Bernie Sanders has a lot of labels – socialist, democratic socialist, senator, independent, populist, crazy-person, genius – but currently, his most important distinction is Democratic candidate for President of the United States.
Sanders himself probably would have laughed if told, even five years ago, he would run for president in 2016, despite holding public office for 35 years. The Vermonter has served as mayor of Burlington as well as the state’s lone congressman and one of its two senators.
Indicted as a demagogue by conservatives and liberals alike for his high tax rates and anti-wealth rhetoric, Sanders has faced criticism for a lack of specifics. But his grassroots campaign, lacking any donations from Super PACs or Wall Street, has increased in popularity rapidly in the past year, from single digits to nearly half of Democratic voters, according to RealClearPolitics. The Jewish, 74-year-old, consummate progressive, born in Brooklyn, has a legitimate shot at the presidency.
If elected president, Sanders said he would take executive action to form a pathway to citizenship for the undocumented immigrants already in the United States. Sanders has said he wants to “make sure that 11 million undocumented people in our country no longer have to live in the shadows, no longer have to live in fear, but can live in security and dignity.”
Sanders is vocally pro-choice, writing op-eds and standing up in Senate sessions for a woman’s right to choose. He criticizes Republican logic in standing for small government, yet attempting to repeal the decision in Roe v. Wade.
According to liberal critics, this is the one issue that leaves a mark on Sanders’ otherwise progressive credo, because he has been relatively quiet on the topic. This is due to his more pro-gun Vermont constituency, although he has received a D- ranking from the National Rifle Association. Sanders has promised decrease gun violence with robust enforcement of background checks, disallowing semi-automatic weapon sales, terminating gun-show loopholes and focusing on improving the mental health care system.
During the Vietnam War, Sanders applied to become a conscientious objector. Detractors have asked how such a man can be commander-in-chief of the largest military in the world.
Sanders responded by maintaining his belief that he would rather “resolve international conflicts in a peaceful manner” and saying “I will move away from a policy of unilateral military action and regime change, and toward a policy of emphasizing diplomacy. … The decision to go to war is a last resort,” according to his website.
Sanders is a proponent of a two-state solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and has touted the fact that he voted against going to war in Iraq.
Sanders predicated his campaign on income inequality, a theme that has been instrumental in rallying supporters. He has said wealthy Americans should pay “their fair share” and low-income Americans are getting “the short end of the stick.” He has also said childhood poverty in the United States is unconscionable and that it is the fault of greedy corporations and “the billionaire class.”
Part of fixing these problems involves raising both taxes and the minimum wage, Sanders said. His platform of a $15 minimum wage and an income tax over 50 percent for those making more than $10 million per year is popular with his supporters. He also hopes to make the country money from closing offshore loopholes and taxing “Wall Street speculators who cost millions their jobs, homes and life savings.”
Emmanuel Saez, a professor of economics at University of California Berkley, has questioned the efficacy of Sanders’ plan.
“My feel is that the reasoning behind Sanders’ tax plan is not so much tax revenue generation from top earners but rather make top tax rates so high so as to discourage ‘greed,’ defined broadly as extracting income at the expense of the rest of the economy as opposed to real productive behavior,” Mr. Saez wrote in an email to the New York Times. “I think pretax top incomes would finally start to decline.”
For Sanders, health care is a right, not a privilege for those who can afford it. He proposes a “Medicare-for-all” universal health care system that has been criticized – like his free college plan – for being “pie-in-the-sky.”
Kenneth Thorpe, a health care expert from Emory University, found that Sanders’ possible health care policy would be underfunded by $1.1 trillion a year.
“Single-payer at a national level would be significantly more expensive than the Sanders campaign believes, and would require workers to pay an additional 20 percent of their compensation in taxes,” Vox wrote on Thorpe. “He also argues it would leave 71 percent of households with private insurance worse off once you take both tax increases and reduced health care expenditures into account.”
Sanders voted against the Patriot Act and said he is weary of the mass intelligence gathering of the National Security Agency.
“Terrorism is a serious threat and we must do everything we can to prevent attacks in this world, but I believe that we can do that without undermining our constitutional rights,” according to Sanders’ website.
Sanders supports LGBTQ marriage and rights.
Sanders drew on his anti-racist background in protesting, his humanistic rhetoric and political skill to speak about civil rights. He was praised for his handling of Black Lives Matter protesters taking over his rally last year, letting them take the microphone and speak to the crowd. In the ‘60s and ‘70s, Sanders volunteered with the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), getting arrested at demonstrations for racial justice and marching with Dr. Martin Luther King.
To Sanders, it is not ISIS or terrorism that poses the principal threat to the planet, but climate change. To try and combat this, Sanders recommends taxing carbon pollution, revoking subsidies for fossil fuels and investing in clean energy.
Another of the staples of the Sanders campaign is free public colleges and universities education. He also wishes to lower interest rates on student loans. His college plan has been popular among young voters as college affordability and student debt was the second most pressing issue for millennials according to a USA Today poll. However, it has caught flack from critics who argue it isn’t feasible.
Andrew Kelly of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, said that Sanders’ design “limits college spending to whatever the public is willing to invest. But it does not change the cost of college, or what institutions actually spend per student. If the past is any guide, that cost will continue to grow, and an influx of federal money may lead profligate administrators to spend even more. Enrollments will also increase, further multiplying the cost of free college.”
Part of paying for such a plan would include cutting the U.S.’s military budget, which Sanders had said “is so absurd that the military is unable to even account for how it spends all of its money.”
Once a major factor turning away Democrats from the Sanders, the issue of electability has been dismissed, at least in terms of winning the Democratic candidacy. Sanders won in seven of the last eight primary/caucus states. However, Sanders still trails Clinton by a relatively sizeable delegate count, with 1,079 pledged delegates to her 1,298.
Clinton also leads Sanders with 469 superdelegates to his 31. Superdelegates are party officials and politicians who can vote for whomever they want at the party convention.
While has Sanders has insisted throughout his campaign he is running to win the presidency, winning or losing will not change that he has had a clear impact on shaping Democratic Party policy for the general election. His message has been consistent, calling on the Democratic Party to consider the broader economic challenges facing this country.
“You judge a nation not by the number of millionaires and billionaires it has, but by how you treat … the most vulnerable and fragile people in our nation. And by those standards, we’re not doing particularly well.”
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