Bernie Sanders: Speaking Independently

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on The Brian Lehrer ShowBernie Sanders, U.S. Senator from Vermont (I), and author of The Speech: A Historic Filibuster on Corporate Greed and the Decline of Our Middle Class, talks about current budget battles, and his filibuster.

Yesterday the House of Representatives approved a new stopgap spending measure, the first step in avoiding a shutdown and funding the government for three more weeks. Next stop is the Senate, which has until Friday to pass the bill.

Bernie Sanders already knows how he's voting.

The Independent Senator from Vermont says he won't support any bill that doesn't pair spending cuts with revenue measures. He'll vote against the spending bill this week, but he won't go so far as to use the filibuster, which he last did on December 10th, 2010. Sanders held the floor of the Senate for eight and a half hours, railing against the compromise struck between Democrats and Republicans to extend the Bush tax cuts.

The reason I went to the floor is not only because I thought the agreement was extremely unfair. The main point is, America today has the most unequal distribution of wealth in any major country on earth. We have a collapsing middle class, an increase in poverty, and the richest one percent earn 23 percent of all income, which is more than the bottom 50 percent. We have the top one percent owning more wealth than the bottom 90 percent. It seems to me, when you have that kind of inequality, you don't give more tax breaks to the richest people in this country, drive up the national debt, and ask our kids to have to pay that off.

Sanders said the filibuster gave him an opportunity to bring together a number of themes that have defined his political career. In his speech, he decried the tax cut compromise while lamenting the state of education and infrastructure in the country.

But it's the uneven distribution of wealth, he said, that's the elephant in the room.

It's not talked about a whole lot. It's not an issue the president has raised, it's not being raised in Congress or the media. What I think the elections in November were about, a lot of people are angry. They're working longer hours for lower wages than they used to; they look around and see, everything being equal, that if we don't change things, their kids are going to have a lower standard of living than they do; their jobs have gone to china; they have no health care. They're angry, and unfortunately, in many cases they don't know why they're angry, what the causes of the problem are.

Between the tax cut compromise and new rounds of spending cuts, Senator Sanders doesn't see the government confronting the problem either. He's made his dissatisfaction with Democrats, Republicans and even President Obama loud and clear. Which begs the question: would a progressive candidate—perhaps Sanders—consider challenging Obama in a 2012 primary?

Sanders' name came up as a possibility following December's epic filibuster. It helped that the speech was also in the wake of a November beating suffered by Democrats, which challenged confidence in an Obama reelection effort. However, the Senator said he has ruled out a run.

I'm not a Democrat. I'm an Independent. But if a progressive Democrat wants to run, I think it would enliven the debate, raise some issues and people have a right to do that. I've been asked whether I am going to do that. I'm not. I don't know who is, but in a democracy, it's not a bad idea to have different voices out there.



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Comments [17]

carol Huston from washington Heights

My husband and I were both confused by Brian's summary of the exchange with Senator Sanders. Brian talked about whether Sanders was considering challenging for the Democratic nomination, but all I heard from Sanders on the air was talk about a third party run. I hope that this can be clarified on air.

The word Socialist has neer done well with the American public and has been further damaged in recent years. I wish we were a nation that could truly listen to and support Bernie Sanders, but that S word will get in the way.

Sep. 22 2014 11:15 AM

Bernie Sanders is self-described democratic socialist. Whatever he says he is, were he to run for president he would have my vote in a second. Decent and honest is the best way I can describe him

Mar. 20 2011 05:23 AM
Louis from Bayside

It would be great to get some clarification on what the definition of socialism is. I never studied political science. The definitions in the dictionary are 1. A system in which the government owns the means of production and the means of distribution and 2. a system in which there is no private property. According to that definition Senator Sanders is not a socialist. Is that the distinction between a socialist and a socialist democrat?

