the wealthiest people even wealthier. In this class war that we didn’t start, let’s make sure it is the middle class and working families who win, not the millionaires and billionaires… And now, as we approach the election and a lame-duck session of Congress, these very same Republican ‘deficit hawks’ want to fix the mess they created by cutting Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and education, while lowering income tax rates for the wealthy and large corporations. Sadly, they have been joined by some Democrats.

As labeled by Senator Sanders, class warfare, front and center, is the main issue of the upcoming national election. How many other American politicians have the audacity to discuss, and by innuendo, promote class warfare on the national political stage?

The senator’s Huffington Post article outlines five steps to reduce the deficit by more than $5 trillion, which approximates the deficit hole Romney needs to fill his proposed tax cuts; however, Sanders and Romney are miles apart in how to get there.  Sanders’ platform is diametric Romney/Paul:

1)      Repeal the Bush tax breaks for the top 2%

2)      Establish a 0.03% Wall Street speculation fee

3)      Prohibit offshore tax shelters

4)      Cut Pentagon spending

5)      Eliminate tax breaks for companies shipping jobs overseas.

In summation, according to the senator:

The American people have been very clear, in poll after poll, that they do not want to cut Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, veterans’ needs, education and other vitally important programs. They also have been clear that they do want the wealthy and large corporations to start paying their fair share of taxes.

In speech after speech, in interviews, on radio and TV, in print, and on the campaign trail, Senator Sanders repeatedly claims, the American people are angry.  His words appear on You Tube, Bill Moyer’s program, the Nation, the Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post, and wherever an astute political junkie turns there’s Senator Bernie Sanders defending Social Security or exposing Wall Street, talking about the grossest inequities America has ever experienced. Nobody can refute or deny his facts because he is a genuinely honest politician who only speaks the facts.

Senator Sanders delivered his “The American People are Angry” speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate on June 27, 2012, and regarding the ramifications of Citizens United vis a vis the wealthy, he said:

…And if you’re getting bored by just owning coal companies and casinos and manufacturing plants, you now have the opportunity to own the United States government.

Bernie Sanders was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2006 after serving 16 years in the House of Representatives. He is the longest serving independent member of Congress in American history.

Unfortunately for progressives, and for many democrats, Bernie Sanders is not readily available for cloning, but he deserves his American icon status as an extraordinarily rare politician who really, truly says what he means and means what he says!

Robert Hunziker (MA, economic history, DePaul University) is a freelance writer and environmental journalist whose articles have been translated into foreign languages and appeared in over 50 journals, magazines, and sites worldwide, like Z magazine, European Project on Ocean Acidification, Ecosocialism Canada, Climate Himalaya, Counterpunch, Dissident Voice, Comite Valmy, and UK Progressive. He has been interviewed about climate change on Pacifica Radio, KPFK, FM90.7, Indymedia On Air and World View Show/UK. He can be contacted at: rlhunziker@gmail.com. Read other articles by Robert.