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Truthdigger of the Week: Sen. Bernie Sanders (Video)

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Posted on Mar 2, 2014

    Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Photo by Blair Kelly and Tylor Bohlman

By Alexander Reed Kelly

Every week the Truthdig editorial staff selects a Truthdigger of the Week, a group or person worthy of recognition for speaking truth to power, breaking the story or blowing the whistle. It is not a lifetime achievement award. Rather, we’re looking for newsmakers whose actions in a given week are worth celebrating.

During the five days I spent in Washington D.C. last week, I couldn’t help but notice the similarities to Disneyland. The performers smile as they work. The grounds that enclose the attractions are impeccably maintained right up to their perimeter and no farther, and if you hang around a congressional office building long enough, you’re bound to run into a celebrity.

A Gallup poll taken in late 2013 showed 70 percent of Americans lack faith in their government’s ability to tackle the problems that the country would be facing in 2014. Why shouldn’t they? Neither the Obama administration nor the 113th Congress have restored the better-paying jobs lost in the bankster-fueled crisis, nor have they reversed industry’s assault on the environment or come to the rescue of homeowners and students whose chances of materially improving their lives lie motionless at the bottom of a pool of debt. To the contrary, the Supreme Court busied itself codifying discrimination against minority voters while another branch of government steadily collected billions of Americans’ email messages and telephone calls. As concerns the bulk of the population, the sphere of obligation honored by the government as a whole seems to shrink with each passing year.

Still, the promises of American democracy have not been irreversibly reneged. It would be remiss to write off all teachers, doctors and priests for the failings common to their vocations. So to would it be dishonest to dismiss all politicians as bought protectors of a corporate state. Contrary to the lament of Claudius in historian Robert Graves’ telling of the reign of the Caesars, there may still be lions left in American Rome. I’d traveled to the Capitol to see.

Bernie Sanders is the U.S. Senate’s only outspoken socialist. He has served the state of Vermont in Congress for more than 20 years and the town of Burlington as mayor for four terms. He ran undefeated for every office he sought thereafter. His politics correspond to those of the labor movement before Roosevelt’s New Deal rescued a suicidal capitalism and find their contemporary correlation in northern Europe’s social democracies. He says workers have the right to participate in the management of their companies because, as Abraham Lincoln understood and expressed, all wealth originates with labor.

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While societies that regulate capitalism least produce the richest people on earth, the massive deregulation that tends to accompany them confirms that they also generate the greatest percentages of people who live miserably. And it’s not just vast numbers of individuals who suffer. Unknown numbers of the yet-born stand to miss out on the paradise that could have been if a small portion of their forebears had not cooperated with narrow self-interest.

Social democracies of the kind Sanders might help make of America if he had the necessary support are more humane and sensible than the alternatives. And because they allow for a limited practice of capitalism, they are presently more practical as an objective for Americans hoping to rescue their country and others from a spreading and intensifying hell.

Sen. Sanders and I spent 20 minutes discussing the private funding of political careers. He was visibly preoccupied when he entered the conference room that adjoins his office. He is Chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, and a bill that would provide needed financial and other assistance to combat veterans—a bill he authored—was less than 24 hours away from a vote on the Senate floor. His voice was suffused with tones of resignation common to people who carry into late life a determination that first drove their efforts in youth.

A video excerpt and transcript of our exchange edited for clarity and flow follows. For the commitment to the wellbeing of all his fellow Americans expressed therein, we honor Sen. Bernie Sanders as our Truthdigger of the Week.

***

 

Video produced by Blair Kelly and Tylor Bohlman


Alexander Reed Kelly: Senator Sanders, I begin from the perspective that nothing lasting can be achieved in a progressive direction in politics—whether it’s war, climate change or economic exploitation—until the corrupting influence of private money is removed from all aspects of governance. Is this view generally correct?

Sen. Bernie Sanders: I think so. I think people do not fully appreciate the degree to which big money, campaign contributions and lobbying and PACs and corporate media play in whether or not serious legislation is discussed and passed. Despite the fact that we have a collapsing middle class, more people living in poverty than at any time during our history, and the gap between the very, very rich and everyone else growing wider, it is very hard for me to imagine significant legislation being passed that Wall Street and the big money interests don’t want.

Kelly: If this is the case, how have you remained in office?

Sanders: That’s a good question. I think my political life is a little bit different than most of my colleagues. I’m not a Democrat. I’m not a Republican. I’m the longest-serving independent in the history of the United States Congress. And in terms of how I raise money I do it differently I think than every other member. We raise money from tens, and tens, and tens of thousands of people in Vermont and all over this country. I believe our average contribution is $50, if my memory is correct. We do not take corporate PACs. We do take PAC money from unions, environmental groups, women’s groups and so forth. But the bulk of my money comes from middle-class, working-class people who are coming up with 20 bucks, 30 bucks.


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