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AFTER BERN: Q&A With Senator Bernie Sanders

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EDITOR’S NOTE: A shorter version of this interview appeared in the Sunday November 27th, 2016 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer we present this reprise edition on the occasion of Senator Sanders’ 76th birthday.

BYLINER mecroppedsharp_1BY JONATHAN VALANIA FOR THE INQUIRER In the fullness of time, future historians may well declare Senator Bernie Sanders the biggest winner of the 2016 election, arguing that although he lost the battle for the Democratic nomination he won the war of ideas. Meanwhile, his one-time nemesis Hillary Clinton will almost certainly lose the Electoral College on December 19th despite winning the popular vote by a margin of 2.2 million and counting, effectively ending her political career and putting a period at the end of the Clinton dynasty. Likewise, a Trump presidency may well prove to be a ‘careful what you wish for’ proposition for both the nation and Trump himself, given the manifold legal jeopardies his sprawling global financial holdings will inevitably present when they come in conflict with the national interest. This is already happening.

As the smoke clears on the 2016 election, Sanders emerges with an approval rating 10 points above both Clinton and Trump, full on rock star status with Millennials who will be the largest voting block for the forseeable future, and appears poised to remake the Democratic party in his own image as an authentic, unapologetic populist who has declared war on the billionaire class on behalf of the vanishing middle class. All of which would have been unthinkable a year and a half ago when the wizened, wild-haired 75-year-old democratic socialist from Vermont declared his candidacy and was met with derisive laughter by the political commentariat.

Mocked by the right, undermined at every turn by his own party’s grandees and largely ignored by the press, Sanders refused corporate donors and super PAC dark money and instead campaigned tirelessly on a shoestring budget made up of bundled $27 donations, relentlessly railing against evils of ever-escalating income inequality, and went on to win 22 states and 13 million votes. All of which is told in granular detail and vintage Brooklandic patois in Our Revolution, Sander’s 450-page recap of his cinderella story candidacy and the resulting political revolution that almost was, and his detailed issues-oriented roadmap for Democrats to find their way back into the hearts of white working class voters. We caught up with Senator Sanders last week in the midst of a whirlwind book tour that stopped at the Free Library last night to get his post-mortem on the 2016 election and his progressive vision for the way forward.

What is your takeaway from the election? I told you so?

The Democrats don’t control the Senate, they don’t control the House, they don’t control some three quarters of the governor’s chairs in the country, and they lost some nine hundred legislative seats in state houses in the last year. It’s time, I think, to take a very hard look at what the Democratic party now stands for, what they’re projecting to the American people, and, in my view, it is time for very, very profound changes to the Democratic party. We need to make it clear what side the Democratic Party is on. It has got to be on the side of working people. It has got to be on the side of young people. It has got to be prepared to take on a billionaire class, and Wall Street, and insurance companies, and drug companies, and the fossil fuel industry. It has got to be prepared to have a new vision for where this country, the wealthiest country in the history of the world, can go. That is what the Democratic Party is going to stand for, and when it does that, I think working people, who have deserted the Democratic Party in droves, whether it’s whites, blacks, Latinos, Asian-Americans or whatnot, are going to come back and know that this is their party where they can feel comfortable and represents their dreams.

What are your thoughts of the role that the FBI and the Russian government played, if any, in the election of Donald Trump? 


I think what Comey and the FBI did was one-hundred percent inappropriate and I think it had an impact. How big an impact? Well, again, nobody knows the answer. It could certainly had an impact on Clinton’s campaign.


Given that Trump’s margin of victory in the key swing-states that won him the Electoral College was razor thin, what message, if any, do you have for the so called “Bernie or Bust” voters who refused on principle to vote for Hillary?


I have no idea how many “Bernie or Bust” voters there were but I do know we brought millions of people into the political process, and I suspect the overwhelming majority of them voted for Secretary Clinton. I think the real issue is to ask why almost half of all the American people aren’t voting, a lot of young people aren’t voting, which is historically the case, a lot of working class people and a lot of low-income people not voting. Why? Why are other countries getting voter turnouts of sixty-five, seventy percent, and we get fifty-four percent? Ideally, if we had a sixty percent voter turnout, Hillary Clinton would have won by a landslide, and the question is: why was that not the case?

True or false: Given that Trump will likely be afforded the opportunity to load the Supreme Court with hard right wing justices in the mold of Scalia, Alito, and Thomas, a truly progressive American agenda has no hope of gaining traction at the federal level for at least a generation, if ever.

False. I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, let alone twenty years from now. What I believe, is that at the end of the day, the American people are sick and tired of income and wealth inequality, sick and tired of a broken healthcare system, want to have us deal with climate change, want young people to be able to go to public colleges and universities tuition free; that’s what the American people want. That’s not what the plutocrats want, but our job is to mobilize the American peoples so the government starts representing them and not just the one-percent.


What blame, if any, are you willing to shoulder for your own defeat?

When I began the campaign we were considered to be a fringe candidacy, not getting much media coverage, nobody took me seriously. By the time we ended, we won 13.4 million votes, twenty-two states, and, in every instance, the significant majority of young people in this country. So, you can always look back on hindsight and say “well, we made this mistake. We should have done that, we should have done that,” but, at the end of the day, I think most people would agree with me and say that given where we came from, as an unknown senator from my tiny state with no money and no political organization taking on the entire Democratic establishment and the most powerful political organization in the country, which is the Clinton organization, we did pretty well.

OK now that we have a President Trump, now what do we do?  


I think we do a number of things. Ultimately, what is most important is to educate and organize, and that is to bring the majority of our country together in opposition to what I expect will be positions from President Trump which do not reflect what the majority of people in this country want. As a progressive, what I can tell you, with full confidence, is that the views that I have spouted, whether it is raising the minimum wage to a living wage, whether it’s pay equity for women, whether it’s rebuilding our infrastructure and creating millions of decent paying jobs, whether it is immigration reform, criminal justice reform, dealing with climate change, those are visions that the vast majority of American people believe in, and if Trump chooses to come down, as I expect he will, on the side of Wall Street, corporate America, and the billionaire class we will vigorously oppose him and we will organize an opposition to him.

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