CHICAGO – Bernie Sanders, the self-described “democratic socialist” senator from Vermont, announced on the steps of the U.S. Capitol yesterday that he was running for the Democratic Party’s nomination for the presidency. Sanders, who has repeatedly won election to the Senate as an Independent has nevertheless caucused with that body’s Democrats.
During his announcement, he launched a blistering attack on the electoral system in this country, insisting that it has been captured by the super rich and the top one percent of Americans. Standing before the dome of the nation’s most cherished symbol he declared that the 2016 elections would be a “defining moment” for the nation’s middle class.
“The major issue is how do we create an economy that works for all of our people rather than a small number of billionaires,” Sanders declared.
During his announcement he castigated both the Koch brothers and the U.S. Supreme Court for their respective roles in squelching democracy, saying that they have “unleashed unlimited outside money into elections.”
“We now have a political situation where billionaires are literally able to buy elections and candidates. Let’s not kid ourselves. This is our reality right now,” he said.
Wall Street has never been endeared to the senator because of his repeated calls for and support for financial regulations on the big firms and banks.
Fossil fuel companies have him on the top of their enemy lists because of his warnings about the threats posed by climate change.
That triple message – taking money out of politics, curbing the excesses of Wall Street, and the need to save the planet, when combined with his passionate calls for closing the wealth gap, is immensely popular with progressives across the country and could pose a real challenge for what is presumed now to be Hillary Clinton’s clear advantage in the coming Democratic primaries. Sanders has been drawing large crowds in early caucus and primary states, including Iowa and South Carolina.
Regardless of their preferences, leading Democrats welcomed Sanders into the race, saying essentially that his candidacy will encourage debate and help draw the line between Republicans who back the rich and Democrats who support policies that benefit the majority.
Even Hillary Clinton tweeted: “I agree with Bernie, the focus must be on helping America’s middle class. The GOP would hold them back. I welcome him to the race.”
She did not mention Sanders having described allegations of improper donations to the Clinton Foundation as “a very serious problem” or his criticism of her for being too hawkish on foreign policy, including her vote for the Iraq War.
Sanders has also come out strongly against the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal and the Fast Track proposal backed by Republicans, some Democrats and the Obama administration. He has been asked to deliver remarks to the coming AFL-CIO convention in New Hampshire.
Sanders has called for increases, not cuts in Social Security benefits and single payer or national health insurance, cutting out the role of private insurers. All of these positions make him popular among progressives.
Some have urged him to run as an independent, considering his long history of challenges to both major parties on a number of issues. Sanders says he will not be a Ralph Nader type “spoiler,” however, pulling votes from a Democratic nominee in November that could tip things in favor of a right-wing Republican.
His decision to run is seen as a victory for Progressive Democrats of America which has been urging him to run for many months and has been arguing that he can make the case for independent and progressive politics in the Democratic primaries.
“A campaign has got to be much more than just getting elected,” Sanders told the Nation’s John Nichols recently. “It has got to be helping to educate people, organize people. If we can do that, we can change the dynamic of politics for years and years to come. If 80 to 90 percent of the people in this country vote, if they know what the issues are and make demands based on that knowledge, Washington and Congress will look very very different from the Congress currently dominated by big money and dealing only with the issues that big money wants them to deal with.”
Sanders has brought this message to a variety of political campaigns around this country in the recent period.
He was here in Chicago earlier this last month to back the insurgent mayoral campaign of Jesus “Chuy” Garcia and the victorious city council campaign of Suzan Sadlowski-Garza.
Crowds of all backgrounds and races cheered his speech when he said, in a Steelworkers hall on the city’s South Side, that “what we need are millions of working people to begin to stand up and say, ‘Enough is enough.’ The billionaire class can’t have it all; we need government to start representing ordinary America.”
Photo: John Locher/AP