Sanders may run for president to stir debate
By Neal P. Goswami
VERMONT PRESS BUREAU | December 01,2013
BURLINGTON — Vermont’s independent U.S. senator is not denying that he’s considering what would surely be a long shot bid for the White House in 2016.
“I’m very much in the early stages of these deliberations with people I respect,” Sen. Bernard Sanders said during a recent interview at his Burlington office.
The second-term, self-described democratic socialist is still reluctant to discuss a potential campaign, though, preferring instead to focus on the issues that have led him to consider such an improbable notion.
But the former Burlington mayor and U.S. House member believes a presidential campaign may force the political establishment in Washington and around the country to focus on the issues he has pushed throughout his career.
For decades, the 72-year-old Brooklyn native and son of Polish immigrants has been bellowing to anyone who will listen about the economic inequality in America. He is popular in progressive circles and despised by conservatives for the incessant attention he pays to economic issues that other politicians shy away from.
The “obscene level of income and wealth inequality” in America is “a profound moral issue” facing the country, according to Sanders. And it’s one of the main reasons he is considering running for president.
“The facts are very, very clear. You have 1 percent of the population now owning 38 percent of the financial wealth of America while the bottom 60 percent own 2.3 percent,” he said. “People are really stunned to hear that.”
“Tell me the truth. When’s the last time you heard that discussed on TV?” Sanders asked.
The country continues to recover slowly from the 2008 economic downturn, and broad economic growth will not occur unless more money is in the hands of middle- and low-income Americans, Sanders said. That should be the focus of any candidate seeking the presidency, he said.
“Do I have an immediate answer? Am I going to solve the problem tomorrow? No. But don’t you think that this issue has to be discussed? That it is profoundly important?” Sanders asked.
Candidates should also be talking about the undermining of democracy in America “because of billionaires buying politicians and campaigns,” according to Sanders.
“Is that an issue? I think it’s a profound issue,” he said. “This is not just a Republican issue. If you look at the Terry McAuliffe race in Virginia, Terry got a few bucks from some very wealthy people, too.” McAuliffe, a Democrat, is the governor-elect of Virginia.
The candidates bandied about by pundits for president in 2016 aren’t talking about the 13.8 percent underemployment rate, either, Sanders said. Or the even higher rates for youth employment.
“Is there a sense of urgency you hear in the political system?” he said. “There’s no debate about it. It’s not acknowledged.”
Some candidates are talking about cutting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, though, as they look at ways to cut the deficit, Sanders said.
“We’re not going to cut Social Security. You know why? Because some of us have worked very, very hard to rally the American people. But that’s out there,” he said.
Sanders cited a recent poll in which 70 percent of the respondents said Social Security should not be cut and the wealthy should pay more into the program.
“Does that sound familiar? That’s what I say,” he said. “In Washington they say, ‘Cut Social Security. Cut Medicare. And maybe give the wealthiest people tax breaks.’ When I say these things in Washington people roll their eyes. I understand that. But you say that to the real world, (there’s) overwhelming support for what I’m talking about.”
“Is that enough material, you think, to run a campaign on?” Sanders asked rhetorically.
The economic collapse in 2008 and the subsequent Occupy Wall Street movement have helped bring these economic issues out into the open, Sanders said. But politicians are still reluctant to address them, he said.
“Virtually everything I’ve told you, guess what? The views that I’m representing have majority support,” Sanders said. “These ideas are not radical ideas. These are ideas that the vast majority of the people, I think, agree with.”
Decisions on who will run for president in 2016 are still in the distance. Some politicians, Sanders said, “kind of wake up in the morning and are absolutely convinced that they can and should be president of the United States. It is their lifelong ambition.”
Not so for Sanders.
“I don’t wake up in the morning saying I’ve got to be president of the United States. I am very happy and proud to be Vermont’s senator. I enjoy the job very much. I think we’re doing some good things,” he said. “But, here’s what motivates me — my very strong belief that this country faces enormous problems, some of the worst problems we’ve faced in the modern history of America.”
But a presidential run may be in the cards for him if candidates on the left refuse to raise his issues, Sanders said.
“Do you see it on the political radar screen if you turn on CNN? Do you think they’re discussing the collapse of the middle class?” he said. “They’re not even on the table. So, I’m saying if there are not people, and there may well be, who are going to discuss these issues, somebody’s got to do it.”
Should a campaign develop, Sanders said he will not allow himself to be a spoiler who foils a chance for Democrats to hold the White House.
“I’m not going to run out there and siphon away enough votes so that some right-wing Republican becomes president of the United States. That I will not do,” he said. “There are ways that you can avoid that — various ways, which I won’t get into with you now.”
With some prodding, Sanders, who has never run for any office as a Democrat but has caucused with them in Congress, said securing the nomination of the Democratic Party is just “one option” to avoid being a spoiler. A campaign could also be abandoned if needed.
“If you are running and at a certain point the campaign is not going well, you don’t have to stay on until election day, right? That’s another option. There are different ways, but I don’t want to play a role in electing some right-wing Republican,” he said.
Sanders is omnipresent on cable news and other national programming. He was recently interviewed by Playboy, which attracted plenty of attention back home in Vermont — none of it designed to boost his already wide appeal among progressives, he said.
“I didn’t call up Playboy. Playboy called me up. Playboy is a large magazine where Supreme Court justices and presidential candidates, all these guys, have done interviews. Not everybody always looks at the centerfold, so they say,” he said. “If The New York Times magazine called me up tomorrow I’d do that interview, too.”
In fact, he says, he is “not into personality politics.” He pushed back several times during the interview on what he called “process” questions, trying to steer the conversation away from himself and back to his issues.
“What did I want to talk about? Did I want to talk about my wife and my beautiful family, which are beautiful, by the way? And my lovely grandchildren? I didn’t talk about that. I didn’t tell you any funny stories. I know, I bore people, but these are the things that are important,” he said when trying to redirect a question to the economy following another query about his national appeal.
For now, Sanders said he is happy to keep talking about the economic issues he cares about and wait to see if other candidates pick up the torch.
“I’m not saying I’m the best person to do this. There may be people that are equally good or better,” he said. “Do I think what I’m saying makes sense to the American people? Yes I do. It is about finally making Washington listen to what the American people want and responding to those needs.”