Mar. 16 2011 12:06 PM
milton newport

I have no problem with Sen. Sanders urging NRC to make sure our American power plants continue to operate safely. Let us just note for the record however that Sen. Sanders has a strong position against Vermont Yankee, always has, and so whatever he says now should be understood in that light. ALSO - as Vermont's champion of renewable power, would he please explain how Vermont can replace Vermont Yankee with solar, windmills, etc.? What's the plan, Senator? Where will they be, how much will they cost, when will they be operational, etc. etc. Until you have a real, workable plan to make that happen for real, the choice remains VY or the New England grid, and all of the acid rain etc. that it entails. You want to talk about lethal widespread pollution? Tend your own garden, Senator.

Mar. 16 2011 11:04 AM
Jack Jackson from Central New Jersey

Senator Sanders sees the problem of income distribution EXACTLY the way that I do.

More income to the lower quintiles will result in more tax revenue because lower income earners pay something closer to their marginal rate. For example, a couple years back Dick Cheney paid $120K on a million dollars of income! Raising taxes on the people and places where the money goes is the only solution. The wealthy like to pretend that the pay ALL the taxes. This is far, far from the truth.

You tell 'em, Bernie!

Mar. 16 2011 10:49 AM
William from williamsburg

Relating to this topic locally

This is a very interesting new academic study of the "Luxury City" initiative of the Bloomberg administration.
Thank you very much for this enlightening conversation today.

Mar. 16 2011 10:35 AM
Katie from Huntington, NY

Ditto Susan from NUC! Bernie Sanders for President--he's got two votes here!

Mar. 16 2011 10:33 AM
Phil Henshaw from way uptown

The full reason people don't respond to the increasing inequality in our economy, has to include the non-political reasons too.

Almost no one studies how our economy works by itself as a natural system, and why its behavior differs so much from what people say it's supposed to do and how it's supposed to respond. People believe in ideology, any ideology, far more than they believe in checking their theories with observation.

It would affect the politics if we noticed that when the environment is running out of room for our expansion the cost of everything naturally goes up. That natural price escalation means that the earnings from *everything but speculation* goes down as a direct result.

Nature sends signals like that when systems are hitting dead ends, naturally. In this case the transfer of financial capital from the productive economy to the speculators in the investment economy is being used by investors make it an ever greater problem, not to solve it. That's the path of maximum profit for investors... of course, but they don't realize it also brings about the collapse of the thing they're investing in....

The reason investors don't steer an economy at its limits of growth in a more profitable direction, than driving up the costs by stimulating increasing demand, is that they have not paid attention to how nature works. It's only the systems in nature that start investing their profits in their environments, as they hit their limits to growth, that survive their initial growth.

Mar. 16 2011 10:32 AM

The only voice of reason in our govt. We need more.

Mar. 16 2011 10:26 AM

Is Vermont still planning on implementing statewide single payer health care in 10 years?

I hope so.

Mar. 16 2011 10:23 AM
Mike from NYC

Mr. Sanders is an American hero. But like Jimmy Stewart's "Mr. Smith" he has faced a media blackout that is all but complete. Even NPR did not allow his views to be disseminated, and under the new republican blackmail threat they will never even mention his name.

Mar. 16 2011 10:23 AM
steve Byram

i totally agree with susan. we need MORE people like senator sanders in our government.

Mar. 16 2011 10:23 AM

Americans should be very proud that we are Number One (the Best!!!) in supporting the most milbillionaires in the world. We need to keep that #1 standing, because we're failing on most other measures. Tax the poor!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Mar. 16 2011 10:22 AM

I am comforted knowing Bernie Sanders is among our Senators. He gives me some hope that decency can flourish in government.

Mar. 16 2011 10:20 AM
Susan from NUC

Bernie Sanders is my hero. I wish he and Dennis Kucinich would form a party and run. The Republicrats have let down the whole country--we need an alternative, or we need our own Tahrir Square.

Mar. 16 2011 10:16 AM
mc from Brooklyn

I thought Bernie Sanders is a Social Democrat, not a Socialist.

Not the same thing.

Mar. 16 2011 10:14 AM
Fellow American

Please ask my elected representative what our government is doing in response to the Nuclear event in Japan.

Other governments are recommending that their citizens evacuate from Japan.

Mar. 16 2011 10:12 AM

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