Candidate Profile: Bernie Sanders


[Insert puns about fire, feeling the Bern, and the promise of sleepovers at the White House so we can have weekends at Bernie’s]

Who is Bernie Sanders?

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is the U.S. Congress’ longest-serving independent and its third socialist. Sanders attended the University of Chicago, where he joined the Young People’s Socialist League and the Student Peace Union. After graduating UC with a B.A. in political science in 1964, Sanders served four terms as mayor of Burlington, Vermont and ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. House of Representatives. Upon his second bid, Sanders was elected to the House, where he served for sixteen years. Since 2007, Sanders has been a member of the Senate, where he caucuses with the Democratic party.

Fun fact: Sanders hasn’t always been so successful in the political arena; while attending James Madison High School, Sanders ran for student body president and finished last.

What is this candidate's campaign theme?

A Political Revolution is Coming.

Position on…

The Iran Deal?

Although Sanders refused to call President Obama’s Iran Deal “a perfect agreement”, he stressed in a phone interview with CBS News the importance of diplomacy and its role in the deal: “We have to negotiate with Iran. And the alternative of not reaching an agreement, you know what it is? It's war. Do we really want another war, a war with Iran? An asymmetrical warfare that will take place all over this world, threaten American troops?” Rather, Senator Sanders promised to support the deal and “see if [it] will work.”


When asked by CNN last fall whether the United States ought to lead the fight against ISIS, Sanders, who opposed the Iraq War, responded, “I’ll be damned.” This week, he told MSNBC that wealthy nations ought to deal with the Islamic State and with the conflict in Syria. "It is wrong to the United States of America, our armed forces, our taxpayers to put that country back together again," Sanders said. "You need a regional force of people prepared to take on ISIS and destroy that barbaric organization." He pointed out that countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates are affluent and equipped enough to handle the situation.


Senator Sanders, who describes Russian President Vladimir Putin as a “bully,” has urged resistance to Putin’s expansionism. “The entire world has got to stand up to Putin,” he said last year. But while Sanders has backed tough economic sanctions and asset freezes, he is firmly opposed to solving the conflict through military action or war. Interestingly, Russian-based newsletter Nevskoe Vremya expressed hopes that Sanders’ administration would remove the stigma from communism and socialism and precede “the ideas of the left becoming ever-more popular in the United States.”


“The bottom line is that Israel must have the right to exist in peace and security, just as the Palestinians must have the right to a homeland in which they and they alone control their political system and their economy,” Sanders’ senate site says. The senator, who told Christian Science Monitor he is “proud to be Jewish”, accordingly supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Sanders’ website further speaks to the “enormous human toll” Israel’s military actions against Palestine have taken, and calls on both the Israeli government and Palestinian terror organization Hamas to abide by international humanitarian law.


Sanders, who has long favored an overhaul of the American immigration system, urged for “a rational immigration process” at a Des Moines speech in June. This process, he told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell in August, ought to involve granting “legal status to undocumented people in this country as soon as possible.” Sanders’ official campaign website provides several other immigration-related policy proposals, including requiring employers to reimburse temporary guest workers for housing and transportation expenses and increasing their required wages.


True to his socialist ideology, Sanders supports single-payer healthcare. "We still have 35 million Americans without insurance," Sanders said to This Week in June. "We need to join the rest of the industrialized world. We are the only major country on Earth that doesn’t guarantee health care to all people as a right." After Wednesday night’s debate, in which Sanders urged the United States to follow progressive countries like Denmark in socializing medicine and education, the National Union of Healthcare Workers officially endorsed the senator, signaling the importance his campaign places on healthcare.

Tax reform?

A key platform for Sanders has been reducing income inequality, which, he claimed in a tweet, is the highest since the 1920s. In order to close the gap, Sanders has consistently lobbied for taxes on the rich; one of his more recent proposed bills closed loopholes for the wealthy, increased the marginal tax rate for rich Americans, and implemented a new billionaire surtax. Although the highest marginal tax rate in bill is 55%, Sanders told CNBC that 90% wouldn’t be too high. Like fellow democratic candidate Martin O’Malley, Sanders supports the imposition of a Financial Transaction Tax similar to the one in place until 1965. Of course, the senator’s main economic platform is worker rights; he advocated a federal $15 minimum wage at Tuesday night’s debate and has promised to strengthen unions.


Similar to his promotion of "healthcare for all," Sanders touts socializing the public college system and allowing students to attend postsecondary institutions for free. The program would be financed by levying a tax on Wall Street trades and would significantly lower interest rates on student debt. Like democratic opponent Hillary Clinton, Sanders also believes that universal pre-kindergarten would eliminate the need for costly child care and equalize education standards from the beginning of a child’s education.


During a September speech at Liberty University, Sanders urged students to respect women who choose to have an abortion and criticized conservatives for restricting the procedure. “I respect absolutely a family that says, ‘No, we are not going to have an abortion,’” he said. “But I would hope that other people respect the very painful and difficult choice that many women feel they have to make and don’t want the government to tell them what they have to do.” Overall, Sanders has a 6% pro-life voting record according to National Right to Life and has opposed bans on partial birth abortions.

Religious liberty?

“[W]e have religious freedom, and I respect people who have different points of view. But my view is that people have a right to love each other, regardless of one’s sexual orientation,” Sanders told CNN’s Jake Tapper in the wake of controversy surrounding the Supreme Court’s legalization of gay marriage and churches seeking to retain tax exempt status while refusing to perform marriage ceremonies for homosexual couples. Sanders accordingly disapproves of allowing private businesses to discriminate based on religious beliefs (such as Indiana’s recent Religious Freedom Restoration Act) and letting employers refuse to provide contraception for their employees (such as Burwell v. Hobby Lobby).

Climate change?

At Tuesday’s debate, Sanders claimed that climate change is the greatest threat to national security. "The scientific community is telling us if we do not address the global crisis of climate change, transform our energy system away from fossil fuel to sustainable energy, the planet that we're going to be leaving our kids and our grandchildren may well not be habitable," he said. In July, the senator attacked Clinton’s climate change proposal (which would aim to have the nation produce a third of electricity through renewable energy and install 500 million solar panels) on the grounds that her policy doesn’t do enough to prevent construction of the Keystone Pipeline. By contrast, Sanders’ website asserts that the senator has “led the opposition” to Keystone.

Is he a controversial figure? Why?

As a socialist, Sanders attracts frequent controversy; economists point to centrally-planned nations such as Venezuela and Cuba, where citizens spend hours waiting in line for chicken, toothpaste, and toilet paper. National Review editor Kevin Williamson compared Sanders to notorious socialist Hugo Chavez, who drove his country to ruin. Still others see Sanders’ honeymoon as cause for concern: Sanders and his wife, Jane, decided to forgo Aruba for a trip to the Soviet Union. Even democrats have taken the senator to task for previously conservative views on gun control (he opposed a five-day waiting period on gun purchases, supported guns in national parks, and voted to protect gun manufacturers from liability).

What’s one humorous or summarizing quote from this presidential hopeful?

“When we stand together, we will always win. When men and women stand together for justice, we win. When black, white, and Hispanic people stand together for justice, we win. When straight and gay people stand together for justice, we win. When young and old stand together for justice, we win. When working families stand together, we win,” according to the Huffington Post.

Photo Source: New York Post