By Jared Friefeld
The Democratic race has a surprisingly dynamic candidate in Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. But who is Bernie Sanders? What does he aim to revolutionize and what makes him so dynamic?
First things first, let’s understand Bernie’s stance in politics. His association with Socialism may strike fear in some, but he sees the word Socialist in a different light. In an interview with The Associated Press in November 1990, Sanders said, “To me, Socialism doesn’t mean state ownership of everything, by any means, it means creating a nation, and a world, in which all human beings have a decent standard of living.” Bernie has caught my attention in this presidential race due to his understanding that humanity comes before money. But let’s move on to his positions.
Sanders is an advocate of tuition-free college education for all. He believes that “everyone in this country who studies hard should be able to go to college regardless of income.” He aims to do this by ending what he sees as a misguided attempt by the federal government to profit from loans made to students. These students then graduate deeply indebted to the federal government. His goal is to slash interest rates on these loans to close to zero (an amount just high enough to pay for the administra- tion costs of issuing the loans). As it stands now, over the next 10 years the government will earn a profit of over $110 billion on federal student loan programs. Sanders sees this as a selective tax levied on, and taking advantage of, a small and somewhat vulnerable group in our society. I agree with Sanders’s position on this very important (to us high-schoolers) subject, but for reasons that go beyond my personal stake in the outcome. The $110 billion that the federal government stands to earn in the next decade is a loss compared to what the federal government could earn. Our society should be able to produce a larger class of college-educated people. These people would earn higher wages than those of their high school educated peers, and these higher wage earners would pay more federal income taxes, resulting in higher overall revenue for the Treasury. It would also broaden the tax base and move away from ‘‘taxing’’ a narrow class of college applicants to taxing a broader cross-section of America. I agree with Sanders in that the system as currently administered is not ethical, and is not terribly economical.
Sen. Sanders also wants to bring about a revolution in our banking industry. One of Sanders’s major concerns is that a massive amount of the nation’s wealth is controlled by a small handful of very powerful banks and very powerful bankers. Sanders sees this as a ‘‘war against the disintegrating middle class.’’ What brought about the massive growth of our nation’s wealth and power in the post-war period was the depth and breadth of our middle-class. It supplied the nation’s federal reserve with a massive tax base; it provided a massive consumer base for the nation’s manufacturers and service industry, and fed into the ‘American Dream’ of homeownership and the belief that future generations will do even better than past and present ones.
But now, more than half of the nation feels that he is a radical for defending and wanting to expand the middle class. In 1976, Bernie said in the Vermont Cynic, a student publication at the University of Vermont, “I myself don’t use the word socialism, because people have been brainwashed into thinking socialism automatically means slave-labor camps, dictatorship and lack of freedom of speech.” Sanders plans may be socialist ideas at first, because they benefit the lower class, but they could be seen as capitalist ideas as well in the long run. Sanders is attempting to (re)create and strengthen a class of consumers that will only go to serve the capitalist enterprises, who claim he is anti-business and pro-big government. Progressive socialism doesn’t have to be anti- capitalism. Bernie’s goal isn’t to destroy capitalism; merely to tame it. A closer look at the outcome of his policies would reveal that they are very favorable to big business, and very tax-friendly on the whole. But the benefits would not be realized right away, and so they are dismissed by his opponents as completely unworkable, when in fact they are not. Have no worries… Bernie is not turning America into Commie-town! He is only adjusting the tax system to make it more realistic in today’s economic conditions. There needs to be different taxes for people of different economic levels—because the current tax system is obviously not working—and there should be a closing of loopholes to prevent the very wealthy from hiding income and assets, so that all citizens are paying what they are able – no more and no less.
Sanders also intends to target campaign finance reform, and eliminate the existence of super PACs, or political action committees paid for by wealthy firms and individuals. As an example of how influential a PAC can be, a nationwide poll was conducted showing that out of 3,143 total counties in the United States, the majority of only 39 disagree with the fact that global warming is real (via slate. com). That is an estimated 99 percent of the counties within our country which believe that climate change is real. So, how is it possible that our elected politicians of a particular party (possibly represented by the color red and an elephant) are adamant that global warming is not a danger and not due to human influence? One would figure that these elected officials would not be able to maintain their seats in office. So how is it possible that they do? The answer lies within lobbyists for big businesses—those who seek out vulnerable politicians and pay their campaigns tremendous amounts of money for support in legislative matters in Congress and in the statehouses. This is why I agree with Bernie Sanders and his plan to eliminate these super PACs so that elected officials really do speak for the majority of this country.
Sanders has some strong opinions on gun control, too. He, like President Obama, is not trying to undermine the Second Amendment. What he is proposing are common sense gun laws. Senator Sanders wants there to be a “revolution” in mental health, and wants to make sure people with mental disabilities do not get a gun, but do get the help they need. Sanders has voted for an instant background check, which he wants to see strengthened and expanded. He voted to ban certain types of assault weapons, which are designed only to kill people.
He voted to end the so-called gun show loophole. His ideas, and his votes in Congress, are only fitting to the era in which we live. When the Second Amendment was written, assault weapons and automatic guns were not around. People had hunting rifles and muskets, not assault rifles, to protect themselves, American’s have every right to own a gun for sport, but since when do you need an AK-47 to kill a deer? AK-47’s are war machines, used to kill people. Citizens in this country do not need weapons that make them look like they could be in the army.
Sanders also believes that the police in this country should not be armed to look like brooding armies, and that there should be new laws and training on the use of deadly force. Sanders also stated during the Democratic debate on Jan. 17 that “[America has] more people in jail than any other country in this world,” and continued to say that people in jail are disproportionately black or Latino. Sanders wants to create diversity within police forces, so that a community’s police force resembles its citizens, making the police a friendly, more trustworthy force. The police are here to protect us, so the way they look and act should resemble that. Police officers should get to know the town in which they work, and work with the people they encounter before using force. Police officers have major responsibilities, and they must not take advantage of them. Police officers should be controlling violence, not condoning it.
Although Bernie Sanders may come off as a crazy old man who screams at everything, and is best portrayed by Larry David on Saturday Night Live, he does have legitimate ideas that could redirect our country to a more democratic society. Are you Berning with frustration, or are you feeling the Bern?
Artwork courtesy of Eli Canter