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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.

I have trouble taking Washington, D.C., seriously. Over the five days I spent there last week, I couldn’t help noticing the similarities to Disneyland. With the exception of many of the security guards, nearly everyone smiles. The grounds that enclose the attractions are conspicuously well kept right up to their perimeter and no farther, and if you hang around a congressional office building long enough, you’re bound to recognize someone you’ve only seen on the Internet or TV, but whose sudden appearance in the flesh arouses a familiar complex of emotions.

I am not alone in my misgivings. 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? The Obama administration and Congress as a whole have done nothing to restore meaningful, well-paying jobs lost to the banker-fueled crisis. They have failed to reverse the well-understood effects of industry’s assault on the environment, or rescue homeowners and graduates whose hopes and dreams lie motionless at the bottom of a pool of debt. Conversely, in 2013 the Supreme Court was busy codifying discrimination against minority voters while its members continued merely to watch as bureaucrats unconstitutionally collect billions of Americans’ phone calls and emails. 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, democracy’s promises have not been fully reneged. Just as it would be juvenile to write off all teachers, doctors or priests for their vocations’ famous failings, branding all politicians hopelessly corrupt vassals of a vicious corporate state would be an act of childish insensitivity to the obvious exceptions. I was in D.C. because I believe this to be true. Contrary to the lament of Claudius during Caligula’s reign in Robert Graves’ telling of the rise of the Caesars, there are still lions left in American Rome, and I’d traveled to the Capitol to speak face to face with two of them.

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, before which he was elected four times to the mayoralty of Burlington. He ran undefeated for every office he sought thereafter. His politics correspond to those that characterized the labor movement before Roosevelt’s New Deal rescued a suicidal American capitalism, and find their contemporary correlation in the policies that for decades have governed northern Europe’s social democracies. He holds that workers have the right to participate in the management of capitalism 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 pursued internationally over the last 30 years has confirmed that they also generate the highest percentages of people who live miserably. And it’s not just vast numbers of individuals who suffer. Limitless legions of the unborn stand to miss out on the paradise that could have been had a small portion of their forebears not succumbed to selfishness, and the rest, the inclination to cooperate with leaders who were too inconvenient to oppose.

Social democracies of the kind Sanders would 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, which could never be got rid of completely without recourse to the kinds of tyrannies that tainted the idea of economic cooperation in the 20th century, they are presently more practical as an objective for Americans hoping to rescue their country and people beyond its borders from a gathering and intensifying hell.

Sanders and I spent 20 minutes discussing what we agreed was a primary obstacle to an escape from this hell: the private funding of political careers. He was visibly preoccupied upon entering the conference room that adjoins his office; as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, a bill he authored that would provide needed financial and other assistance to combat veterans was less than 24 hours away from a vote on the Senate floor, where legislation traditionally goes to die. His trademark brusqueness drove our conversation, and was suffused with the resignation to a task that is commonly seen in men who manage to carry into late life a fire that first ignited their spirits in youth.

A video excerpt and transcript of our exchange edited for clarity and flow immediately follows. For his 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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